Losing battles in the War of 2006
It has been quite some time since Panther Nation has been able to experience the sensation of congruent loathing over a single member of the Carolina squad. In the course of one play Chris Gamble single-handedly brought back memories of Tshimanga Biakabutuka, Sean Gilbert and George Seifert as the most despised people in town. However in post game reports John Fox has decided to take the heat for the play
"Nothing happens without me OKing it, and I OK'd it," Fox said. "In hindsight, it's a trick play I wish I had back, but that's not the way it works."
So personally I really think the coach is just covering for one of his players like a true leader does. I really do not believe for one second that John Fox would make such an outlandish decision and feel that Gamble made a selfish call to be a hero on ESPN Sportscenter and cost his teammates the game. A friend of mine has a good breakdown of the play here if you want to check it out. But I try to be a journalist here and I therefore must take the coach at his word that he made the call and comment accordingly.
There are always correlations between American football and great epic battles. Just watch an NFL Films production of any given game and you will see slow motion cinematic artistry combined with operatic scores to give you the sensation that an immense battle occurred on the field of play. However individual campaigns during the course of a war are rarely about the actually combat on the battlefield. It is all about the strategic significance towards the ultimate goal of any war, victory. Yesterday in the Metrodome, John Fox made a significant strategic error that could cost him the War of 2006.
The decision to call in a trick play for his special teams return unit with lots of time on the clock and a 7 point lead on the road against a very tough opponent parallels the disastrous strategic results of the Japanese attack on the island atoll of Midway in June of 1942. Just six months after the successful raid on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Navy appeared to be an unstoppable force in the Pacific theater. Each day the Empire extended its borders in victory after victory, island after island. However a few months into the Pacific war the famous Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto decided that the entire war effort should concentrate on eliminating the rest of the American aircraft carriers. And to achieve that goal, he devised a complex plan to lure them to Midway Island. His plan was extremely optimistic and based on 'ambitious' intelligence reports that stated the US Navy had only two serviceable carriers in their fleet. He also incorrectly assumed that the American forces were demoralized by their frequents defeats over the previous six months. This caused Yamamoto to utilize deception (trick play if you will) in organizing his fleet by spreading them out so as to not alert the Americans to their massing. The result of this plan meant that none of his forces were mutually supporting of one another when the battle had begun. In essence, Yamamoto was so enthralled with the single desire to eliminate the American aircraft carrier threat that he sacrificed the goal of winning the war in order secure a single victory.
Well we can fast forward to September 17th, 2006 and see a reciprocal strategic faux pas on the part of Coach Fox. Victory is not quite in the bag, but it is in the buggy at the checkout counter. The defense is playing lights out football with Julius Peppers having a breakout day. The Vikings are forced to punt from deep in their territory. The Panther punt returner fields the ball at the 40 yard line. The book of strategy on this play would be for the return man to either sit down on the ground, or just try and get a few more yards upfield to make things easier for the offense. Instead, Fox is seemingly blinded by the notion of going in for the kill. He either directly or indirectly instructs his special teams unit to call in a lateral play for Gamble in the event he does not have a clear line of site to the endzone. One can only speculate what Fox is thinking. He has his opponent on the ropes already. Instead of continuing to run the ball and stop the run, the hallmarks of John Fox football. He decides to break with convention and call in one of the most risky plays in football, the special teams lateral pass. I have not checked the ESPN Classics schedule lately, but perhaps they recently had a replay of the 1982 Stanford vs. Cal game where the U.C. of Berkeley Bears upon fielding the kickoff in the closing seconds of the game executed 5 lateral passes that resulted in a controversial touchdown and subsequent win. Fox perhaps was so inspired The Play that he wanted to relive the moment in the Metrodome. What other reason would there be to make this call? The fourth quarter was not even half over. The Vikings defense was on their heels. The Carolina offense was not exactly perfect, but was playing well when put into decent field position scenarios due in no small part to the dual headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster with a little Keyshawn Johnson throw in for good measure. In this case Fox made the same mistake as Yamamoto. He made the tactical decision to put the game out of reach of the Vikings and ended up causing enough of a momentum shift to lose the game and perhaps the war itself.
Going back to 1942, the other thing that Admiral Yamamoto had no clue about was the fact that the Americans were starting to get pretty good as deciphering his JN-25 military communication code. They could not read each communication word for word, but they were able to determine that Midway Island was the primary target of his fleet and dispatching their FOUR active carriers in response. Admiral Chester Nimitz the overall US fleet commander was outnumbered and out gunned, but he had a solid defensive strategy and his troops did not give up in the face of adversity. There is a quote from the movie Midway which sort of dramatizes the battle at the point where the US took out the Japanese carriers Soryu, Akagi and Kaga but still had the single carrier Hiryu to contend with
Lt. Comm. Rochefort[Hal Holbrook]: Three Jap carriers sunk, Admiral. Isn't that worth a "hot diggity damn"?
Admiral Nimitz[Henry Fonda]: I'll take it under advisement. There's still one enemy carrier out there somewhere.
Lt. Comm. Rochefort: Admiral, we've already achieved a great victory. Shouldn't you call the carriers back to Pearl and out of harm's way?
Admiral Nimitz: That would be the safe course. The only problem is, I want that last carrier.
One last trip in our virtual time machine back to 2006 and it is apparent Minnesota Viking head coach Brad Childress could lay some claim to being a descendant, or at least disciple of American naval legend Chester Nimitz. After recovery of the ball from the Gamble mistake, the Vikings offense was held to a fourth down. With plenty of time on the clock, the Vikings could have made the chipshot field goal and trailed the Panthers 13-9. The safe and well practiced philosophy of living to fight another day. Instead the Vikings special teams unit reached into it's own handbook of deception and called for a fake kick play where PK Ryan Longwell hits another Viking for a game tying touchdown. Unlike the trick play decision of the Carolina field general, this was the correct time and place for such a call and was followed up with brilliant execution. Momentum in the game was changed and the Panthers simply could not draw up enough emotion and strength to win in overtime.
The Battle of Midway has long been credited for being the turning point of the pacific portion of World War II. It was not what caused the Japanese to lose the war as they still posed an awesome military force even after the battle. But by losing 4 of it's mainline carriers it did put the Empire in a position of weakness it did not need to be in. This is a correlation as to where the Panthers are exiting week 2. The War of 2006 has not been lost. But Carolina is 0-2 in the NFC and 0-1 in a division that has 2 undefeated teams. To say the team is in crisis would be overstating the facts. But there is a state of emergency with this team and it must respond with a victory in Tampa Bay next week before things get out of control.