What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
If you give it a bit of thought, it’s easy to see the analogies between sports and war. The field of battle since the dawn of time has been one of the few places where violence, deceit, and death come in the same canteen with honor, duty, and discipline. Suggestive of the overall duality of man, that dissonant harmony is why we romanticize war with tales of glorious victories, crushing defeats, and courageous and sometimes fallen heroes.
But the other place where all those qualities co-exist is in the world of sports. Granted, the stakes aren’t as high and sports do not make the die in which our history is cast, but sports give us so many of the elements of war without the death. There’s conflict, camaraderie, and as Wide World of Sports taught us…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But If you give it a bit more thought and take the idea from the conceptual level to that of specific examples, those things give us some perfect comparison between those two worlds.
We love to think that Dubsism is a place where you can learn more by accident than in other places by design. That’s why we’ve cobbled together a list of twenty landmark battles culled from the annals of military history and point out their nearly linear comparisons in sports.
Should you be interested in other installments in this series, here’s where you can find them:
The campaign at Gallipoli in 1915-1916 was a disastrous attempt by the Allied Powers to control the sea route from Europe to Russia during the First World War. The campaign began with a failed naval attack spanning February and March 1915 by the British and French on the Dardanelles Straits in modern-day Turkey. This was followed by a major sea-borne invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25, 1915. This force was comprised of nearly half a million Allied troops from Britain, Ireland, France, Newfoundland, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Facing them was a contingent of 300,000 soldiers from the Ottoman Empire and Germany.
A combination of factors including, but not limited to a serious lack of intelligence of the Ottoman positions, the general and knowledge of the topography of the battlefield, and a tenacious Turkish defense doomed the Allied invasion. By October, the Allies had suffered massive casualties and had barely progressed beyond their original beach-heads. December 1915 found the Allies with little choice but to begin a two-month process of evacuating their task force by sea to Egypt, all while the slaughter on the beaches continued.
All tolled, of the approximately 800,000 troops on both sides involved, over half a million were either killed, wounded, or fell victim to various battlefield maladies.
BONUS: There’s a very good film about this battle, and it will be featured in an upcoming World War I film blog-a-thon in which Dubsism will participating. If you are a devotee of classic cinema or military history, it will be worth your while to give it a look.
The Sporting Equivalent: The first failure of the XFL
Forget about the impending next failure of the XFL…one upon which Vince McMahon is rumored to be investing half a billion dollars. The XFL’s original incarnation was a joint venture between McMahon’s WWE and NBC. That pairing saw the XFL being led by McMahon and former NBC executive Dick Ebersol. Military history is chock full of examples of “the wrong execution of the right idea.” Like Gallipoli, the XFL is a perfect example of this. They both suffered from being too ambitious, too far a departure from the norm, and from the clashing egos of it’s leadership. Once Ebersol got cold feet over the direction and pace at which McMahon was heading, NBC pulled it’s support of the fledgling league, leaving McMahon little choice but to evacuate the beaches.
In the previous example, the Ottoman Empire didn’t so much win the Battle of Gallipoli as the British and the French lost it. In any event, the ultimate end of the Ottoman Empire came as they lost World War I with their German allies. But to be honest, the decline and fall of the Ottomans began 400 years earlier with the Turks’ unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529. In a simple manner of speaking, the original purpose of the Ottoman army was to “get even” for the Crusades by advancing Islam into central and western Europe and to ensure the Muslim religion and culture would dominate the region rather than Christianity. The Ottoman defeat at Vienna meant that goal was no longer possible and thus began the centuries-long decline of their empire.
The Sporting Equivalent: The USFL’s anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL
If you can use the Ottoman Empire to illustrate the death of one upstart football league, you can use it for another. Founded in 1983, the United States Football League brought professional football to the spring months in America. Like the XFL, the USFL had its strengths and weaknesses, but it also suffered from clashing leadership and over-ambitious goals. The great irony of this league is that it’s destruction came at the hands of winning it’s 1986 anti-trust lawsuit against the National Football League. Granted, they were victorious legally, but as the court awarded monetary damages in the amount of $1, the USFL was financially crippled. The structure of that court decision virtually guarantees the NFL won’t be challenged by a competing football league until Congress takes away the league’s anti-trust exemption.
Somebody should forward this to Vince McMahon.
