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From the Jaws of Victory, by Victor Niederhoffer

Yesterday's dramatic finish between Dallas and Washington with a blocked field goal, a run back, a penalty, and another field goal kick to the opposite side, all with six seconds remaining, reminds me of the closes that often happen in markets where until the last moment you're winning and then a 1 in a billion event occurs to snatch defeat out of the jaws.

Russell Sears replies:

When you are tired, some frustrating and very unexpected things can happen.

This is what makes racing the marathon such a love/hate relationship for me.

You can train and train, be physically ready. When exhaustion hits you, you can out think it, with mental toughness. But you only get a few brief seconds to decide if you really are ready. You must be both physically ready and mentally looking for it. Even then, it can take you by surprise, with a moments mental lapse. Then expect it to turn ugly and the unexpected.

But when you are on, it is powerfully exquisite.

This is a very hard painful lesson to learn and most marathoners, never do. They either give up on the marathon, or give up on doing them for times.

Ask Lance about this.

I suspect when people are on a team, or a large group of speculators, people often rely too much on the others. At that critical moment you are exhausted but needed most. Some will step-up, some will drop the ball.

J. T. Holley responds:

This was felt by Joe Gibbs if you watched the game and heard him speak immediately afterwards. During the Cowboy field goal attempt he had his head up watching his own defeat happen right in front of him, but when Novak (1 for 5 in attempts this year) miraculously got an attempt to win the game in the above mentioned 1 in a billion, coach Gibbs had his head down unable to watch the outcome. Afterwards he simply replied "that doesn't happen a lot".

My Hokies had a similar but not the same time frame outcome against Miami on Saturday night. They too blocked a kick that led to their victory. The relevant counting part is something I heard spoken by Coach Frank Beamer some years ago at an alumni function. When questioned in regards to his "Beamer Ball" style i.e. blocked kicks, blocked punt, he -- being also the special teams coach utilizing the best athletes on the team instead of reserves -- responded with, "one out of every eight plays in a game is a kicking play, that's where we can make a difference".

Steve Leslie adds:

In 1999 Jean Van de Velde, France's greatest golfer of all time, had an opportunity to be the first Frenchman to win the British Open since 1907. He came to the last tee with a three stroke lead, needing only to double bogey the last hole and win the tournament. After hitting the fairway with his driver, Van de Velde hits his next shot far to the right careens of the grandstands and into the rough. He flubs a wedge into the water, takes an unplayable lie, hits his next shot into a bunker, and hits out of the bunker and sinks the putt for an unimaginable seven. He then goes into a four hole playoff where he loses to another improbable winner in Paul Lawrie.

Perhaps the most amazing finish in golf history.

John DePalma replies:

ProTrade.com calculates "win probability." These calculations have become popular in baseball. Conditional upon home/visitor status, inning, # of outs, runners on base, and score differential, a team's probability of winning is derived based upon what has happened historically. For football ProTrade describes "Win Probability" as "a percentage that states a team's chance of winning at any given point in a game." The probability reflects "score, clock time, field position, home-field advantage, available timeouts and many other factors." Before Dallas attempted the field goal with 6 seconds left, the team's probability of winning was roughly 91%. After the field goal was blocked Dallas' odds dropped to 43%. The odds fell incrementally to 19% on the runback and penalty. And of course the odds dropped to 0% on Washington's field goal. (See http://tinyurl.com/y6u8y2)

As an aside, it's interesting to note that at least with respect to the baseball calculator, there is no path dependency. Momentum is assumed away. (Momentum and "hot hands" as mostly a statistical illusion.