Open Rants by Young Harry

Revenge Matches work best when...
Published at 6/3/2020
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by Young Harry June 2020

Imagine you are one of sixteen young guys who take part in a yearly boxing competition.   Each year the draw is random and the eight winners progress to the next round and so on until there is a sole champion.  Now let’s say you lost the “Superbowl” match one year and just so happen to face last year’s winner in the first round next year.  It’s a classic revenge match.  You are ready for it big time.  Problem is – so is your opponent.  He knows you are out for payback; and he is equally keen to win the rematch and then defend his title.  Yes, it’s a classic revenge setup, but not a huge advantage.

Let’s replay the event differently. This time you get beaten in the first round and the next year you are pitted against another first round loser.  The day before your fight against him, all sixteen of you get together over a few drinks and chat about life.  Your upcoming opponent brags about ripping off some “gullible old biddy” in some business deal he is involved in.  As he gives details, you realise that this woman is your much loved grandma. You don’t say anything.  NOW you have a revenge match and you really want to see him punished.  But the big advantage is that he has no idea you are coming for him big time. If you and he are both equal in ability, I’m tipping you to win this one!

That’s the key – when your reason for revenge catches the other team by surprise.

Allow me to indulge in a little AFL (Australian Rules Football – refer to and for more info) instance of this and then I will give two NFL examples.

Last week of regular season 2014: the Giants (Greater Western Sydney Giants, not NYG) were a newly formed team in 2012 and had been struggling for three years and then ranked 16th of 18 teams.  They played the Bulldogs – slightly better off at 14th - with both teams out of the playoff picture, but the Bulldogs had the home ground advantage. The Giants pulled off an upset win and the coach of the Bulldogs departs the club soon after.  The last round loss left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Bulldog players. Then one of their stars asked to be, and was, traded to the Giants.

Fast forward to week 9 of 2015. The Giants are having a good year – ranked 4th, whereas the Bulldogs are 11th. They play at the Bulldogs’ home ground again with the Giants solid favourites. For them, it’s just another game, but the Bulldogs have pencilled this one in as soon as the fixture was released.  In the AFL, a typical score line for both teams combined is about 170 (about 3 – 4 times an NFL score).  The Bulldogs lead by 37 points at quarter time and win by 45 (113-68) – outperforming expectations by 57 points.  It was that afore-mentioned element of surprise that made the revenge game work for the Bulldogs.

One problem with the NFL is that a revenge game might take years to come around if the opponent is not in your division.  Not so for the Patriots and Dolphins.  Everyone remembers the “miracle win” by the Dolphins late in 2018 against the Pats. While the Miami players celebrated, they may have underestimated how humiliating the loss was for the Patriots.

The rematch occurred back at Hard Rock Stadium in week 2 of the 2019 season.  The revenge nature of the game was scarcely mentioned because of the disparity in the rankings of the teams. New England started as 18 point favourites but won 43-0. It didn’t affect people tipping straight up winners, but was a huge result against the line.  Hardly anyone expected the Pats to win by so much, despite the lowly ranking of the Dolphins.  It was the hidden (almost) revenge factor that kicked in to blow out the margin. No doubt that New England marked this one when the fixture was released and were motivated big time to perform.

But surely there couldn’t be a second hidden revenge factor at play in their week 17 clash?  The Pats left Miami after week 2 thinking that they had beaten maybe the worst team ever. This “almost worst team” ever eventually became somewhat competitive and travelled to Gilette Stadium for week 17 as 17 point underdogs. The Pats only had to win to bypass the Wild Card week, but lost 24-27. A Dolphin loss would help them in terms of draft picks. What happened?

Again, the winning team (Pats back in week 2) underestimated the pain felt by the Miami players and the whole club – especially as ex Belichick assistant Brian Flores was the new Dolphin coach for 2019.  The team may have been poor, but to lose 43-0 to the old mentor really hurt badly and they put it in the memory bank.

That isn’t always going to equate to a win as 17 point outsiders next time (and there were other factors which may have affected the Patriots late in the 2019 season), but the hidden revenge was enough this time to get the job done. And, again, the somewhat hidden motivation factor kicked in.

There was irony in the fact that the Dolphins tipped early in the season to “finish last and draft Tua Tagovailoa”.  They blew the number 1 pick with a few wins in the second half of the season and STILL ended up with (the now discounted after injury) Tagovailoa. “It was worth it to nail the Patriots in week 17”, I hear Dolphins fans say.  History will tell us if it turns out to be a win-win.

When will we see another “hidden revenge” game?  Who knows?  There may be a game some team has already pencilled in against an unsuspecting opponent. Look out for them.  They won’t be easy to spot.  But if you put look carefully, you will see one sooner or later.

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