In professional sports victory usually comes to those athletes and teams that execute plays with skill, speed and precision.  It may be as undramatic as when with one out, a right-handed batter steers an inside pitch toward the right side of the infield enabling the runner on second to take third.  Or far more eye catching as when the half back reverses direction in the backfield, gets behind his blockers and scampers downfield.  Consider also the point guard who spots a teammate breaking free under the basket and whips a precise bounce pass to him for the easy lay-up.  In all these instances highly accomplished athletes are doing what the situation requires, what over the course of years and thousands of games, brings victory.

But these same athletes also know that there are moments when fate intervenes, when skill, discipline and preparation matter little, when, to their dismay freakish happenings disrupt the normal course of events.  A perfect double play ball heads directly toward the shortstop, already in a crouch, prepared to scoop it up.  But just before he does, the ball hits a pebble and bounds over his shoulder and into the outfield.  Or when in the midst of a prolonged rally, both players stationed at the baseline strike balls with precision cross court and down the lines.  Then a shot on a low trajectory hits the top of the net, goes limp and drops weakly down on the other side.  Point over.  A magnificent exchange concludes with an unintentional fluke, the situation immediately acknowledged when the point winner, either by gesture or comment asks to be excused.

There is no accounting for the erratic bounces of the pigskin, surely the oddest shaped ball in all of sports.  Its “crazy” movements have bedeviled many a player.  The quarterback fumbles the snap, but miraculously, the ball bounces right back into his hands, upon which he rises up and fires a strike to a receiver in the flat.  More often, however, the ball bounces unpredictably along the ground to the great frustration of players from both sides as they attempt to scoop it up.  In these and many similar instances player and skills count for little; the football appearing to have a mind of its own.

Consider those instances in a hockey game when a slap shot propels the puck toward the net.  The goalie flashes to his right, gets his stick on it and deflects it away.  Unfortunately, it hits the skate of a teammate positioned in front and slides untouched into the net scoring a goal.  Or when players from both teams leap toward the basket to snare a rebound, the defender inadvertently tipping the ball into the basket.  Neither of these events were supposed to happen, were not in any playbook.

Players understand it’s all part of the game and hope “breaks” such as these even out.  Fans, however, are not so sure, and wonder whether higher powers and mysterious forces are at play.

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