In the world of sports, the media and, as a result, the public can be a bit quick to judge. It works for the system because it drives more readers back every week to see where their team ranks in this week’s power rankings, or has them clamoring over who’s getting more screen-time on the nightly pre-game specials. As I’ve fallen into this trap nearly every week this season, I’m going to use the Carolina Panthers as my first example.
As a lifelong NFL fan, I understand that this is the league in which the media best handles hype. Teams go through spurts and players can be hailed as MVPs, but the sudden jump to crown someone as NFL king is one that takes months to earn. Teams and players alike are held to a fairly high standard, and the greats are rightly appreciated regardless of team, most times.
My Panthers, my 10-0 Panthers, are about as underrated as any 10-0 team has ever been—there have only been 15 in NFL history. They take on the Dallas Cowboys this week, who are, objectively, a terrible, awful football team whose 3-7 record shows this as fact. And yet, even after the Panthers absolutely walloped Washington 44-16 Sunday, the Cowboys opened as just a one-point underdog in Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day game.
More people have read about and tweeted about Tony Romo’s return to the field than the fact that Cam Newton is closing in on 3,000 career rushing yards and playing like an MVP candidate. It’s telling that the most-discussed Panthers storyline has been a ridiculous, somehow-real outrage over Newton dabbin’ on the Tennessee Titans in the end zone and one Tennessee mother going all greater-than-thou on a man who plays football, is insanely good at it and has fun doing so. I should also probably mention that Newton is throwing to arguably the worst starting receiving corps in the league, or that Luke Kuechly and the defense—marked by the emergence of Kurt Coleman as a bona fide playmaker—has absolutely shut down opposing offenses and been the most opportune in all of football.
And that’s because people—the national media—don’t buy a good Panthers team. And through the first five games, I couldn’t blame them. I thought Carolina was getting lucky. But after six games, I started looking around and realizing it wasn’t necessarily the teams they were playing—unlike another team we’ll get to—but that the Panthers' style of ground-and-pound offense and smash-mouth, stingy defense was and is extremely sustainable and highly effective. But others are not so quick to hop on board. And it’s not that I blame them, it’s just that for once, I believe the team has earned the hype surrounding it, and maybe, in this case, people are being a bit slow to judge.
That being said, this thing works both ways. Let’s talk Duke basketball.
The Blue Devils are coming off two impressive wins at Madison Square Garden, downing Virginia Commonwealth and Georgetown, both times thanks to 30-plus-point performances from sophomore and 2K Classic MVP Grayson Allen. After the game, head coach Mike Krzyzewski glowed over the guard's performance, and rightly so—Allen led Duke past the Hoyas to the tournament title with an outstanding 9-of-12 shooting performance, finishing with a tournament-high 32 points.
But think back just five days prior to Wednesday morning.
The Blue Devils were fresh off a solid beatdown at the hands of Kentucky in Chicago, and Allen was pouring over game film with Krzyzewski looking at and analyzing the Jacksonville, Fla., native’s 2-of-11, six-point performance against the now-No. 1 Wildcats. And while they were watching film, the media was busy writing and publishing stories crowning Kentucky and calling into question the Blue Devils’ supposed sophomore leader.
Then, this weekend happened. You’d be hard-pressed to find an article about the weekend not praising Allen’s bounce-back performances and his shown growth. Hell, I wrote one.
And finally, this brings us to our last and, unfortunately, saddest example—Duke football.
The current combined record of the Division I teams Duke played through the opening seven weeks is 25-41, and it was back then when folks, not including myself this time, were ready to throw the Blue Devils in the top 20. The Blue Devils went 5-1 in those games, but the sole loss was the most telling—we just didn’t know what to make of it at the time.
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Think back, if you will, to that Sept. 19 loss. The Blue Devil offense looked fairly helpless against a Northwestern squad that boasts one of the best defenses in the nation.
But that was okay, because it was the Duke defense, not the offense, that the Blue Devils could lean on as the season progressed, or at least that’s what fans and analysts repeatedly used as a talking point, or excuse, after the Northwestern loss, despite the fact that the Wildcat offense was, and is still, among the least explosive in the nation. (The Wildcats currently rank 112th in points scored per game.) But the fact that Duke held a ranked team to 19 points was supposedly a promising sign. The offense would grow and gel and by the latter part of the season, the Blue Devils would have a real shot at winning the ACC Coastal. That was then.
I’m not bringing this up to say abandon ship. But we, the media and fans, were lulled to sleep by that early schedule and are now questioning what’s going wrong, and when you think about it, we could have saved ourselves the trouble a long time ago if we stopped doubting North Carolina after that confusing South Carolina loss. College football lends itself to this every season, and this year, it happened to us.
All this is to say that the next time you’re watching your team play, maybe think about it before proclaiming them the best in the land, and when it comes to preseason predictions and polls: Just say no.