My dad had a huge smile on his face. With remote control in hand and football on the big screen, Big Papa Hanson was thoroughly enjoying his Yale Parents’ Weekend in the Timothy Dwight College basement.
With about nine minutes left in the FSU-Miami game, Florida State was leading by 13 points. My sister — the FSU grad and former sorority girl who still drinks cranberry vodkas at 10 in the morning — was screaming in Miami for the ‘Noles, while my parents and I huddled around a television in dreary New Haven. My mother, the omniscient and fun-loving sports fan, proclaimed an FSU victory. Note to Mom: Insert foot in mouth.
Nine minutes (and one second) later, Xavier Beitia was bawling after missing a game-winning field goal on the FSU 43-yard line.
And we aren’t talking about a “When Harry Met Sally” sniffle.
Beitia’s outburst reminded me of Christmas 1987 when my parents got me a knock-off Teddy Ruxpin. It’s not Beitia’s fault FSU lost (well, yes it is), but the entire FSU team is to blame. Run the ball, run the ball. With nine minutes left, Chris Rix threw an interception leading to a Miami touchdown that cut the lead to six. And then the ‘Canes scored again to erase 13 points in less than nine minutes. Who chokes on a 13-point lead? And it wasn’t just FSU this past weekend; Wisconsin threw away their game as Indiana scored twice in the last minutes of the fourth quarter.
What FSU pulled last weekend was pathetic. So pathetic, that it ranks right up there with:
1. 1993 Wimbledon Finals. Yeah sure, it’s not recent, but it’s a good place to start. After being up a set and a point away from 5-1, Jana Novotna loses in three sets to Steffi Graf. Novotna, who has never heard of the Heimlich maneuver, was a chronic choker on the WTA Tour and also notorious for crying in the arms of the Duchess of York.
2. 1999 British Open. With a 3-stroke lead going into the last hole, Jean Van de Velde goes from weeds to grandstand to creek to sand trap and barely manages to make a playoff against Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard. Who is this guy? Who smiles when he is knee-deep in British muck? The French.
3. March 2002 Swing Space Basement. Leading 19-11 in Ping-Pong, Chris Hanson manages to lose the next 10 points to Jeohn Favors. I only had one response to this incident — a sign posted outside room SW 116: “Losing a Ping-Pong match after leading 19-11 is mentally devastating.”
Many sports fans ask themselves, “How can this happen? How did FSU, Jana Novotna, Frenchie, and Chris Hanson ’05 all choke?” There are many reasons for choking: nerves, mismanagement, depression, being French, hormones, sweaty palms, and Sharon Hanson (my mother) foreshadowing an inevitable victory. From now on, my mother should be forbidden from making predictions: “FSU will beat Miami,” “Jimmy Carter will be re-elected,” and my personal favorite — “Chris, you will do great in Directed Studies.”
But, as much as I love touchy-feely sports psychologists, we need to put the “choking” experiences behind us. The better question to ask is “where do we go from here?” How can FSU recover from this now famed Choking Incident of October 12, 2002?
FSU must learn from their mistakes and study the Miami game. Don’t ask what could have been, but what can be. And for Bobby Bowden’s sake, don’t miss those 43-yard field goals!
Even if FSU can recover, ‘Noles fans will still be reeling from the choke. Rule Number One in the Sports Fan Handbook: Fans NEVER forget a choke. Years from now, my sister will be casually drinking a dirty martini in some bar, when ESPN will unexpectedly flashback to Beitia’s failed attempt.
The flashback will cause suppressed memories of failure to resurface — memories of an FSU loss, ill-fated college hook-ups, and high school geometry.
Those moments of failure linger longer than times of triumphs.
My sister still hasn’t answered any of my e-mails or phone calls since the choke. But there is hope. By next Saturday, she will be up at FSU with cranberry vodka in hand watching the ‘Noles take on Notre Dame. This is what Saturdays are for — redemption. Or, as my mother would say, another FSU victory.