Some teams in sports are self-starters; they are always ready to play. Magic’s
Lakers, Larry’s Celtics, and Michael’s Bulls all come to mind. When you did
beat them, which was rare, you beat them knowing full well you had just taken
their best shot.
teams are wiped out by injuries. The 1976 NFL defensive-record-setting,
five-shut-out pitching Pittsburgh Steelers fit this bill. Pittsburgh held a
phenomenal eight teams to 6 points or less during that bicentennial regular
season, only to lose Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier for the remainder of the
year during their first round playoff game vs. the Baltimore Colts.
Some teams are a bit adolescent, and therefore put forth a streaky level of
effort, hot for several games, then frigid for several games. The recent 2006
A.L. pennant race involving the Detroit Tigers comes to mind.
Some teams just don’t have the prerequisite mix of talent. The Columbia
Lions dropped 44 straight football games from 1983 till 1988.
Some teams (or individuals) play to the level of their competition, John
McEnroe was famous or infamous for this early on in his tennis career.
So our 2006-2007 Hokies are not always ready to play, and this just in: The
sun is rumored to be warm. Fortunately, and in complete contrast to last year,
they have been relatively healthy for the most part this season, and no longer
are they able to alibi fluxes in effort level by claiming to be puerile, as they
start four upperclassmen that have combined to play in a phenomenal 397
collegiate games over their cumulative Virginia Tech basketball careers. The
Hokies do in fact have talent. By my count Tech currently has at least five
different players who already have, or someday will, merit at least some version
of ACC post-season honors consideration. That number is in fact a rather
conservative estimate on my part.
So if they are not self-motivators, and if they are not hurting, and if they
are not inexperienced, and if they do not lack talent … what are they? Are
they playing to the level of their competition? On the surface the knee-jerk
answer is: “it would appear so.”
But digging deeper yields a unique answer, as there is only one truly
atmospheric sporting team that I know of. That would be our very own hoopster
Hokies. If you prefer a more social-science textbook description, you could say
that VT’s output level is extrinsic or environmental in its very nature. The
bigger, louder, and more hyped up the basketball environment in which they play
is, the bigger and better they play. The Puerto Rican tournament with national
exposure but a small time gym, the Christmas break emptied, and otherwise petite
Huntington Civic Center, an early afternoon BB&T tourney game? All yawning
festivals of Hokie hoops effort.
But give us a UNC, a Duke or a Madison Square Garden, and our hoops team will
give you a bona fide nationally ranked level of effort.
- The average attendance in Tech’s 7 L’s on the year? 5,610.
- The average attendance in Tech’s 3 wins vs. ranked teams on the year?
So clearly we need one of three things to put forth an all-out effort:
- A BIG-name team to play. A Duke or a UNC will do nicely, thank you.
- A BIG-time basketball environment to play in, like the Mecca of hoops up
in the highly fabled Madison Square Garden, or a trip to Durham to play in
front of the always vociferous Cameron Crazies.
- A whole lotta Hawthorne Effect, i.e. a whole lotta people watching them
play, a pure quantitative number of in-house turnout approach, if you will.
When the Hokies play in a big-time environment via one of the aforementioned
three big-time circumstances, they offer up a big-time effort, and not overly
surprisingly enough, they either win, or it takes a heck of a lot to put them
down for the count. When they play in a tired environment or vs. a less than
breath-taking team, they pull an Ichabod Crane and go Sleepy Hollow for a warm
glass of milk and a nice 40 minute nap.
By my count the Hokies have three or four environmentally suitable games left
on the schedule that will provide us with the necessary ingredients to mix up an
all out entree of effort. UNC away, both games vs. arch-rival Virginia, and
possibly the Clemson closer in the Cassell, providing our post-season fate is
still at stake at that point in time.
The other ones? Who knows? But I do know that because of BIG-time
environmental factors that appear to now be critically necessary to get this
team amped up to play, this years Hokie hoopsters can still cook up a very sweet
NC2A run, no matter where they end up seeded. That or we will suffer from a very
bad case of NIT sour-gapes. George Burns once wrote: “time is the
greatest critic of all” and time well tell.