I’m going to go ahead and guarantee that I’ll win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2018, unless it’s for International Reporting, though I won’t rule out Editorial Cartooning, if this is the year I learn how to draw.
Athletes are guaranteeing victories left and right these days, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t be similarly bold. Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has been lauded for guaranteeing that his team would win the Super Bowl last season. No one seemed to care that Jeffery was with the Bears when he made that Super Bowl guarantee after the Bears had just finished the 2016 season 3-13. You’d think that small detail would have led to a tidal wave of derision, but no. People were too busy marveling at Jeffery’s crystal ball after his post-Bears team, the Eagles, upset the Patriots.
Now Bears running back Jordan Howard has hopped aboard the guarantee train, declaring that he and his teammates will make the playoffs in 2018. It’s a bold assertion given that his team finished in last place in the NFC North for the fourth consecutive season.
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“The Bears are definitely going to have a winning season,’’ Howard told NFL Network recently. “We’re going to get to the playoffs. So I guarantee we get to the playoffs.’’
Hey, it might happen, but what if it doesn’t? From what I can gather, nothing.
There used to be a real price to pay for making a guarantee — personal shame, widespread ridicule, your coach’s eyeballs exploding during a fit of paroxysm over the other team being given such a motivational gift. Something. And if the predicted victory didn’t come to pass, the athlete was placed in stocks in the middle of the public square, where the insults and saliva from passersby would fly.
“I appreciate his passion and his swag,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “Jordan is confident right now. Jordan is a positive guy. [Coach Matt Nagy] and I? We like to keep some of those things more in-house. But Jordan is just being positive and optimistic.”
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo guaranteed a National League Central title for his team in 2015. It was a bold statement. The Cubs were coming off a 73-victory season, and the Cardinals had mastered the whole winning-the-division-while-making-it-look-easy thing. The Cubs finished third in the division in 2015 but won 97 games and beat St. Louis in a postseason division series. That might be the best wrong guarantee in sports history.
We’re in the middle of a guarantee epidemic. Google the words “guarantees victory’’ and you’ll come up with example after example of athletes assuring the public that a victory or a title is on its way.
“Jalen Ramsey of Jacksonville Jaguars Guarantees Super Bowl victory.’’ Except he ended up being wrong.
“Steelers’ Mike Mitchell Guarantees Playoff Win Over Patriots.’’ Wrong.
“Purdue WR Guarantees Victory Against Michigan.’’ Also wrong.
“Comets Coach Guarantees Victory.’’ I had to click on this headline. It turns out that Queen’s College coach Chadwick James had guaranteed victory in the junior girls’ division of the 2012 Fr. Marcian Peters Basketball Classic in the Bahamas. You wouldn’t think such a small stage would lend itself to such an audacious prediction. Silly you.
“We’re not going to lose any more games,” James said.
Wrong! Queen’s College didn’t even make the tournament final!
Joe Namath started us down this noisy road when he guaranteed that his upstart Jets would beat the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III. His prediction was in keeping with the AFL’s antiestablishment leanings. What did you think Hef’s slippers were going to say to the NFL’s wingtips? They were going to describe their next conquest to their tightly laced cousins. So three days before the game, Namath told the Miami Touchdown Club that the Jets were going to shock the world. And they did.
There’s no proof that a brazen guarantee helps or hurts a team’s performance. Nor is there definitive proof that a guarantee will make the opposing team, now full of frothing players incensed about said guarantee, perform better than it would otherwise. Coaches sure seem to think it does, but nobody really knows.
Now the lure of being right — or, in Jeffery’s case, kinda, sorta, not really being right — greatly outweighs whatever possible repercussions there are for being wrong. There’s so much talking these days that everything gets lost in the blare of a news cycle or two. You might get ripped on social media, but if you don’t look at the abuse, it didn’t happen.
We’re seeing a watering down of the meaning of guarantees and thus a major reduction in the shame that should come with being wrong. Little risk, not much of a reward. Certainly not a Namath-like reward.
So good luck with your guarantee, Jordan Howard. It looks like a win-win for you, even if the Bears don’t make the playoffs.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.