It’s Better to be Lucky than Good

An article from a few years ago.

There have been some surprising upsets this NFL post season.  It left me believing — along with many other events — that after achieving a certain level of being “good,” it’s better to be lucky.  This statement holds a firm truth in events that are a one-time, do-or-die occurrence: football, fighting, etc.  The Chargers just beat the Colts in Indianapolis; the Giants beat the Packers in Green Bay; Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson; and Matt Sera knocked out Georges St. Pierre.  No one ever wants to admit that the dirty word “luck was involved.  Success is always from the sweat of our own labor, from the grit of our character; never: “hey, we got lucky.”  In all of the above events, nine times out of ten the result is reversed.  In regards to talent, the Colts and Packers are better (especially at home) than the Chargers and Giants, and Tyson and St. Pierre far outweigh Douglas and Sera in raw talent.  Luck was the factor.

During games or fights — especially when the match up is relatively even — there are always a plethora of plays or moves that can go either way.  That being said, when one team or person has more plays go its way (gets luckier) than the other one, it wins (you cannot tell me that a football that gets tipped in the air three times and lands in the opponents hands is not luck, or that a wide open all-pro receiver who drops the ball in the end zone isn‘t either).  What annoys me is when announcers and analysts then talk about how great the winner is, how it’s destined, and how the loser, even if more talented, is not that good and needs to reevaluate the situation.  If one play is the deciding factor — and it often is — it is not the difference between one team being great and the other team needing to go back to the drawing board.  The Giants’ defeat of the Packers by an overtime field goal does not make the Giants a better team than the Packers.  Matt Sera’s landing of a wild punch behind the ear of St. Pierre does not make him a better fighter.

Upsets are not as common when you look at events that are decided by a series: basketball, baseball, etc.  Why? Because luck would be extremely hard to repeat in a best-of-seven series.  The Nuggets beat the Spurs in Game One of the NBA playoffs.  Were they the better team?  No.  They lost the next four in a row.  For the first time in history, the eighth-seeded Warriors beat the one-seeded Mavericks in a best-of-seven series.  It’s hard not to say that they were the better team because they won four games.  Having things go your way (luck) isn’t going to get you through four victories in a row.

Football games and fights are exciting because that’s it, you lose, you’re done.  However, at the same time, the best team or person isn’t always going to win.  Sometimes things just don’t go your way on that one particular day.  As I’ve heard repeated many times: “that’s why they play the game.”  But I’d like to say that luck is what gives credence to that statement; without it, you already know who wins.


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