October 16, 2001

Mind Games

Print More

You are a 2.55 student. You haven’t studied for a test, quiz or final since high school. You have yet to turn in a paper on time. You don’t read the book because it’s got too many dadgum words. One day, you take your comfy seat in the back of your Advanced Physical Chemistry class, not-so-eagerly awaiting the return of your first prelim. The T.A. finally gets to you and gives you The Eye. You grab the paper, give it a glance and lo and behold, you aced it! Didn’t miss one question! You smile. What the hell just happened?

You are a 4.02 student. You’ve read your lecture notes twice each weekday, and double on the weekends. Not only do you highlight your textbook, but you also color code your own notes. An A- is an insult to you and your family history. You eagerly race to your computer after your Psych 101 prelim to check your score, and lo and behold, you Failed! 9/50! You cry. What the hell just happened?

Why do we falter in the easiest of situations? Why do we shine only when no one is looking? Why do we screw up the most routine actions when they count the most? Why does the underdog outbite the overdog when the spread is the greatest?

If you were awake for even 10 minutes this weekend, you must have noticed some strange going–ons in the sporting world.

Florida, ranked second in the nation with one of the most prolific offenses in the history of college football, was upset by unranked Auburn. Yes, the same Auburn that produced Dameuyne Craig.

Heisman front–runner and resident Superman, Rex Grossman, was picked off four times. By Auburn. Yeah, Auburn’s defense is decent. Yeah, they can shutdown I-AA schools. But not Florida. Definitely not Florida. You just don’t mess with these guys unless you’re Miami, Florida State, Nebraska or Virginia Tech. They were supposed to be untouchable. What the hell happened?

The St. Louis Rams’ high flying offense was held to 15 points against a suspect N.Y. Giants defense. The Cornell women’s cross-country team placed eighth in the nation at a pre–national meet. Eighth. The Packers rang up 31 points against the solid Raven’s D. The Seattle Mariners, after having tied the record for most wins ever, barely made it to the ALCS. XXXXXXXXXXXThe Redskins have yet to record a win.XXXXXXXXXXXXXX What the hell happened?

Take a step back, look at all the weird results and you’ll begin to see patterns. You’ll have a Detective Kujan moment.

“It all makes sense when you look at it right.”

There’s a reason for every upset and a reason for every flop, and it all comes down to psychology. These are the five syndromes that can turn your sleek Nebraska into a messy Rutgers: the Media Syndrome, the Over–Hyped Schizophrenia, the Overlooked Syndrome, the Fate Disorder and the You Did It Complex.

The Media Syndrome is caused by — you guessed it — the media. It’s a reporter’s dream to discover the next dynasty, and so he may fudge a few team attributes to make them look stellar. Instead of calling it a definite top 25 team, you drop the 2, and people notice. Yeah Florida’s passing game was stellar, but the Gators lacked a consistent ground game. Drop seven into the secondary on every other play, as Auburn did, and Dan Marino himself couldn’t have performed better. So, a team that once appeared grand only seemed so because we made it look like it was. Certainly The Cornell Daily Sun is no stranger to such a concept.

The Media Syndrome directly leads to Over–Hyped Schizophrenia. In such a disorder, the team thinks it is something that it actually is not. When everyone [including some foolhardy columnists] told the Redskins that they were still great, the players bought it lock, stock and barrel and went into the season brimming with confidence — smiles on their faces, and bounces in their steps. They thought their team chemistry deserved an A, and that Jeff George’s arm could carry a Super Bowl trophy. But in reality, the team had major holes in depth, character, and perhaps most importantly, skill.

Jeff George is not the answer to any team’s problems — the last decade of football proves it. Moreover, Michael Westbrook cannot be a go–to receiver. He just, straight up, is not very good. Finally, the defensive line started Bruce Smith until he was injured last week. Yep, that Bruce Smith. Now don’t get me wrong, Bruce (the most heralded Virginia Tech product) still has a great heart, just not great legs.

The Overlooked Syndrome occurs when a team simply ignores practicing for their next opponent because a bigger one looms on the horizon. Why study for a Bio 101 quiz when you’ve got a Orgo 357 prelim the next day? For no. 9 South Carolina, Arkansas was the quiz and Tennessee was the prelim.

The Fate Disorder can be attributed to unnatural causes — be they fates, fairies, demons or whatever. These guys don’t necessarily change the game, but they change the conditions by which the game is played.

The Rams lost Marshall Faulk to injury for most of their game against the Giants. Faulk is an enormous part of St. Louis’ success, and the team was fortunate to pull out a gutsy 15–14 win. Injuries, the weather, indigestion (see the men’s hockey team against St. Lawrence two years ago) are just some of the means by which this disorder works.

Finally, and most interestingly, is the You Did It Complex. Let’s say you’ve got a favorite team, the Knicks for example. One season, for some reason, you haven’t had the chance to watch their first 35 games. Lo and behold, they go 34–1, dominating the competition like there’s no tomorrow. Finally, you plop down in front of the TV one weekend to have a look at your boys, who are facing the 2–33 Bulls. Second quarter rolls around and your Knicks are being blown out, 38-8, only to lose by 51. What happened?

You were watching the game, that’s what happened. You ruined the karma of the season. They only win when you don’t watch. If you break the routine, they lose. It is a serious Complex that, in some way, affects all of us. You watch a game for 10 minutes, and your team goes up by 10. You stop watching and they go down by 4. Now you have to watch the whole game to make sure they win. And if they do, you did it.

So, the next time you see an overdog that you bet your life on being blown out, don’t scream at the TV Just sit and back and relax. Turn it off or on, you know what’s going to happen.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin