Perspective, or context if you prefer, is a quality in short supply in all aspects of American life. But since we’re discussing sports here we’ll limit our discussion of unoriented history to the regulated games that people play.
Maybe sports history doesn’t matter much, but we can still learn a lot about attention to detail and accuracy in reporting when variations in definition are recognized or spurned in recounting records.
The issue of statistical perspective in record-keeping became a major cause célèbre in 1961 when the Yankees’ Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s much-celebrated, single-season home run mark, hitting 61 homers in 162 games. Respect for Ruth’s tougher achievement, 60 homers in 154 outings, earned Maris an asterisk next to his name in baseball record books, only to be removed 30 years later.
Such fuzziness has expanded along with the length of seasons in most every sport. Apparently it’s just too much trouble, too complicated, to enforce fairness in comparing playing accomplishments.
New statistical marks – yardage gained, strikeouts recorded, points scored — are celebrated devoid of context, without the necessary nuance of expanded seasons. This casualness extends to records acclaimed as all-time standards even though a stat wasn’t even recognized until recently, like 3-point shooting, officially tracked by the NCAA only since the 1986-87 season .
Citing where a player or team ranks statistically in the history of a sport is also offered frequently without saying who did better, or as well. Again, in the greater scheme of things it may not matter, but to those who follow the game these facts either lend or deny historical perspective. And, with much of contemporary reporting on-line, space limitations should be less of a factor in telling a more thorough story.
Similarly casual exactitude was evident in this recent school press release from a winner following in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge: “NC State outlasted Nebraska in a four overtime marathon, 104-100, Wednesday night. The game ties for the longest in program history and ties for the longest in ACC history. It was the third four overtime game in program history and the fifth in ACC history. It’s NC State’s first 4OT game since March 14, 1989 when NC State beat Wake Forest, 110-103.”
And which were these other four-overtime games? Anything of interest about them? Anybody care to get more information, to better appreciate the nuance of a league and programs that tout a deep sense of tradition, a commitment to honoring the glories of the past?
Well, yes, at least ACC fans in general and NC State rooters in particular.
Of the five contests ACC teams played that lasted 4 OTs, all but one involved a nonconference opponent. Three, the majority, also involved the Wolfpack. No one else played more than one 60-minute game.
League teams lost half of the non-league outings, the exceptions the 2021-22 Wolfpack win over Nebraska and North Carolina topping Tulane in 1976. Georgia Tech lost its 2020-21 opener in quadruple overtime to Georgia State, but righted the ship well enough to finish fourth in the ACC and to win the ’21 conference tournament.
The 1989 NC State game mentioned in the release proved the death knell for Bob Staak’s Wake coaching tenure; he was soon replaced by UVa assistant Dave Odom, who inaugurated arguably the most prosperous period ever for the Demon Deacons.
Like Duke and 2020 ACC Player of the Year Tre Jones at Chapel Hill, Jim Valvano’s Pack forced overtime when 1991 ACC Player of the Year Rodney Monroe rebounded teammate Kelsey Weems’ intentionally missed free throw and laid it in the basket to force the first overtime. The Devils closed Jones’ missed free throw save with a win in the first overtime; NC State won it in four extra periods.
One of Everett Case’s best squads lost shockingly to Canisius in four OTs in the 1956 NCAAs. The Pack, second-ranked in the final AP poll, was handicapped by an injury that limited star Ronnie Shavlik, the ‘56 ACC Player of the Year. (He still led his team with 25 points.)
A 2011 recitation of the tournament’s greatest upsets on totalprosports.com listed the Pack’s defeat among the top 11.
Sadly, while the writer’s estimation was consistent with historical consensus to that juncture, his actual grasp of facts was a bit askew.
“Well,” noted Howard Cosmell, not to be confused with the late broadcaster, Howard Cosell, “as Carlos Santana once said, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Actually, the forgetful may in truth be doomed to repeat history – hint, hint, sportswriters and sports information directors — but the statement originated not with a guitarist but with author George Santayana.
Four Overtime Games Involving ACC Men's Teams
|3/6/56||NC State-Canisius||78-79 NCAA|
|3/14/89||NC State-Wake Forest||108-103|
|11/25/20||Georgia Tech-Ga. State||120-123|