The Battle of Naseby marks a couple of key firsts in English history. Naseby represents the end of the first English Civil War, which was a confrontation between “Royalists” loyal to King Charles I and the “Parliamentarians” led by Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax. This proved to be a decisive victory for Cromwell and Fairfax as their “New Model Army” obliterated the King’s veteran infantry and destroyed the entirety of the loyalist artillery. This led to a wholesale slaughter of fleeing Royalists and King Charles I becoming the first English monarch forcibly removed from the throne and publicly beheaded.
The Sporting Equivalent: The Sacking of Sam Allardyce
The two most important people in England are the reigning monarch and the manager of the English national soccer team…and not necessarily in that order. If you aren’t familiar, Sam Allardyce is an English soccer manager who is known for rescuing teams from the bottom of the standings. But he never is able to take them anywhere further than mediocrity. If he were an American football coach, he’d be Rex Ryan.
Ever since the loss of their empire, the Brits hung a lot of lot of their national pride on their national soccer team. That was understandable when the English were a world power on the pitch. But I’m a 50 year old guy, and the English haven’t won a World Cup in my lifetime. They’ve only ever been champions of the world once, whereas the Teutonic CommuNazis have won 4 times. That’s why when Allardyce was named to head the English national team, there was a large number of Brits who vowed this simply was not good enough. Soon, there were misconduct allegations made against Allardyce, and while one can argue about the legitimacy of those charges, the fact remained they were enough for Allardyce to be dragged from the throne of English soccer after a total of 67 days and one victory over Slovakia.
Thankfully , the English have evolved over the last 400 years; Allardyce’s head is still firmly attached.
Americans tend to think of the Korean War as the “Forgotten War'” but on the world stage, that title could easily belong to the 1982 conflict in the Falkland Islands. From a military history perspective, that really is a shame because this war was intriguing in it’s simplicity. Moreover, it’s simplicity was what makes it an anachronism. Beyond all that, it was just plain weird, which is why the amateur military historian in me is fascinated by it….so much so I hardly know where to begin.
In the discussion of the Battle of Naseby, there was a mention of British national pride in the face of the loss of their empire. That was the driving force behind the British desire to repel the Falklands’ Argentinian invaders from one of the last remnants of its empire. The odds were stacked against Britain; fighting in the Falklands’ would mean a post-Empire and militarily scaled-down Britain would have to mount a major combat operation 7,000 miles from it’s home shores; something they hadn’t done since the Second World War.
Repelling invaders from islands on the other side of the planet would obviously require a massive naval flotilla, one that would need to be comprised of a vast number of leased or conscripted merchant ships to carry all the men and material needed. In total, the British force consisted of 127 ships: 43 Royal Navy vessels, 22 from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and 62 merchant ships, including the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth II, which was pressed into service as a troop-carrier.
If that weren’t enough, Argentina had a formidable air force, which had bases on the mainland only 300 miles away, and they had an ample supply of then state-of-the-art French-made Exocet anti-ship missiles. For the literal icing on this cake…this war was going to be fought in the the turbulent winter of the South Atlantic; the Falklands are as far south as Newfoundland is north.
It was for all these reasons that American naval intelligence considered a successful British ejection of the Argentinians from the Falklands to be a military impossibility. Despite all that, the Royal Navy entered the channel between East and West Falkland and commenced landing troops at Port San Carlos on the northern end of East Falkland on May 21st. However, the Argentine air force exacted a serious toll when four days later they slammed an air-launched Exocet into the container ship SS Atlantic Conveyor. The initial blast so badly damaged the ship it’s cargo could not be unloaded; it sank four days later while being towed.
This presented a major problem. The British strategy was to land on the opposite side of East Falkland from the capital at Port Stanley, and use an air-mobile infantry force advancing eastward to cut-off the escape route of the Argentinians and block any chance of reinforcement, then surround and capture the capital. Mobility was the keystone of the British strategy as they were outnumbered; the idea was to defeat larger forces by being able to out-flank them. Helicopters are the perfect vehicle for such an operation, but with the loss of SS Atlantic Conveyor, a significant portion of the British choppers were now resting on the sea floor.
Now the British campaign had to go from one of speed and vertical envelopment to an old-school 50-mile march across rocky and mountainous terrain to engage an enemy which had twice their numbers, was well-trained and equipped, and had two months to fortify their positions. At this point, the whole world was watching, and because the entire reason for launching this campaign revolved around restoring Britain’s national pride, a retreat at this point would have been seen as another Dunkirk. Every Briton involved in this campaign from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the greenest sailor, soldier, or marine knew that simply was not an option. There would be more honor in a calamitous defeat than in what would be seen as a cowardly retreat.
