“If you lose with humility, then you can come back,” Alabama’s Bear Bryant said. Something else college football’s six-time national champion said was this: “In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.”
Then there was Leo Durocher’s marvelous description of the winning attitude of Dizzy Dean, whose certainty gave him such will on the mound. “Luck? If the roof fell in and Diz was sitting in the middle of the room, everybody else would be buried and a gumdrop would fall in his mouth,” Durocher said.
The clearest insights I’ve ever heard about winning and losing come from my friend Pat Summitt, retired with 1,098 career victories, most of any college basketball coach of either gender. She was a huge confronter, not in an accusatory, finger-pointing way, simply a brutally frank assessor of her weaknesses. She had to analyze the loss before she could sleep — and sometimes that meant not sleeping for 48 hours — and then confront her players and drag them to the same realizations. She wrote her memoir this year, and I helped her type the following observation.
“Dishonest teams don’t win the big one,” she said. “They cover up their losses with rationalizations and soothe their eggshell egos with excuses, and they keep making the same mistakes. But the truly ambitious teams find relief in honesty when they’ve lost because it’s the diagnostic tool that leads to a solution — here’s what we did wrong and let’s fix it so we don’t ever have to feel that way again.”
She also said this: “At Tennessee, we have won games by the margin of a single good thought.”
The Caps lose playoff games by the margin of Ovechkin’s negative thoughts. They will do this for as long as they let silly contentions about officiating and league conspiracies blind them to the larger fact of their performance. Buried in Ovechkin and McPhee’s remarks is the suggestion that they were really the better team. They weren’t. They got purely outfought, especially by the Rangers’ third and fourth lines, and mentally collapsed. The refs didn’t play swarming defense that blocked 27 Capitals shots in Game 7. The refs didn’t hold Ovechkin to just one goal and one assist in the entire series.
Nine times the Caps have blown two-game leads in the playoffs — three of those in the last five years. That’s a pattern. Until they have a very candid conversation with themselves — until they ditch their mood of sulky complacency in favor of real self-examination — you can count on it to continue.
For previous columns by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/