What Does It Mean To Choke?

Sometimes the N2K writers’ group text can be an interesting place. What started with our new writer, Mikey, bullying my school’s basketball team[1] turned into an all-out, all-writer-inclusive debate on what the definition of choking meant. To make a long story short, I don’t think choking and losing a big game when you’re the favorite are the same thing.

Let me clarify.

Some would argue that if the favorite loses an important game, they choked. Period. For example, Mikey argued that Xavier choked in this year’s Round of 32 against the 7th-seeded Wisconsin team, who were without their legendary head coach, Bo Ryan, and were depleted from their deep tourney run the year prior. Now, to clarify, the Musketeers played a bad game against Wisconsin. But choked? I mean, as bad as they played, they were still in a position to win for the entire game. And if it wasn’t for a questionable charge call and the luckiest corner 3-ball Bronson Koeing has ever made in his entire life, we wouldn’t be talking about X choking. I think choking would’ve been blowing a halftime lead over 10-15 points, not playing a relatively close game throughout.

Michigan State, a team many picked to win the NCAA Championship this year, lost against Middle Tennessee State, which yes, is a real school. It’s so easy to say that a #2 seed losing to a team as unknown as MTSU is choking. Yes, the Spartans didn’t play too well. Yes, it was the first game of the tournament. However, I think the phrase ‘choking’ takes away from how well MTSU actually played. I mean, they went out and won that game for themselves; Michigan State didn’t lose it, persay. So I have a hard time saying that’s an example of choking.

So basically, I think ridiculously lucky plays and the lower seed simply playing a better game do not count as examples of choking. If that’s the case, you might ask yourself, what do I consider choking?

According to the Oxford English Merriam-Tyler Bates Dictionary, the word “choke” is a verb that, in the context of sports, means, “to lose a game that you have no business losing; to squander an opportunity when there is simply no excuse to not come out victorious”.

You want some examples? The Boston Red Sox, circa 1986. There is no reason Bob Stanley should throw a wild pitch. There’s no reason for Lou Gorman leaving the mediocre Bill Buckner in a tight game when Dave Stapleton was ready to go on the bench. Then, there’s no reason for Buckner to misplay a routine ground ball. Then to lose Game 7? That’s choking.

The New York Yankees were up 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS. They had just won Game 3 19-8. In Boston. They had all the momentum. I mean, you guys know the story. There’s no doubt the Red Sox played well. But to have Mariano Rivera blow two straight saves? That’s choking.

Jordan Spieth at this year’s Masters? Yeah, that’s pretty easy to see how it’s choking.

The 2016 Golden State Warriors were up 3-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team who play in a city that was seemingly cursed in terms of sports. Even if the Cavs forced it to 7 games, they had to win twice in Oracle Arena, a place where the Warriors seemed indestructible. The Warriors were the winningest team the NBA had ever seen {in the regular season}. They had momentum. Then they lost. Badly. That? That’s choking.

So basically what I’m saying is that I don’t think losing a big game and choking are the same thing. It’s open to interpretation. Maybe I’m biased towards certain teams, maybe I’m not. But enough about me. What do you guys think determines choking? Comment below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on FanTalk. Tell me why I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

[1] For the record, Xavier was 2-0 this past season against Providence (his new school), and 6-3 overall head-to-head, so suck it.


Cover Photo courtesy of gabworthy.com


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Would you consider the 2007 Patriots choking or the 2014 Seahawks? Or do those fall under the MTSU rule of taking away how well the opposition played?


  2. Tyler Bates says:

    I’m late here, but arguments can be made for both scenarios. The Patriots were thoroughly outplayed by the Giants in 2007, and they were helped by some dumb luck by David Tyree. I think the Patriots choked more in 2011 than in 2007, even given the circumstances. The Seahawks didn’t choke as much as Russell Wilson himself did.


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