Matt Holder writes Matt's Musings for Ball Bearings Magazine. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine or The Daily
After Team USA Men’s Basketball took home the gold medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, they celebrated the way Olympic gold medalists would – champagne (and medals) on ice and lots of tweets thanking their family and friends, etc. They were proud to represent their nation, and we were proud of their hubris.
There’s a lot of pride that comes with being the best at something, especially when it’s televised for everyone to see. What everyone didn’t see, however, was the awkward celebration of players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant after their victory against Spain. Looking up into the empty stands they hoped to see thousands of Americans chanting “USA! USA!” The players instead saw people rushing to leave, hoping to make the train before the Closing Ceremony started.
Jumping up and down in the middle of the court, the players hugged one another and held up a finger to illustrate the fact that they were indeed No. 1. The problem is, no one ever doubted the team’s No. 1 ranking. After all, these athletes make their living playing in the most competitive basketball league in the world. Of course they should celebrate the hard work it takes to win a gold medal, but at the same time, they were doing their job no better and no worse than expected. Perhaps that’s why my excitement felt so mild when I was watching them.
Far from London, in Bloomington, Ind., the Ball State football team was down by a single point against Indiana University on Sept. 15. The game was going according to plan. (Although IU has one of the worst football programs in the Big Ten, they are still in the Big Ten. Ball State, however, is in the lowly Mid-American Conference.) Yes, we beat them the previous year, but that was on neutral ground and both teams had new coaches. This time however, IU was the favorite. It would likely be a close game, but in the end, they would win the game and do their job no better and no worse than they should have.
That all changed when Ball State placekicker Steven Schott made a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. After a game of ups and downs, Ball State came out on top. The players and fans were ecstatic. After the game, coach Pete Lembo talked about how special it was to beat IU on their home turf.
Oftentimes the best moments in sports are those that surprise us and keep us on our heels. Team USA Men’s Basketball will go down as the best basketball team of the tournament and of their generation. The sports media holistically picked them to win, so no one was surprised when they did.
When the Ball State football team held their hands up high after the win, they weren’t saying they were the best in the world, but that they were the best team to step onto the field that night. Sometimes being the underdog is just more fun.