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:
Leipzig was also known as the “Battle of the Nations” due to the fact it was fought by coalition of armies from Sweden, Russia, Austria, and Prussia against Napoleon, who had cobbled together a force comprised of the French army augmented with Polish, Italian, and German troops from the Confederation of the Rhine. To be slightly simplistic, Leipzig is a “preview of coming attractions” for the “great world wars” which would be fought a century later by similar gigantic allied armies. All tolled, this battle was the dénouement to Napoleon’s fall campaign of 1813. It involved 600,000 soldiers which was the largest number of combatants ever seen prior to World War I.
That’s not the only reason this is one of history’s most influential battles. Leipzig also represents “the beginning of the end” for the French dictator. The defeat suffered by Napoleon on October 19th, 1813 at Leipzig in Saxony compelled his return to France, which led to another military setback at the gates of Paris. Those losses started a chain reaction which culminated in his exile in Alba and his final defeat at Waterloo.
The Sporting Equivalent: The NFL’s various court battles against Al Davis
Starting the in the early 1980s, The National Football League and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis fought a series of running gun battles which were mostly centered on a team’s right to relocate. Basically this fight split the NFL into three factions; the Commissioner and the League, the owners who supported Davis, and the owners who didn’t. Davis ultimately took the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, where a series of defeats led to Davis’ retreat to Oakland and a self-imposed pseudo-exile which led to the Raiders becoming the “North Korea” of the NFL.
The North Vietnamese were all about “upsets.” The West really should have learned that at Tet’s precursor in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, where the Viet Minh forced the withdrawal of the colonial French by carrying dismantled cannons through the jungle on their bare backs and re-assembling them on the high ground surrounding the French fire-bases. Almost two centuries before that, you would have thought established military powers would have understood this from the 1781 battle which ultimately ranks as #1 on this list (more on that later).
The Tet Offensive was a decisive strategic victory because it exposed the flaw in the American approach to the Vietnam War. American commanders relied on superior firepower to ensure dominance at the tactical level and focusing on control of the urban centers. This allowed the North Vietnamese to move at will throughout the countryside, which was the key to the simultaneous attacks throughout South Vietnam during Tet, the most important cultural holiday in the country. The reason why what was a crushing tactical defeat for the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong became a tide-turning strategic victory was rather simple. The Americans completely underestimated the Vietnamese will to fight.
The Sporting Equivalent: #16 seed UMBC beating #1 overall seed Virginia
Up until 2018, that was the drumbeat heading into the NCAA Basketball Tournament since it expanded to the 64-team format 30-some-odd years ago. 2018 was the year the proverbial basketball shoe dropped when #16 Maryland-Baltimore County knocked off the #1 overall seed Virginia Cavaliers. The reason why it happened was also rather simple. The Cavaliers completely overlooked UMBC.
It’s easy to be dismissive of “Shock and Awe” because the Second Iraq war became mired in a political quagmire which warped the public perception of it. Once you strip that away, “Shock and Awe” transformed the Iraqi military from one of the world’s most formidable into a disorganized and ineffective rabble nearly completely incapable of mounting anything resembling a serious military effort. Once “Shock and Awe” destroyed the Iraqi command and control infrastructure, their gargantuan army was reduced to being the punch-drunk heavyweight leaning on the ropes waiting for the referee to stop the fight.
The Sporting Equivalent: “Air Coryell”
Don Coryell was the first coach to win at least 100 games at both the collegiate and professional level during a career in which he largely revamped the approach to the passing game in football. Fans under the age of 30 don’t remember the days when the focus of every offense in the game regardless of level was the running game; throwing the ball was reserved for 3rd down and/or long-yardage situations. Bill Walsh got the credit for being the inventor of the “West Coast Offense” which used short passes as the “ball control” portion of the offense combined with complex route concepts to create plays downfield largely because he won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. But in all honesty, Walsh perfected what Coryell invented by using the passing game to force defenses to cover the entire field.
The Battle of Antietam is easily the bloodiest day in American history. Fought at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, this battle broke the back of the Confederacy’s invasion of the Union during the American Civil War. Over 20,000 troops were killed or wounded in what was essentially a tactical draw, but a major strategic victory for the Union. Coupled with their subsequent defeat at Gettysburg, Antietam not only effectively ended the South’s ability to conduct a large-scale offensive, it ensured that the European powers would not recognize the Confederacy or provide them with much-needed war supplies as their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Union was all but inevitable.
The Sporting Equivalent: George Steinbrenner vs. Billy Martin
Is there a better example of an ongoing civil war in the sporting world than New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin? Steinbrenner hired and fired Martin five times which defined a relationship which was much like that of the Confederacy and the Union; simultaneously symbiotic and volatile. When Steinbrenner and Martin could work together, they could take the Yankees to the top of the baseball world. When they couldn’t, both sides burned a lot of ammunition.
Now we go from an American blood-bath to one of purely European origin. Fought in northern France over a span of five months, the First Battle of the Somme was the definition of a “battle of attrition.” In an attempt to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun and generally to weaken the German positions along the River Somme, the British and French armies fought the Germans along a 15-mile front.
The opening of this battle was arguably the greatest single-day spilling of blood in a war known for battles with appalling losses. The French and British spent a full week pounding the German trenches with artillery before sending an assault force of over 100,000 men over the top. However, the Germans weathered the artillery barrage thanks to the depth and construction of their trenches. The Germans then converted those trenches into offensive positions of advantage during which time they mowed the British down with machine-gun fire.
Alone in one day, the British suffered 20,000 dead and 60,000 wounded, making it the bloodiest day in British military history. All tolled, the First Battle of the Somme would eventually claim over a million casualties, including over 600,000 Allied troops and a half-million Germans.
The Sporting Equivalent: The 2011 NFL Lockout
Much like the First Battle of the Somme, the 2011 NFL Player Lockout will be borne out by history to be a largely pointless battle of attrition in which both sides incurred staggering losses and really didn’t achieve anything in a strategic sense. After five months of slaughter, the Allies and the Germans were essentially in the same position, just with over a million less soldiers. After five months of labor stalemate, the NFL and the Player’s Union found themselves in essentially the same position; the NFL failing in it’s objective in breaking the Player’s Union, which had to sacrifice much of its goal to increase funding for pensions and medical care for former players.
Also, much like the First Battle of the Somme, you can full expect another blood-bath like the Second Battle of the Somme when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021.
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