Choking In Sports Want to know why athletes choke and what it does for their careers? Mitch Williams and Scott Norwood are two players that choked in big games and lost their careers because of it. They played in two different sports, but had similar positions. I will go through each position and what the NFL and MLB expect of these players. I will show you what kind of pressure Mitch Williams and Scott Norwood went through. I used sports web sites to find this information. I think that choking affects so many people and the outcome of games. Fantastic athletes that do there job with ease, but when it comes down to the big game, they play like how you and I would play. First, lets examine what a kicker’s job is in the sport of football.
The kicker is a specialist who’s sole purpose is to kick the football through the uprights. In the NFL, if the kicker fails to kick the field goal in about 80 to 90 percent of the time, the kicker is released or fired. This is the way the NFL is. The trick to being a great NFL kicker is consistency. The kicker makes, at average, the league minimum which is $250,000 a year.
They only receive one to two year contracts. The biggest being Morten Andersen, who is one of the greatest kickers of all time. His contract is for about five years, all not guaranteed, for $870,000 dollars a year. There are reasons for this. The big thing for kickers in the NFL these days are a strong legged kicker who can make 50+ yard field goals. Most teams are all looking for the Morten Andersens.
John Hall has one of the biggest legs in the business, but he only made 18 field goals out of 27 tries. This is not a good average, but since he can make these long field goal with ease, he keeps his job. Most of the kickers hired are fired within only two years because they cannot keep this same standard and not have a toll on them physically and mentally. Norwood missed a field goal in super bowl XXV, Obviously, it ended his career. Actually, Norwood came back and kicked one more season (1991) for the Bills, but he was never the same. He’s now retired and lives in Virginia.
Jacke, a noted long-range kicker, made 77.8 percent of his field-goal attempts (21 of 27) that season, although he was seldom tested in pressure situations. Vinatieri was under more pressure — and stayed busier — making 27 of 35 FG attempts. Jacke came out of Texas-El Paso. On the surface, he is more laid-back than Vinatieri. Inside, they are both the same – nervous. Kickers cringe at the thought of the game having to be in their hands, and rightfully so.
They don’t hang out with the rest of the team, they are basically outcast. Yet, they are supposed to come in and win the game for their team. They know that if they miss, in any game not just the Super Bowl, they might lose their job and in the case of Scott Norwood the rest of their career. With four seconds left and the Bills trailing the Giants 20-19, Norwood missed wide right on a 47-yard attempt, giving the Giants their second Super Bowl title in five seasons. Norwood never lived it down.
In fact, during that season’s playoffs, he declined on occasion to discuss the kick. In his seven-year NFL career, Norwood made 72 percent of his field goals, but his percentage dropped steadily, from 86 percent in 1988 to 62 percent. Those close to Norwood claim he hasn’t been affected by the intense scrutiny. But make no mistake, he hears the whispers around town. Scott Norwood was one of the best kickers in the league until the kick.
Now think to yourself “What if he would have made it?” The answer would be that I wouldn’t have much a paper to write. I believe that due to the stress of missing that kick, he was no longer able to be the kicker he once was. Now god knows that some players can bounce back from something like this, but in the most case stuff like this can be as traumatic as getting in a car accident and then developing a fear for driving. The mind develops a kind of safety guard that helps protect us from that kind of extreme stress again and it can dramatically affect the way the player performs. Let’s take the next case for example, except let’s use a different game. A closer in baseball is a relieve pitcher that comes in usually in the 8th or 9th innings to keep the opponent from scoring to preserve the lead that eventually leads to a win.
This position doesn’t have as much pressure for the player to perform as a kicker would. If a closer blows a save, he will not lose his job, and their are 160 some odd games in a season, so during a season it won’t mean that much of a difference if the team loses a game. Although, in the case I will give to you, this was no ordinary game. This was game six of the World Series. It was the bottom of the 9th and The Philadelphia Phillies had a one run lead.
Just like Scott Norwood, Mitch Williams was having a great season and a memorable career. He was affectionately known as “Wild Thing” by the Philadelphia fans. It was in 1993 when he was Wild Thing, the untamed relief pitcher on the dirty-shirt Phillies who shocked the Braves and went to Game 6 of the World Series. Philadelphia loved that team. I loved that team, Williams said.
They were the best people. I loved playing with them. When the season ended, we were spent. He took a two-run lead into the ninth inning of the sixth game as the Phillies improbably were about to even the Series. Williams got an out and the Blue Jays had two runners on, which was how he had escaped late in the season, and Joe Carter hit a home run.
Never has the World Series ended with a home run that reversed the score, before or since. For some people I was the villain, no question, Williams said. I know whatever I do, I’ll be remembered for that. I don’t want my career to end with the last two seasons the way they were. The kind of guy he is, if his career had been ended for any other reason in ’93, he would have called it great.
It was the best year he ever had. He wasn’t the best closer, in fact he pitched at the brink of disaster all the time. He pitched in 65 games, struck out 60 in 62 innings and had 43 saves. How quickly that was forgotten. Remember the soccer player who was the national goat of the ’94 World Cup? He went home to Colombia and was shot dead in the street. Williams got death threats.
Eggs and stones were thrown at his house. I could take it, he said. But my wife and kid were in the house. Threats on his life were phoned to the ball club. Cops were stationed near his home.
They didn’t tell me until I saw cops at the park the next day, he said. He didn’t sleep after Carter’s home run, either. He was traded to Houston that December. He was what Boone called an adrenaline-pitcher. He threw himself at the batter as hard as he could.
I always thought the pressure was my advantage, Williams said. The hitter wants to be the hero – the ego thing. They swing at pitches they normally wouldn’t. He went from 43 saves to six with Houston to none with California, to a struggling half-season in the minors. The home run didn’t change me, he said.
What bothered me was everybody saying my fastball was going away. So he tried to throw harder to prove them wrong. Ralph Branca said Bobby Thomson’s home run didn’t bother him, it was trying to prove it didn’t bother him that ruined his arm. I tried to throw 100mph and ruined my mechanics, Williams said. I was going to prove them wrong.
In the process I proved them right. My report just tells of two cases, of which a player choked and after that could not recover from it. I am sure there has been players that have given up the game winner and came back to have good careers. I can’t use Mark Wohlers, who gave up the base hit to Edgar Renteria in the 1997 World Series, he also has hit a downfall in his career. I can’t use him in my report because although the problem is psychological. I personally don’t think it has to do with the game winning hit he gave up because no one placed much emphasis on him.
They instead focused on Edgar Renteria’s base hit. Kicker and closers know that they have to go through the pressure of the game they are in. Also, you have to understand, these players are the cream of the crop and still make allot of money by our standards. The average closer makes about 2.5 million a year in baseball because it is such an overwhelmingly demanding position. It takes allot of skill. Most closer are not young. Older pitchers are closers because that can handle the pressure, but how can any pitcher, not just an old pitcher, take the stress he must endure to keep his job and do it effectively. The same goes for the NFL.
The NFL wants veterans who get the job done. “Choking” isn’t a life threatening disease. It is just a condition that happens when pressure situations arise. Sports and Games.