Breaking the Cycle

You've seen and heard the ads.

An authoritative voice extols the benefits and virtues of a stockbroker or other money management service, and paints a rosy picture of what your financial future will look like if you give your money to them to invest. But then, near the end, comes the inevitable disclaimer, delivered in tiny print or a voice almost too fast to decipher. Buried in that verbiage, the sentence "Past performance does not guarantee future results".

The commercials have to use that phrase, of course, to cover themselves. In this litigious day and age, someone looking for a frivolous lawsuit might contend that the commercial misled them, that they were assured of a great return on their money when they invested, that no risk was assumed. Of course, we all know that's not the case. Just because a stock or mutual fund made money one year doesn't mean it's going to prosper the next. It's common sense, and anyone that doesn't know it probably shouldn't be investing money in the first place.

However, change the scenario just a bit, and all of that horse sense seems to fly out the window. People that would be very conservative in signing their money over to TRowePrice or SmithBarneyKlein suddenly lose all manner of reason when confronted with a similar situation in which the same warnings apply.

WVU fans are in that spot right now as their team wraps ups its first day of practice in Atlanta for the Sugar Bowl. Because WVU has never won a major bowl, they think the Mountaineers don't have a chance in this one. Since West Virginia has lost its two previous Sugar Bowl appearances by the combined score of 83-26, it doesn't stand a chance in its third try. And since the Mountaineers invariably fall on their faces after recording a good regular season record, the same thing is bound to happen again on Jan. 2. Right?

If you're a part of this fatalistic crowd, then you're not going to enjoy this column. If, however, you'd like a reasonable, emotionless analysis of this phenomenon, then tilt back in you chair and enjoy the next few paragraphs, because you and I are on the fabled "same page".

WVU's 1954 and 1993 appearances in the Sugar Bowl have nothing –absolutely nothing – to do with the 2005 squad. The majority of WVU's coaches weren't even born in 1954, and the players were all in elementary school for the 1993 tilt. Some of them may have watched the game on TV, but I seriously doubt if any of them were scarred by it (although I am still haunted by the "what might have been, had Steve Perkins not committed his ridiculous personal foul after WVU had stopped Florida three and out on its first possession). While that scene might haunt me, however, I don't think it will have much effect on Jeff Noechel or George Shehl this year.

For some reason, it is a common occurrence in our culture to tie events together and infer that a previous event had an effect on similar ones that follow. But while that might make us feel better about these seemingly random events, it certainly doesn't explain them. So, we try to reason them out. WVU must have been overconfident before the 1988 Fiesta Bowl, or partying too much before the 1993 Sugar. Heck, maybe they were too tired from the train ride for the 1954 Sugar. I've heard people swear they saw WVU players on Bourbon Street the night before the 93 Sugar, even though WVU's coaches had rounded up all the players and moved them to a hotel out of town that afternoon – and presumably conducted several headcounts in the meantime. However, the facts in this case aren't as good as the made up stories – and they certainly don't help in offering the explanations or the patterns that many fans need to explain why their favorites keep coming up short.

WVU's winless streak in major bowls, and its admittedly poor record in bowl games in general, isn't attributable to anything other than this: in most bowl games, WVU's opponent has either been superior in talent or simply played better than the Mountaineers. WVU's Gator Bowl loss in 1982 had nothing to do with its loss there seven years later. The team was totally different – and I seriously doubt if anyone on that 1989 team was thinking it had to avenge that 1982 loss.

While we, as fans, do tie these things together, the players, and, for the most part, the coaches, do not. They realize that each team, and each game, has its own distinct personality and vibe. For evidence, one need look no further than the 2004 and 2005 Mountaineers. While both were talented, the 2004 team certainly had a few chemistry problems that caused grumbles about preferential treatment and the like. The 2005 squad, while perhaps less gifted, seems to play for and with each other, giving it a power that the previous year's edition lacked. If the ability to predict one teams' fate based on its predecessor's ever existed, it was certainly put to rest with a comparison of the outcomes of the 2004 and 2005 teams.

Whatever the outcome of the Sugar Bowl this year, you can bet that it will have been decided on the field, and on the merits of the two teams that battled on the artificial surface under the Georgia Dome. Just remember: "Past performance does not guarantee future results."

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