On the couch, it all looks easy.
Football season: “Every time he throws off his back foot, he throws an interception. He needs to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball.”
Basketball season: “That guy can’t shoot if you put a hand in his face. But he can hit a free throw — 49% of the time.”
Baseball season: “He can’t hit in a clutch situation — that’s his problem. Big whoop if he can hit a two-run homer into the upper deck when his team is behind 14-2.”
This past weekend: “I could have made that putt.”
All quotes by me in the last year. The omniscient me, who knows all about the sports he’s never played at anything close to a high level.
The last, most ridiculous assertion, was brought up again at the roundtable recently, and quickly dismissed by those who have seen my golf game.
“What do you know about putting? I’ve seen you miss a tap-in before.”
This led to another conversation, one I’ll share with you readers, about the hardest things to do in sports. By this, I mean, the actions that look easy by pros on TV, but, in reality, by a normal amateur athlete, are very difficult to master.
Here’s what the roundtable decided were the five hardest things to do in modern athletics:
5. Ice hockey.
I played field hockey at PE when I was a kid. Fairly easy. I have also ice skated before. Not so easy. Doing both at once is better left to the professionals, or the Hanson brothers (of “Slap Shot,” not “MMMBop”) and their nine collective teeth.
4. Hitting a 3-pointer in basketball.
I’ve done this before, but it’s not something you can just walk off the street and do in a competitive situation, or even at your driveway goal. Not only do you have to gauge the distance accurately, but you also can’t just throw it up there — you have to shoot it. There’s a difference. Dunking is easy. Shooting a basketball from 20 feet away is not.
3. Playing quarterback.
In the press box, or my living room, I can see every football player who is open. But if you’re actually under center and dropping back five steps under a rush from guys who want to hurt you, it’s quite a challenge to see every open receiver, or any for that matter. And in the pros, they have to deliver the football to a 2-foot area precisely at the right moment. Being able to execute those kinds of quick decisions routinely is a remarkable talent.
2. Hitting a golf ball consistently straight.
There are so many things that can go wrong in a golf swing. One swing, it can be your hands. Another swing, it could be your stance. The next time, it could be how your weight shifted. Or when I swing, all of the above, and then some.
Watching the U.S. Open recently, I found myself critiquing the pros. Then I caught myself: The best you’ve EVER shot was an 84, I reminded myself, 12 over par. The guy who won it was 6 under par over 72 holes. Shut your pie hole.
1. Hitting an 85- to 95-mph fastball.
While a sportswriter, I went down on the practice field one day and stood at the plate as a player (then a high-schooler, later a minor-leaguer) threw an 88-mph fastball by me. It was, in a word, terrifying. I gave it a hearty swing, just as the catcher was throwing the ball back to the pitcher. I didn’t see the ball, but did feel a sudden burst of wind go by me as I cocked my wrists.
I can’t imagine how fast your hands, and reactions, have to be to hit one of those regularly. Where else in sports is a 30% success rate considered good? Only in hitting a baseball.
These rankings were by consensus of the roundtable, but not unanimous. We could only agree wholeheartedly on one thing: The hardest thing in sports is for the Atlanta Falcons to hold on to a lead.
That’s a fact.