It ain’t over til it’s over

Yogi Berra, one of the best catchers to ever play baseball, was named Most Valuable Player in the American League three times.  As a player, coach or manager, Berra participated in an amazing 21 World Series, winning 13 of them.
Despite his success in the sport at the highest level for several decades, many today remember him most for some of his quirky quotes.  “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical”, he said, which must have made math teachers all over the country cringe. Giving directions to his home, which could be reached by two different routes, he once told Joe Garagiola “when you get to a fork in the road, take it.”
My personal favorite of all his many quotes came when he was the Manager of the New York Mets.  After trailing the Chicago Cubs by 9 ½ games in July, the Mets rallied to win the division title on the last day of the season.  With a straight face he told the gathered reporters after the game, “It ain’t over til it’s over”.   
I have probably used those words a thousand times since Berra said them in 1973.  They seem to apply to so many different things in life, but nowhere more than in sports.  An example would have been the previous year when Auburn beat second ranked Alabama 17-16 after trailing 16-0 with less than ten minutes left in the game.  Two blocked punts were returned for touchdowns and Auburn claimed the unthinkable win.
Perhaps that is part of why we enjoy sports so much.  It is not just the athletic skills and competitiveness that draw us to the games.   We like the fact that on any given day a team can be beat.  We also like that some of the greatest upsets in history, regardless of the sport, have occurred after people were leaving for the exits.
The greatest upset I ever watched was the Miracle on Ice when the American Olympic hockey team defeated Russia 4 to 3.  Sportscaster Al Michaels uttered words during the final seconds that reflected how improbable that win really was when he said “Do you believe in miracles?”
Sports history is full of dominant teams that mentally had their opponents beat when they took to the field or court.  Most of the time, these teams had the combination of talent, experience and luck that made them seem to be teams of destiny.
The Kentucky Wildcats seemed like such a team this year.  At 38-0, they seemed the best team to ever come out of this storied program.  It was widely assumed by tournament time that no other team could beat Kentucky; they could only beat themselves.
Saturday evening saw the heartbreaking end to their incredible season as the Wisconsin Badgers won in the semi-finals.  Disbelief was rampant in the Wildcat nation as fans struggled to accept not only the first loss of the season, but the loss of the expected national championship.
Wisconsin then had to meet Duke, the other basketball blueblood, in the finals.  The Badgers had beaten the unbeatable only to have to face the Blue Devils.  The game was tied at 31-31 at halftime.   Great athletes on both sides battled as the lead changed hands over and over.   Wisconsin led by as many as nine points in the second half.
It wasn’t over until the final seconds ticked away.  Duke will take home the trophy everyone thought would be going to Kentucky.  Wisconsin played its heart out in both games only to have their dream snatched away.
There really are no words to describe the classic battles of the 2015 Final Four except to repeat those famous words of Yogi Berra one more time.  “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
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Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]
 

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