After the Rangers forced game 7 in their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series against the Washington Capitals, Alexander Ovechkin “guaranteed” the Caps would win game 7. His exact words were: “We’re going to come back and win the series.”
The Media loves this kind of drama. Two days later, though still a day before the game 7 date, with the media asking him about his comments, Ovechkin replied “I just said we’re going to New York to finish off the series.”
His tone seems to have backtracked a bit, though keep in mind that his original comments we’re just after losing game 6, in a game where the Caps trailed 4-1 in the third and almost came back, though eventually lost 4-3. He was likely still high on adrenaline and emotion at the time.
All of this got me thinking, what’s the deal with the “guaranteed win” in professional sports? Why do athletes do it? Is it mind games? Confidence? Wishful thinking?
A few high profile guarantees include; heavy underdog Cassius Clay’s 1964 prediction of knocking out the champ Sonny Liston in 8 rounds. Clay won by TKO at the beginning of round 7. It should be noted that before Ali became champion, he made many predictions for what round his opponent would fall.
In 1969, Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a Superbowl III victory over the heavily favored NFL champs, the Baltimore Colts. The Jets went on to win the game 16-7.
Hockey fans will remember Mark Messier’s 1994 guarantee that the Rangers would win game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils. Messier scored a hat-trick in the third period to win the game. The Rangers then went on to win the series in game 7, then win the Stanley Cup finals over the Vancouver Canucks.
It seems that the one thing almost all “guarantees” have in common, is that they come from the mouth of a very outspoken and cocky athlete. The ones that we remember the most are the ones that (a) are correct in their prediction, (b) result in winning a championship or high profile event, and (c) either come from a heavy-underdog or end in dramatic fashion.
But for every accurate guarantee there are likely many more that don’t come true. Ali predicted that Frazier would fall “in six rounds” in the lead-up to the 1971 “Fight of the Century.” Frazier won in 15 rounds by unanimous decision.
Patrick Ewing guaranteed a win for his Knicks in game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers. They lost the game 93-80 as Ewing missed his final 6 shots.
In 2003, Daniel Alfredsson said his Senators would win the cup. They lost to the Maple Leafs in the first round.
Some guy named Anthony Smith guaranteed that his Steelers would defeat the 12-0 Patriots in 2007. The Steelers ended up losing the game 34-13.
Guarantees likely don’t effect the players in these situations. They just go out there and play the game. They’ve played in big games before, they just have to do what they’ve done their whole lives. In regards to the famous Messier guarantee, Steve Larmer said many of the Rangers didn’t even know about it until after the fact.
Why make these guarantees? It increases the suspense and spectacle of the upcoming game or event. Certainly the media loves it and will build it up as much as possible prior to the event. Muhammad Ali said he made predictions to to draw attention to himself as the challenger. If you’re correct, it will potentially add to your legacy as a professional athlete. If you’re wrong, soon enough people will probably forget about it.
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals went on to lose game 7 against the Rangers. He did score the first goal of the game, but they lost 2-1 in overtime. One can only imagine how we would have looked back at this had Ovechkin scored the winning goal in overtime, went on to win the next two rounds and the Stanley cup. Now we will likely forget about this instance, but no matter what we will still remember Ovechkin as a great hockey player.