The Best One-Loss Season Debate Verdict

January 26, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

It is not very often that you can compare and contrast the radically different sports of horse racing and football, but that is exactly the context of this debate.

Both the 2007 New England Patriots and the horse Zenyatta flirted with immortality before it was cruelly ripped away from them at the zero hour. For the Patriots, they stood on the cusp of becoming the only team in NFL history to cap off a perfect 16-game season with a Super Bowl victory, while Zenyatta entered her final race with the hopes of being the only horse to retire at a perfect 20-0.

Both performed spectacularly. While they may have fallen short of becoming legends, their respective destinations should not overshadow their brilliant journeys.

If we hopped into the way-back machine, and were to assess the 2007 Patriots BEFORE the Super Bowl matchup against the Giants, then compare that to the career of Zenyatta BEFORE the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic, whose performance would history deem as being greater?

On history’s behalf, allow me to answer – Zenyatta.

What ultimately won the day for Zenyatta (and vicariously for Optimist Prime) is the fact that Zenyatta’s career was legendary BEFORE her final race. The fact that she lost to Blame at the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic is an unfortunate close to her legacy, but she had already established herself among the greatest horses ever to run – win OR lose.

Over her career, as Optimist Prime points out, Zenyatta significantly changed the sport of Horse Racing. In a sport where notoriety traditionally comes from success at the fabled Triple Crown races, Zenyatta blazed a new path to horse racing superstardom.

Thanks to Zenyatta, no longer is a Kentucky Derby victory a pre-requisite for horse racing greatness.

Think about the greatest horses in racing history – Secretariat, War Admiral, Affirmed, and more. Each was made great by their performance in the Triple Crown. Likewise, consider the horses of modern racing who have reached superstar status – Barbaro, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and more. Just as with the former group, it is their respective Triple Crown performance that give them notoriety.

Zenyatta was different.

Instead of hoping to catch superstardom at the spectacle of the Kentucky Derby, she was the first horse to win two separate races at the Breeder’s Cup, was the first Mare to ever win the Classic, and no other horse has more consecutive Grade/Group One victories than Zenyatta. She became a celebrity by virtue of her outstanding CAREER, rather than her performance in three individual races.

Not since Man o’ War had a horse so captured the public’s eye without racing in the Triple Crown, and that is only because Man o’ War’s time came BEFORE the Triple Crown.

It is true that the New England Patriots also set many records. As Babe Ruthless mentions, they remain the only team ever to complete an undefeated 16-game regular season. But the NFL is always evolving. As it evolves, the statistical accomplishments of previous eras lose relevance. For the very same reasons that Babe Ruthless mitigates the 1972 Dolphins’ perfect season (because it came over a 14, rather than 16, game season), folks will one day mitigate the records of the New England Patriots as we now move closer to an 18-game season.

What does not lose relevance, though, is the fact that there has already been a perfect champion in the NFL. No matter how great the statistical achievements of the 2007 Patriots (as pointed out by Babe Ruthless), they were attempting to REPEAT history, not make it. Yes, it is true that the 1972 Dolphins played two less games, but they were nonetheless perfect champions.

Unlike the 2007 Patriots, Zenyatta was a pioneer.

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The Best One-Loss Season Debate

January 24, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

In most years – and in most sports – the notion of perfection is lost long before the possibility is truly believed.

Each sport has its own idea of what constitutes perfection. But, no matter the sport, competitors who flirt with perfection draw a lot of attention. As they near that perfect effort, the pressure mounts. By the time the moment arrives – whether it is the tenth frame, the ninth inning, or the final game of the season – the world is watching.

In that moment when perfection is realized, history is instantly made. But how do you measure a failure to make history, especially when it comes in the final seconds of the quest?

Which brings us to our question for the day.

Whose one-loss effort was better, race horse Zenyatta, or the 2007 New England Patriots?

The 2007 New England Patriots tore through the regular season and stood one game away from becoming only the second team in NFL history to complete a perfect season before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

In 2010, race horse Zenyatta entered the Breeder’s Cup Classic with an unblemished 19-0 record. The Breeder’s Cup was to be Zenyatta’s final race, and a victory in that race meant that the horse would retire at a perfect 20-0. But in the stretch, it was the horse Blame that claimed the Cup.

