There are many things that go into making a good sport. Different people respond to different aspects of competition and games. People who like situations that build slowly, punctuated by a significant event that breaks everything open, like baseball. People who like a game of intricate set pieces executed at great speed with great violence like American football. People who like to watch groups of dysfunctional thugs with one chief thug to each side score against each other at will enjoy the NBA.
I was watching a game tonight, and it was down to the last two minutes. It was a close game, the home team down by one. The clock kept ticking. The team that was behind began taking chances, desperate moves, score-at-all-costs moves. The clock, it kept on ticking. The losing team pulled out all the stops, giving up defense to just score one point to send the contest into overtime.
The clock kept ticking, until the game was over.
In an age when the last two minutes of a basketball game can easily take fifteen minutes, you have to appreciate hockey. Unless there is television butting in, the last two minutes don’t take substantially longer than any other two-minute period. If the game is close you can feel every second tick off as your team desperately scrambles. Just a little more time, you think as your heartbeat measures out your team’s life. Hang on just a little longer, you think if it’s your team facing the onslaught. But, as in life, the clock keeps ticking.
Baseball has no clock, and, except for periods of multiple pitcher changes, doesn’t change pace all that much. So that’s cool. It starts slow, so there’s not much use in stalling. Soccer could probably benefit from letting the fans know if the clock is running or not, because fake injuries can slow down the game to intolerable — when you’re ahead, hit the turf. At least some of the time you spend rolling around in apparent agony will be run off the official game time. Football slows down, increasing the intervals between plays until each execution constitutes a commercial break. In defense of football, however, when the losing team has the ball and is out of time outs, the game hits the fastest pace of the day, and that might be the most intense minutes in any sport. (Although spiking the ball to stop the clock should not be sanctioned.)
In football, however, there is a period before the final dash that is as slow as basketball, when teams are using their timeouts and “managing the clock”. On a coach’s report card Monday morning, clock management will be rated. Football is an incredibly complicated game, modern when you think of it, a team of specialists, and so now it wouldn’t surprise me if there is a “clock coach”, a guy on the sidelines constantly going through scenarios and whispering clock advice into the coach’s ear. That can be fun to watch. “What are you thinking!” you shout at the TV when your idea of clock management differs from that on the field.
I have no defense for the interminable last seconds of a basketball game.
In the end, though, if there’s a clock in the game I want it to be the enemy. It will not be managed, it will not negotiate. It ticks, it ticks, it keeps on ticking, until the final whistle blows. Advertisers will just have to deal with it.