In basketball, the ten players on the court at the end of the game would line up to shoot free throws. In football, coaches would pick five players from their starting lineup to attempt 25-yard field goals.
Just imagine the tension in the crowd. Which seven-foot center has a softer shooting touch? Will the all-conference linebacker shank it like a Caddyshack hack?
Yep, there is nothing like a penalty shootout. The tension. The build-up. Nowhere else in sports is the agony of defeat and thrill of victory so clearly visible. The pressure on the players is immense during a shootout.
Throughout the American sports scene, fans, teams, and the media are always searching for the next great player – the player who will come through in the clutch when the pressure is at its greatest. Pro franchises throw millions of dollars at athletes who come up big when the game is on the line. Colleges line rafters and ramparts with their jerseys.
When BYU was down by one point in the 1980 Sweet 16, Danny Ainge was "money" as he drove the length of the court for the winning basket. With under four-minutes to play, BYU needed three touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, and Jim McMahon demanded the ball so he the Cougars to the miraculous victory.
These moments instantly became legend, but neither player had to face the intense pressure that accompanies an entire nation holding its breath as they make a run at a soccer ball in an attempt to score. It would be interesting to see how clutch some of America's "most clutch" players would fare in a similar situation. They would be well served if they had to regularly face and perform under the tremendous stress of winner take all shootouts.
The penalty shootout is a beautiful to end a game. Success and failure are unmistakably defined. The ball either goes in or through or it does not. Some players will step up and become heroes. Others will collapse under the hope, expectation and the demands of the moment.
Would the current BYU programs have any players that could withstand that kind of stress and come through? Is Bryan Kehl that kind of player? What if BYU's tournament hopes hinged on free throws by Trent Plaisted or Keena Young? Do they have the ability to step up?
We may never know, but it would be cool to find out.
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