My Least Favorite Word in Sports
by Paul Semendinger
January 28, 2022
Who has it? What does it mean? And why is it mentioned all the time?
In short, it doesn’t mean anything. At all. Ever.
A football team is down 27-3 in the third quarter.
Which team in this scenario has the momentum? It has to be the team that is winning. Everything is going right. (They’re winning after all, and it isn’t even close.)
Then, all of a sudden, the other team starts to come back. Little-by-little. It becomes 27-6. It’s still not close. In fact, there are only just over three minutes left in the third quarter at this point…
Momentum? It’s still definitely the team that’s winning.
Then it becomes 27-13
Then 27-27. The losing team turned the entire game around and tied it up. And there are only 42 seconds left in the game!!!
Which team now has the momentum? It has to be the team that keeps scoring!
Then, immediately, the team that blew the 24-point lead then drives 63 yards in 42 seconds and wins the game on a Field Goal.
If “momentum” had any power, the losing team would not have been able to comeback, but if they somehow did, how did the winning team then get it right back?
If momentum can be changed so quickly and so easily, then it isn’t anything great or powerful or special.
Yet announcers talk about it all the time.
“Oh, he has momentum.”
“They now have the momentum.”
What are they talking about?
They’re talking about nothing. It means nothing. There is no such super powerful force called momentum.
There just isn’t.
Or, imagine this…
A team is down 33-29 with just over a minute to play… The team that has 33 points just scored a field goal. They marched 75 yards in under a minute to take the lead.
The other team gets the ball, they drive 75 yards in six plays, in less than 60 seconds to take the lead on a touchdown 36-33. There are now only 13 seconds left in the game. It’s over. It has to be. The team that’s just scored has all the momentum. They must. They just scored. They’re going to win!!!
Then, three plays, 44 yards later, and a field goal ties the game at 36-36 as the clock ticks to zero and the game heads into overtime.
If teams that score have it, then why do they keep losing it?
It seems every single time I watch a game, I hear about this thing the announcers like to call “momentum.” We hear about it during the game.
“That base hit in the gap will give the Yankees momentum.”
“That strikeout will give the team the momentum they need…”
And we hear about it in between games…
“It’s good they have momentum heading into this series…”
On and on and on and on…
The announcers LOVE that word.
Except, it doesn’t mean anything.
It’s a throw-away word.
It’s meaningless. Completely meaningless.
If momentum was powerful, and it mattered in sports, it would hold fast and teams wouldn’t be able to change it.
If momentum was something, it would be like Kryptonite to Superman. Once the team has it, they’ve got it and it would be almost impossible to change the outcome.
Momentum, if it means anything, would have to mean that the other team can’t come back.
And yet we see this supposed “momentum” change countless times during a game – almost every game, even as the announcers talk about it so much.
Sometimes in sports, there are narratives, or words that are used. People use them to try to prove they no what they’re talking about.
Or they might think they add excitement to the game.
“Not only did that double tie the score, but it gave the Yankees momentum…”
The concept adds no excitement. It adds no value. It’s meaningless. There is no such thing.
I hate to even give one last example.
(But I will.)
It’s Game Seven of the World Series.
The Yankees are the visiting team.
The game was tied 0-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning. A leadoff single was followed by an RBI double. The home team, took the lead off Yankees’ ace Roger Clemens.
Who now had the momentum?
Then, though, against the other team’s ace, Curt Schilling, one of the great post season pitchers in modern times, the Yankees came right back with a run in the top of the seventh. Some of the most legendary Yankees of that era, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez somehow put three singles together to tie the game.
This had to be “momentum,” right?
Not only that, this Yankees team had won the previous three World Series. The Yankees had momentum just being there. These were the Yankees. The YANKEES!
The scoring stopped right there though. The momentum dried up as suddenly as it appeared.
In the top of the eighth, Alfonso Soriano, led off with a solo home run. He did it! He put the Yankees on top! It was 2-1. The Yankees were six outs from winning their fourth consecutive World Series!!!!!
And the great Mariano Rivera was still in the bullpen.
We know what happened next… in the bottom of the ninth. I don’t even want to look up the play-by-play or even write about it. Knowing what happened is enough.
If there was such a thing as momentum, how did the Yankees lose this game? They couldn’t have. They had it all… the history, the great players, and the emotions from it being 2001…
If ever a team had momentum, the Yankees had it here. If momentum was a thing, it had to be present there.
It had to be.
But it didn’t work out.
It was a crushing loss, one that still stings today two decades later.
There is no such thing…