On Deck: The Meaning of Clutch

DFW sports teams need to learn the meaning of clutch in order to bring home some titles.
DFW sports teams need to learn the meaning of clutch in order to bring home some titles.

By Will Martin

September is without a doubt a month that  can best exemplify a moment or place in time for allowing a person, group, or team to shine, overcome, persevere, and perhaps even defy the odds when least expected.

Of course if you look up a word to best exemplify this you discover it has more than one meaning. As a noun, verb, or adjective, this six-letter word is applicable to a scenario.

Think ‘clutch’ as a noun and here’s the short version of what you are told:
“Device for quickly and easily connecting or disconnecting a pair of rotatable coaxial shafts (cars and trucks immediately come to mind)…also used for a group of chickens.

In this same dictionary you have ‘clutch’ as a verb:
“To hold onto (someone or something) tightly with your hand…to try to hold onto someone or something by reaching with your hand” as the dictionary says.

Yes, I know that for most of you clutch has an entirely different meaning, as an adjective:
“Happening during a very important or critical time especially in a sports competition or able to perform well in a very important or critical situation especially in a sports competition.”

This is the definition that can define a moment, person, team, or incident. It is the very fiber or fabric that fully envelops the fans who live for such moments for good or bad, better or worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part.

We do! Wow, we take a vow for sport more seriously than we might compared to that other institution we call marriage.

So what makes for a clutch person? Tiger Woods winning tournament after tournament early in his career before the fallout from 2009? His ability to always be lurking among the leaders on any given Sunday? I’d say that’s clutch!

Michael Jordan in his heyday helping and leading the Chicago Bulls to many a title alongside Phil Jackson, assisted by people like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman? How many times did we witness the inevitable moment of ball in hand, tongue about to wag, a slam dunk coming while airborne from the foul line, or better yet, as Cavalier fans will attest, the three-pointer to defeat Cleveland in that 1989 playoff game?

Talent notwithstanding, that was clutch! All that talk about muscle memory and the ability to make a certain shot over and over again in a given situation is applicable here. I wanna be like Mike (smile).

Despite losing a World Series in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, who remembers that Derek Jeter, Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez each hit home runs to propel the New York Yankees to a 3-2 series lead?

That my friends is clutch!

Red Sox fans always will be quick to remind the world of how an 86-year drought was forever removed when Dave Roberts and David Ortiz helped extend what many thought would be a four-game sweep by the Yankees to win in seven games? Curt Schilling, Johnny Damon, and idiots all around – YOU WERE CLUTCH!

This is not to be confused with numerous instances of teams that have played well or started off strong only to collapse in a heap in the end. You can pick your word choices from these: 1. Meltdown; 2. Choke; 3. Collapse; 4. Epic Failure; 5. Fold.

Already 10 years have passed since the night the world pondered the end days and the Lord’s return when both the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs were five outs away from meeting in the World Series. Fans were becoming giddy about revisiting 1918 after 85 years and ending a dry spell of biblical proportions. Remember? I know you do.

It started with that foul ball at Wrigley Field that will forever (wrongly) immortalize Steve Bartman for a catch Moises Alou may never have made and the Marlins scored eight runs that changed a series. Never mind the Cubbies’ errors that allowed for this.

In New York it was a five-run lead erased when Grady Little went against his instincts and let Pedro Martinez stay in a game that the Yankees ‘became his Daddy.’ Five innings later the name ‘Aaron F-ing Boone’ became an epithet and a symbol for coming through on a big stage in the…wait for it…clutch!

For some people the word clutch might be overused or improperly placed. You will have instances when a performance of an individual truly is what it is meant to be – destiny:

1. Peyton Manning throwing for seven touchdowns in a game – expected.
2. Adrian Peterson one year removed from major knee surgery runs for 2,000 yards – inspirational and against all odds.
3. Kobe Bryant – time and again the go-to guy in the fourth quarter of a game to help lead Los Angeles to victory or overtime – fun to watch.
4. Game 6 of this year’s NBA Finals when the Spurs were 21 seconds away from a title. Bandwagoning fans already having left the Miami AAA building. Enter Ray Allen with a dagger of a trey to send the game to overtime and a win and force a Game 7 – no one saw that coming.
5. Seeing the 2012 Oakland A’s not lead the American League West for 161 games only to win on the final day of the season over the Texas Rangers and therefore won the West dramatically.

Remember the 1964 Phillies, 1978 Red Sox, 1995 Angels or 2006 Mets? Recall the 1978 Redskins and 2003 Vikings going 8-8 after 6-0 starts? Those are collapses, the direct opposite of clutch. Meltdown also may be applied as a term.

So what’s in a word, sports fan? How about you tell me?