History will define both legacies by the number in their respective “L” columns, but we are going to look past those unfortunate numbers for today and focus on which “W” column is greater.

Babe Ruthless feels that the New England Patriots quest for immortality was the better of the two, while Optimist Prime thinks Zenyatta takes the crown (even if only by a nose).

You see… losers can still be winners!

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The Best One-Loss Season Debate… Patriots Near Perfection Still Major

January 24, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

“Who the heck is Zenyatta!?” Those are the exact words I shared with my cohorts at The Sports Debates when I was chosen for this debate. Honestly, I’m still pondering that question today. After a few minutes of research on the old interwebs I learned that Zenyatta is a race horse – a really, really good race horse – but, a race horse. I mean, what is a horse anyways besides a larger, dumber hoofed dog? But I digress. This new knowledge of what Zenyatta – which for the record sounds like some sort of Buddhist meditating female Yeti – actually is prompted me to try to address another, perhaps more important question, who HONESTLY cares!?

Sure, someone out there has to care about horse racing, or else it would have gone the way of the XFL. But if it did, would normal Americans miss it? Aside from gamblers, weird horse people, and rich ladies who like to wear big hats, who would truly miss horse racing’s existence? I believe the answer to that question to be a resounding “NO ONE.”

That is why I feel that today’s debate, which asks me to compare the near perfect season of the 2007 New England Patriots to that of the racing record of a relatively obscure horse, is a slam dunk in my favor.

The 2007 Patriots displayed a level so rare that it has only been bested once before in the history of the NFL. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team to have gone undefeated throughout the entire regular season and playoffs. It should be noted, however, that the Dolphins did it with a regular season that consisted of only 14 games. The ‘07 Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, and there is no guarantee that the ‘72 Miami team would have claimed perfection if they had to win two more games in the regular season.

New England eventually fell short of perfection in a nail biting 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, but they accomplished much along the way. Randy Moss made history that season, setting the single-season touchdown reception record with an amazing 23 touchdown catches. That was history in and of itself, considering that mark bested a record held by Jerry Rice since 1987. That record held for two decades for a reason – it was hard to accomplish. But nothing was too hard for perhaps the most dynamic passing duo in NFL history. That same season Tom Brady truly became “Touchdown Tom” when he broke another improbable plateau by setting the single-season passing touchdown record with 50. As an admitted Peyton Manning fanatic I thought Manning’s 49 touchdown season in 2004 would stand forever, but Brady one-upped him as he has often done in the two’s storied rivalry. The Patriots finished first in eight offensive categories and were among the best defensive teams in the league as well.

With that much scoring the team had a potent offense, but it was so powerful that no team stood a chance during the regular season. The Patriots were decimating teams by 46 and 45 point margins. The Pats 16-0 regular season record included hard fought wins over very tough teams, including the Eagles (31-28), Ravens (27-24), and the always dangerous Colts (24-20). The 1972 Dolphins certainly had to beat some serious competitors, but they never had to beat a motivated Peyton Manning (who was at the time the single season touchdown record holder). That really says a lot about the difficulty behind the Patriots’ 18-1 record, the likes of which horse racing simply cannot compete.

Even with the Super Bowl loss the Patriots are still in the conversation of the greatest team in football history. Although they didn’t go 19-0, they still outshine the 1972 Dolphins in the score differential against opponents. The 2007 Patriots outscored their opponents by a total of 315 points. That’s 101 points better than the ‘72 Dolphins, a team that outscored opponents by 214 points. As further proof of their achievement, the Patriots led the NFL in myriad statistical categories that serve as proof of a legacy of accomplishment.

Is that horse Zanadoo… or Zimbabwe or… whatever its name is… in the conversation of the greatest racing horse of all time? Maybe. But will its legacy hold up over time and compare with that of the 2007 Patriots? Highly doubtful. Americans love football, and the 2007 Patriots are among the greatest to ever play the game regardless of their record, that makes them the winner of this debate.

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