I am a fan, more or less, of the English Premier League club Arsenal and the American football team from UCLA.
It occurred to me today why it is that I settled on each of them:
My own appreciation of skill and style … ahead of the more significant essence of physical and mental toughness.
Both lost important and easily winnable games today because of a lack of intestinal fortitude.
Arsenal was up first, away to struggling Southampton, with nothing less than first place in Premier League at stake. An Arsenal victory, taken with Leicester City’s loss, earlier in the day, would put the London side atop the league.
So what happens?
If you follow Arsenal at all, through the British media, you will find that the word “fragile” is an adjective often found directly in front of “Arsenal”.
It is meant in two senses.
One, that their guys seem prone to injury. (Arsenal loses so many guys every year to major injury that someone needs to do a close analysis of their medical and training staff. No, really. They are doing something wrong)
Two, that their guys seem prone to failing in the clutch. “Choking” would be the unkind American usage.
So, with a team missing a few key guys, and with a big match in front of them — it also was the only late game in the league; all 18 of the other teams played earlier — Arsenal wilted. Though 4-0 deserves something stronger and cruder than “wilted”.
“Swallowed their tongues”, perhaps. “Soiled themselves”.
In the Guardian story linked, above, the author suggests the defeat was “about Arsenal’s timidity and their infuriating habit of going missing when a big opportunity beckons”.
It didn’t help that Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, in so many aspects the model soccer manager, appeared to blame the referee. Yes, in a 4-0 game. Those first three goals came through errors by the referee.
Arsene would have taken more meaning from looking at how blue his players turned from an apparent lack of oxygen.
Arsenal hasn’t won the league since 2004, and this kind of result leaves us doubting they will win before 2024.
Later, came UCLA.
The football team was once known as the “gutty little Bruins”, back when they were small but played big — though we have to go back to the 1960s to find evidence of this.
For the past, oh, half century, UCLA’s football team often gets dominated in important games by teams that rise up and smack them in the mouth.
The most infamous instance was their game with Miami in 1998, the last game of the regular season. UCLA was unbeaten and No. 2 in the BCS rankings, primed to play Tennessee for the national title … and they lost 49-45, giving up 689 yards of offense — including 299 rushing yards to Edgerrin James, whom the still little but no longer gutty Bruins just could not tackle.
If you saw that game, you may still recall UCLA defenders bouncing off James as the home team overcame a 38-17 deficit.
UCLA by then had a rep for being “soft” and that was the game that branded the program forever.
They suffered a flashback tonight in their bowl game against 5-7 Nebraska in Santa Clara.
The Bruins looked slick and in business when they vaulted to a 21-7 lead, but from then on they were just overpowered by the primitive but big and physical Cornhuskers and lost 37-29.
That is what the Bruins do. Fail to tackle, fail to stand up, fail to trade blows.
It seems be both mental and physical … as is the case with Arsenal.
Apparently, I have an attraction for this sort of team.
Anyone know an NBA or NHL team with the same sort of problems? Skilled, but soft and squishy?
I probably would really like them.