The League

Emil Steiner
Editor and Blogger

Emil Steiner

The author of NFL Crime Watch and Founding Editor of The League.

Choke defined

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Since we threw this question out there, at least one panelist has asked what "choke" really means. Is it blowing the whole season -- like the Redskins, or dropping the ball with the game on the line -- like Tony Romo in the 2007 playoffs?

Having written a bit on the topic, I have found that choking typically breaks down, in sports, thus: Player vs. team and situational vs. seasonal. For the purposes of our discussion, we mean team chokes occurring over the course of this season or at least parts of it.

Regardless of variety though, choking ubiquitously involves the failure to reach an expectation of success. Situational/player chokes most often occur under pressure circumstances, frequently as the result of the "choker" making an easily avoidable error -- see Tony Romo. Team/seasonal chokes involve a team not only failing to meet that year's expectations (or part of that year's), but falling way short of them. The length of time can vary, as we will discuss.

Under this definition, three teams jump out of the gutter as 2009's biggest chokers -- the Steelers, the Giants and the Broncos.

First the returning champion Pittsburgh Steelers, who came into this season as a favorite to repeat, and justifiably so. Not only did they fail to accomplish that goal, but they didn't even make the playoffs. You can blame injuries, schedules or weather, but ask anyone on the team -- excuses are for losers. Pittsburgh lost when it mattered and failed as a result. Champions that they are, I believe they'll use the pain of this year's choke as a motivator in 2010.

Denver, our second nominee, came into this season expected to fail. Rookie head coach Josh McDaniels was universally panned as being at best wet behind the ears and at worst wet in the brain. However after the Broncos tore out of the gate to a 6-0 start, expectations changed. Suddenly they were a very serious playoff contender... even Skip Bayless apologized. And that's when the feathers hit the fan. With the pressure suddenly on, Denver proceeded to lose eight of their last 10, including the playoff unclincher, Sunday, against a floundering Kansas City. In the end, the Broncos succeeded in living up to expectations, too bad they were the preseason ones not the midseason ones.

The New York Giants, our final and perhaps most qualified contender for choker of the year, came into 2009 with high expectations and one big question: Could they dominate without Plaxico Burress. That question seemed to have been answered, as the Giants started the season 5-0 -- primed to prove the "experts" right. Then New York imploded. Big Blue dropped four straight and eight of the last 11. Unlike Denver though, the Giants did not go gracefully down the tubes (if such a thing is possible).

At 5-4 they won an overtime thriller against Atlanta, then proceeded to get spanked the following week by, of all teams, Denver. As if to twist the dagger in the hearts of fans they beat eventual NFC East champions Dallas the next Sunday, pushing their record to 7-5, only to catch a beating at the hands of Philly in the following game. And yet heading into Week 16, they still had a realistic chance of making the playoffs. Instead of stepping up against the injured and interception prone Panthers though, the G-Men turned tail and sprinted toward the off season losing 41-9 in their last game at House that Hoffa Built.

It was that complete collapse, followed by a 44-7 castigation in Minnesota to close out the season, that seals their crown. In the words of CEO John Mara, "I don't think I'll ever get over the last two weeks... I'm disappointed in everything. I'm unhappy at everybody. It's just not acceptable to perform like that. There are 8-8 seasons and there are 8-8 seasons, but this one felt a lot more like 2-14 to me." That is what choking feels like.

By Emil Steiner  |  January 4, 2010; 3:14 PM ET  | Category:  Emil Steiner Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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