The great ones never lose their cool.
The merely good, however, sometimes disintegrate under the weight of their own mental shortcomings.
See Hall, DeAngelo.
While watching Hall and coach Mike Gundy make asses of themselves last week, I started to think about what it is in sports that makes otherwise proud men completely fall apart in front of the world?
Is it humiliation? Is it fear? Is it pressure?
Whatever it is, I'm sure the greats in sports all have felt it. So, how come they never let it ruin their composure when it really matters?
Think about every truly great player in sports. Now think of the number of times that they just totally "lost it" while playing. They had a meltdown, got into a fight, cost the team a game because of something stupid.
Chances are, there isn't any single episode that you can remember.
Sure, Michael Jordan got into some scraps in his day, but did he ever just go nuts and start swinging at somebody, prompting a suspension?
Larry Bird and Dr. J once famously had each other in mutual chokeholds -- a classic sports photo if ever there was one -- but they were usually in full command of their emotions, and mentally two steps ahead of their opponents.
There's a reason why Joe Montana was called "Joe Cool." He never had to rant and rave at wideouts who ran the wrong pattern, or throw his arms around about dropped passes.
Tiger Woods may lead the PGA Tour in expletives uttered after bad shots, but instead of letting those emotions control him, he does the opposite. He will saddle up that anger, and ride it like a chariot of vengeance. Pity the golf course or opponent who gets in his way.
Did Walter Payton ever get flagged for throwing a ball in a tackler's face after a play?
Even Barry Bonds -- like him or not -- endured more than his share of crap from opposing fans, more inside pitches and intentional plunkings without ever having that "meltdown moment."
Bobby Bonilla once threatened a reporter with a promise to "show you the Bronx." Aren't you amazed that Bonds never did anything similar? Sure, he was surly. Aloof. Sarcastic. But they never got the best of him, despite years of prodding and provoking.
My guess is that truly great athletes have a vision and command of what they want to do on the field that surpasses that of merely good players. And that vision so dominates everything they do, it simply doesn't allow them to even contemplate a childish rant or act that takes away from their goals.
Most great coaches are this way, too. It's why the honor roll of idiotic rants through the years belongs mostly to the Lee Elia's and Mike Gundy's of the world. Not Bear Bryant or Mike Krzyzewski.
(Now Bobby Knight, that's a tough one. He is the exception. And I'm gonna have to go back to the lab to come up with a decent explanation for him. Gimme a week or two on that.)
At all levels, coaches preach to their players the virtue of "keeping their heads about them, when all around you others are losing theirs." Play smart. Keep your cool. Use your head. Control your emotions.
It's easy to say, but hard to learn, especially in today's modern sports culture, one that thrives on the "in-your-face" and the "hey-look-at-me!"
It's easy to wax nostalgic about the past, and imagine that everything was "better" back in the day. In reality, that's not always the case in sports. Players were slower. Schemes were far less complex. And technology that makes players better today, didn't exist "back in the day." (Note: Think about Johnny Unitas with a laptop computer that contained his playbook, and hours of sortable video on the upcoming opponent. Scary.)
But one thing does stand out every time I watch full length games on ESPN Classic. There were a lot fewer dudes who acted like total jackasses. And the truly great players, were always in command.
Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.
A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.