It was a tradition with my late friend and assistant basketball coach Harold Bailey. As we dropped down the big hill from Kinnear to Ethete to play the Chiefs I would always ask this rhetorical question to Harold.
“You think Al will run it up tonight?”
I was speaking of my buddy Alfred Redman and his always talented Chiefs.
“That’s not up to Al,” Harold would say, “It’s up to you.”
That’s how I’ve always viewed the underdog position in any sport.
No one enjoys a blowout. It’s bad for the team on the bottom of the score, and it’s not good for the team with the upper hand either.
No one likes to get pounded into the sand and end up in a defenseless position on the football field or the basketball court.
On the other hand, teams on the top of a 78-18 win in basketball or an 82-0 rollover in football don’t get much out of the game either.
Getting pounded can ruin a program if the coach doesn’t handle it correctly. When it happened to me and my kids, I used it as a metric. Did we improve the next time we played those guys?
In 1992-93 we had a perfect season, we went 0-18.
Riverside was good that year, the first time we played them at home they beat us by 43 points. In the days before the 40-point Mercy Rule, you took your lumps for a full 32 minutes.
The second time in Basin we won one of the quarters, but it was still a 27-point loss.
The final time in the opening round of the Five Rivers Conference tournament we had them down going into the fourth quarter by three points, but foul trouble doomed us, and we lost by nine. I used that as a yardstick with the boys.
A few of the parents noticed the improvement, while a few of the more clueless ones feared their little darlings weren’t going to get D1 scholarships and NBA contracts if we kept losing. Such is coaching.
In 1988 Lovell rolled to an 8-0 regular season record before losing 7-6 in Big Piney in the opening round of the playoffs. We were one of those eight.
Shoshoni, the smallest school in Class 2-A at the time and Lovell the largest, had beaten the Dogs three years in a row under Harold. In the 1988 season, we had good juniors, but not many seniors, and Lovell was loaded.
Lovell’s head coach Craig Nelson made an example of us in Shoshoni in a 66-7 destruction of the Wranglers.
He onside kicked in the fourth quarter with a nine-touchdown lead and was still throwing deep when the game ended. Harold and I drove to Big Piney to watch their playoff game and came away with a grin after the Bulldogs fumbled their way into a loss against the much less talented Punchers.
As they say, live by the sword die by the sword, or in a better adage, “It’s all on the wheel, what goes around, comes around.”
A few years later Lovell came to Shoshoni during basketball season. It was against the 0-18 team in the spring of 1993.
My best player that year was 6-5 sophomore post, Jake Zent. Unfortunately, Jake had strep throat and missed the game.
The Bulldogs beat us 78-18.
Sonny Broesder was the head coach at Lovell, he was only there one season but went 16-7 and took second at state, losing big to my friend Alfred and the Chiefs 82-51 in the championship game.
Sonny was a class act. He played everyone he could to keep the score down. His varsity played the first and third quarters. You must do that to be fair to your own players. They work hard in practice and just because the opponent can’t compete at their level, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to play.
His reserves played the entire second and fourth quarters. I think if Sonny had suited up the Lovell 7th grade team, he would have played them to keep the score close.
After the game, we shook hands, and he asked me if he could speak to my team. It was the only time an opposing coach ever made that request in my entire career.
His talk with the boys was magnificent.
He talked about pride, competition, keeping your head up, and always trying to improve. Sonny Broesder was and still is I hope a class individual.
Running it up never accomplishes much.
As we rode the Tiger Bus back from a 29-2 win in Hanna in 1981, we listened to a game on KERM radio from Torrington between Lingle and Guernsey. Lingle was up 55-0 and still throwing deep and onside kicking with their varsity on the field.
I asked our head coach Jerry Fullmer what was going on and he said, “Paybacks, they ran it up on us in 1967.”
The seniors on the Guernsey team were four years old when the Vikings ran up the score. It was an example of thinking that keeps the Balkans and the Arab World constantly at war.
The 45-point mercy rule in football, the 40-point rule in basketball and the technical fall in wrestling are all examples of rules that ease the pain of a blowout.
In 1981 Lusk played the Bow Basin Wranglers in their final football season before they consolidated with Hanna to become the Hanna Elk Mountain Medicine Bow Miners.
I was the line and linebackers coach at Lusk.
We built a 44-0 lead and were lining up for an extra point. In those days, the 45-point mercy rule was sudden death. Once a team had a lead of 45 the game ended, no matter which quarter.
We scored with a couple of minutes left in the second period to take the 44-0 lead. Fullmer told me to have our center snap the ball over the kicker’s head.
My center didn’t believe me when I told him to do it, but I convinced him and told him I’d act like I was chewing him out to sell the story. He hiked it about 35 yards.
Bow Basin ran back the second-half kickoff against our JV, and we were able to play all the kids, plus kick a field goal for a 47-8 final score. Both teams benefited, even with the lopsided score.
Stepping out of bounds on an interception or taking a knee before you score on a kick return may look like you’re stepping off the gas, but it’s just rubbing it in in my opinion.
Play hard even if you’re losing big. Substitute if you’re on the winning side but give your seniors and starters their due.
It’s not the responsibility of the winning team to let the losing team score if they play with dignity, compassion and don’t taunt, showboat, or try to humiliate the other team.
The “woke” crowd among us would be wise to learn that the game isn’t about them and their preconceived opinions of athletics. It is simply competition, something that is both a blessing and a curse. It is a learning tool whether you win or whether you lose.