Sometimes you have to miss in order to win

Then how come we’re not winning?

We are intrigued by the final 3.9 seconds of Sunday night’s 01-09-22 Wisconsin Badger basketball victory over Maryland.

Leading 70 to 69, Badger free throw shooter Brad Davison, owning an 88% success rate, purposely missed. On the face of it, that would give Maryland a chance to win with a two-point basket. Except that, had Wisconsin made the free throw, the game clock stops and Maryland gets the ball out of bounds and possibly goes on to tie or win with a 3-point basket. You can run hither and yon like that old scrambling QB Fran Tarkenton looking for an open receiver for a pass down court. The clock does not resume until a player touches it in bounds.

Because Davison missed his free throw, Maryland was required to gather the rebound and move the ball down court, contested, the clock ticking all the while. “The Terps” (love that nickname) had to throw up a desperation heave at half court. Missed badly. Badgers win.

frayed basketball hoop

Football has the same dynamic. Your opponent is on your one-yard line with a fresh set of downs in the final seconds. A touchdown and point-after kick puts them up by one or two points. You can play defense for all four downs but odds are they score anyway, the clock expires, and you go into the locker room a loser. The alternative is to play matador and wave them into the end zone with minimal loss of clock. If you’ve got, say, Aaron Rodgers and Davonte Adams on the field, you feel reasonably good about getting in field goal range to win the game. (Well, maybe not this year.)

Not sure there’s a baseball equivalent. Defensive indifference? Runner steals second base without a throw because you’ve got two outs and are up by two runs anyway. (Not really.) Muhammed Ali’s rope a dope in the Rumble in the Jungle ?

In warfare, it might be the strategic retreat. Lose the battle, win the war. Washington and then Bobby Lee did that to a T. Tire out the other side. Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam?

We’re admittedly scratching like a rabid rooster for a political example but it might be this: running for office knowing that you can’t win. (Blaska for Madison school board calling for a return to discipline in the classroom and race-neutral policies?) There’s a certain freedom in telling the truth without having to bowderlize your message in order to curry favor with benighted voters. That’s losing the election but winning the argument.

Blaska’s Bottom LineThere’s probably some arcane, Beautiful Mind kind of economic theory that describes purposefully blowing it in the short term only to win the war but the gray lab coats staged another work action. In their absence, can anyone in the peanut gallery tell us what that theory might be?

UPDATE: Platinum subscriber “One Eye” suggests we’re talking a game theory called the prisoner’s dilemma. Both the Chargers and Raiders would have advanced to the NFL playoffs if their game Sunday night resulted in a tie (and a lot of other Ifs depending on other scores). The Wall Street Journal explored the phenomenon, remarking, “It raises the outlandish possibility that both teams could spend the game kneeling, punting or spiking the football with designs of a 0-0 tie.”

Do you have better examples?

About David Blaska

Madison WI
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16 Responses to Sometimes you have to miss in order to win

  1. One eye says:

    Now you’ve done it. It’s 3 degrees out and I have no intention of leaving the house so get ready for more serial posting from ol’ One Eye. I love sports for these quirky things. If there is something that explains , it’s in game theory not economic theory.

    Last night’s situation was not exactly a “prisoner’s dilemma” but akin. A tie gets both teams into playoffs else loser is out. And the tie almost happened! The events in that 4th qtr to produce an OT were so unlikely I was thinking yeah this is proof we’re in a simulation. Unbelieveable.


  2. One eye says:

    Tennis players will often tank sets (not if it causes them to lose the match) if they’re so far behind they’re likely to lose it no matter what. Sheer number of points or games won don’t matter it’s all about sets. Stefan Edberg once lost a match at the US Open without losing his serve and winning more games than his opponent (he lost 3 tie breakers and won another set or 2).

    In the old days tennis had some round robin tournaments (eg the Masters at MSG) where it might make sense to throw a match to play a lessor opponent that happened to win their round robin group. That was frowned upon so they had to at least appear to be trying.


  3. One eye says:

    Running, especially marathons …. very difficult if not impossible to win a race in the lead.

    Applies to bike races too. And golf if your last name isn’t Woods. Tiger back in the day was a great finisher. I think you have an advantage being 1 or 2 back vs pressure of being the leader the last round.

    I wonder if pro golfers ever miss some putts to avoid next round pairings they don’t like. No one wants to play with Bryson DeChambeau since he’s so slow. And it’s the pairing that gets penalized for slow play which I think is dumb.


  4. One eye says:

    How about winning a primary to elect someone else? Recall the “hit” on Ananda Miriili by the Manskis:


  5. One eye says:

    Baseball: How do you thwart a legendary home run hitter? Throw him a softball pitch.
    Gorman Thomas v Dave LaRoche


  6. One eye says:

    Any sport … what is the best number of strike outs, fumbles, double faults, interceptions, tee shots OOB? It’s not zero! The only way to zero is to take 0 risks. No risk, no rewards.


  7. One eye says:

    One I like in football even more than your matador example is the player who has a clear path to score a touchdown and insteads downs it, allowing his team to run out the clock.


  8. One eye says:

    Some losses are wins. America’s Cup for sailing in the 80s was wildly popular only after USA lost.

    Women’s ice skating after I Tonya.

    US crowds became Martina Navratilova fans after she lost to Tracy Austin.


  9. chequamegon says:

    Well here’s an older one – that failed. Remember Holmgren and Super Bowl XXXII?


  10. One eye says:

    And who can forget Paul Crewe’s on purpose incompletion? Well, complete to Bogdanski’s jewels.

    Ray Nitschke, Legend.


  11. One eye says:

    Oh duh the baseball equivalent is an intentional walk.


  12. Pasco says:

    Home talent baseball ahead 9-0. At bat in fifth inning with two outs and raining cats and dogs. It is a complete game if we make the third out! Batter bunts and slowly trots to first. He is out and umpires call the game as it rains for hours. We “win” game and division championship. We also win the protest! Always good to know the rules.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. One eye says:

    Huh where did everybody go? political junkies not into sports?

    Oh well …. Go Bama!


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