JOHN L. PITTS: Must-win situations help breed champions

By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

Excuse me, but haven’t we seen all this before?
I know what you’re thinking, that I’m about to make a big deal out of how the New York Giants and New England Patriots played in the Super Bowl four years ago.
But no, I was actually thinking about baseball.
This unexpected run to the Super Bowl by this year’s Giants, with five must-win games in a row, reminds me a lot of the remarkable comeback the St. Louis Cardinals needed to win the World Series.
The Cardinals had been written off last fall after falling 101⁄2 games behind in the NL Wild Card race. Even the St. Louis fans in our office were discussing what the team would do in 2012 – the usual talk you hear from Cubs fans when football season starts.
But the Cardinals had other ideas, rallying to win 23 of their last 32 games while the Atlanta Braves were collapsing.
The Cardinals, sharpened by a month of must-win games, then took out the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers in the National League playoffs before dropping the Texas Rangers in seven games for the World Series title.
Now, let’s consider the Giants. Except for the lack of a Rally Squirrel, which ran across home plate in St. Louis early in that big comeback effort, the Giants’ story is similar.
Heading into a Dec. 24 game against the New York Jets, the Giants were 7-7 after losing 5 of their last 6 games. In a conference with the defending league champion Packers and the powerful Saints, the Giants were an afterthought.
But the Giants whipped the Jets that day, 29-14, and kick-started a run that has carried to their team’s fifth Super Bowl appearance.
The Cardinals and Giants are both seen as well-run franchises with owners who let their people do their jobs. And both teams are known for doing “the little things” that lead to victory.
Steady leadership is another common theme. The Cardinals’ Tony La Russa, 67, was in his 33rd – and as it turns out, last – season as a manager. The Giants’ coach, Tom Coughlin, 65, is in his 16th season as the boss on an NFL sideline.
Maybe teams with their backs to the wall find something inside themselves when every game matters so much. Remember Connecticut’s men last season, just 9-9 in the Big East during the regular season, going on an 11-game winning streak to the NCAA title.
The Huskies coach? Jim Calhoun, age 69.
Could be a pattern here.
John L. Pitts (john.pitts@djournal.com), a youthful 54, is sports editor of the Daily Journal.