When military historians look at this war, they are drawn to the battles at Goose Green and Port Stanley. Goose Green was the first battle of this campaign, and it set the tone for the rest of the war. Here, the British advanced on a larger force in a well-defended position and employed a deceptive tactic which made the Argentinians believe the force attacking them was much larger than the reality. The Brits also convinced the Argentinians they had them surrounded, when this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. At the height of these ruses, the British commander demanded an Argentinian surrender…and they did.
The attraction for the battle of Port Stanley lies in the fact it represented the denouement of the war. The Argentinians had been getting their noses bloodied all the way across East Falkland, their backs were against the sea, and this was the classic “all-or-nothing” last stand. Military historians are moths to a flame for such a scene.
But it was the Battle of Mount Tumbledown that was the heart of this war. To win, the British had to re-take Port Stanley. Being the high ground just outside the capital city, the capture of Mount Tumbledown was the pre-requisite to a move on Port Stanley itself. Before this battle, the idea of a crushing British defeat was still very possible. In other words, while the battle of Port Stanley was the denouement, Mount Tumbledown would be the climax…and everybody knew it.
Now that the stage was set, Mount Tumbledown was where the weird, anachronistic nature of this war shown through. The Falkland Islands war took place in an age of computerization, intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to anywhere from anywhere on earth, and space-based intelligence-gathering systems. The Falklands Islands war was fought between two modern military powers in such an age. The Falklands Islands war was fought in a century with two World Wars featuring single battles with millions of combatants.
Despite all that, the decisive battle of the Falklands Islands war was a close-quarters affair contested with rifles, bayonets, and bare hands by less than 2,000 men. On June 13th, 650 British troops launched a night assault against positions on Mount Tumbledown defended by 900 Argentinian marines. Many of the British did not have helmets, body armor; some didn’t even have rifles as the helicopters weren’t the only things lost with the sinking of the SS Atlantic Conveyor. And despite all that, the Union Jack was hoisted Iwo Jima-style over Mount Tumbledown the following morning.
The Falkland Islands war would end one week later with the Argentinian’s unconditional surrender.
The Sporting Equivalent: The Football Game With No Announcers
After all that, you have to be asking yourself what could a war over two sparely-populated rocks on the other side of the world possibly have to do with the broadcast of a football game? The answer: anachronistic weirdness.
On December 20th, 1980, NBC aired a Miami Dolphins-New York Jets football game with no play-by-play announcers. I remember watching this game. It was weird…intriguing, but still weird. Having no announcer did not mean silent. You could hear the public-address announcer in the stadium. You could hear the crowd noise. It was like being there, but not having control of your own sensory experience; you saw where the camera went, and heard what the microphone picked up.
By the time NBC tried this experiment, ESPN had already been on cable for a year and was already changing the sports broadcasting landscape. Everything the start-up network was doing at the time involved “more.” More live televised events, more sports news coverage, more dedicated programming…just more, more, more. That recipe worked to the point that at its zenith, ESPN was the dominant network in the basic-cable band and had the rights to broadcast NFL games when NBC did not.
Meanwhile, what NBC tried was a major move toward less. nobody can say for sure if this “announcer-less” game marks the beginning the beginning of NBC’s two-decade long decline as a sports network, but the timelines certainly coincide.
With one decisive stroke, Francisco Pizarro put the “conquer” in “conquistadore” when he felled the Incan Empire at Cajamarca. By literally taking possession of most of South America by virtue of one battlefield win, Pizzaro set a standard in terms of territory claimed in a single day that isn’t likely ever to be surpassed. The legacy of this battle lives on today as the Spanish stamped this prize with their language, culture, and Catholicism.
The Sporting Equivalent: Secretariat
The standard against which every racing thoroughbred since has been measured, Secretariat’s dominance of the 1973 Triple Crown is likely never going to be seen again. Much like Pizzaro’s taking most of a continent in one fell swoop, Secretariat’s capturing the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths puts an amount of territory in the mix which is almost incomprehensible. To even get close, you’d need to Imagine a human track athlete winning a 100-yard dash by a margin of 60 feet over their nearest competitor.