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The good thing about sports is that you're never 100% sure of an outcome.
The bad thing about sports is the exact same thing.
Take the state of baseball. Going into the season, I expected the Giants and Yankees to return to the World Series. At a minimum, I expected them to make the playoffs.
How many of you expected the Pirates and Indians would catch the playoffs from places other than the field of play? If you're like me, your expectations were wrong.
In the NFL, we expected the Redskins to be a lock to make the playoffs. Showing themselves to be an unsteady bunch, thus far, the 'Skins are testing that expectation.
Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game? Sure, thought I at the outset of the season. That's not a safe bet anymore, is it?
The problem is that I'm assuming things based on how I interpret past performance. That's not the way it works.
I've known of teams that have outworked their opponents in every aspect of the game, but lost on the scoreboard.
One thing I've learned in this job is to never, never, never assume the outcome of a game.
I used to do my headlines on the sports pages prior to the games actually taking place. Many's the time I was burned by such a practice.
I've written leads for stories, anticipating certain outcomes. Similarly burned.
You cannot assume anything, no matter what you think you know about a team (or teams).
I'm reminded of a story. Now, this is a made-up tale. I'm unsure of who did the making-up of it. I'm also not even positive where I picked up this tidbit. But, it is certainly germane to the way we expect things to fall.
It seems that a pastor died. As he fully expected, his soul was sent to the afterlife. As he fully hoped, that soul wound up in the right place: upstairs, not down.
Well, the pastor found himself in line, waiting to meet Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. Seeing that there was going to be a wait (of course, he had all the time in the world for such matters), he struck up a conversation with the fellow in front of him.
During the course of their idle chit-chat, the pastor learned, among other things, that the man had been a taxicab driver in New York City.
"Hmm," thought the preacher. "I expect I'll fare better than this fellow."
Soon enough, the taxi driver got to meet St. Peter.
"Welcome to heaven," boomed the cheery St. Pete. "You have led a full life, and we hope you'll enjoy it here."
With that, St. Peter called for the man to be outfitted in the finest silken robe. He bestowed a golden harp on the cab driver and presented him with a downy pillow. "There's a great show this afternoon. You'll be seated in the front section of seats. Enjoy!"
"Aha," thought the pastor. "I can't imagine what awaits me!"
"Welcome to heaven," boomed the beaming St. Pete. "You have led a full life, and we hope that you'll enjoy it here."
With that, St. Peter called for the man to be outfitted in a terry cloth robe. He bestowed a wooden flute on the pastor and presented him with a nice, cotton pillow. ""There's a great show this afternoon. You'll be seated in the balcony. Enjoy!"
The pastor thanked St. Peter, but then added that he was both surprised and a bit chastened that the taxi driver had been so lavishly outfitted, while he seemed to get second-class status.
St. Peter looked deeply into the pastor's eyes and said. "You did well by us, and you kept God's word. When you preached, some people got your message. Others daydreamed. Some even slept."
"Yes," said the preacher. "That's true."
"But," continued St. Peter. "That man spent his life driving a taxicab through the streets of New York City.
"And that man, when he drove them, those people prayed with all their hearts."
The moral of the story: Expect nothing, particularly around events over which we have no control.
So: Don't bet against the Pirates, and don't think someone's got a better shot at heaven than you.