Bad Decisions and the Super Bowl

Is it true that a decision is only a “good” decision if it leads to the results you want? If your decision doesn’t pay off, then no matter what your reasoning is, is it a “bad” decision?

I was surprised to see how quickly the whole world decided that the Seahawks’ decision to pass the ball on the goal line at the end of the Super Bowl was the worst decision since John F. Kennedy said, “Hey, it’s nice out today. Let’s put the top down.”

As someone with many years of experience coaching pretend football teams on my PlayStation, I don’t believe that running a pass play in a goal line situation is the dumbest thing in the world. Even if you have a running back who’s really good. Because the guys on the other side of the ball are professional football players, and they want to win too. If they know what’s coming, eleven guys can stop one guy, no matter how good he is.

That’s why misdirection is an important part of football strategy, and that, in a nutshell, is why the Seahawks chose that play at that time. It was a perfectly reasonable call, except that it blew up in their faces. Really, really badly.

The problem with decisions is that we have to make them all in the present, and we have no way to know how they’re going to work out until we get to the future. Even if that future fruition is only 26 seconds away, we still can’t know what’s going to happen. We just have to make our best guess based on what we know right now.

All the people who are criticizing the play call act like they did know what was going to happen. Obviously they should’ve handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch because obviously he was going to run right through the defense like a dollar-menu burrito through a Taco Bell bathroom and score the winning touchdown.

Well, maybe, maybe not. The critics don’t know for sure because there’s no way to know for sure. And if that pass play had worked — or if it had at least not been intercepted and the Seahawks had gone on to win on a subsequent play — no one would be saying jack about that particular call. In fact, they’d be calling Seahawks coaches geniuses, and they’d be calling the Patriots wankers for not being able to stop them.

All the fallout surrounding this one play highlights the fact that, at least in our culture, the only justification for any decision is success. Did it work? If yes, then great call. If no, then what were you thinking, you nimrod? You can have all the reasons in the world, but if your decision lead to failure, then it was clearly, obviously wrong, and if you were smart you would’ve done the opposite.

I don’t know if that’s the best way for us to judge all of our decisions. Clearly results matter, yes. But sometimes really dumb ideas turn out spectacularly well (here I remind the reader that Avatar is the top-grossing movie of all time), and sometimes very reasonable, well-planned ideas catch fire and crash into the sea.

We fall into the trap of believing that good things are supposed to happen, and if they don’t it must be because someone screwed up. That’s just not the case. On some days, or just on some plays, your opponent is better than you. You researched and planned and did your very best, and lost anyway. It’s not because you made some obvious mistake for which you should be harangued the rest of your life. It’s just because you can’t see the future. Nobody can.

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