John F. Russell: Playoffs bring a new sense of importance to the game

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— It’s the playoffs.

The time of year that every high school athlete plays for. The time of year when great teams dream of winning championships and others hope to turn an average season into a Cinderella run.

Sure, there are teams that thrive in the regular season, but the playoffs are different.

It’s a time when every moment, every play and every point can make the difference between stepping into the spotlight or heading home.

Teams that find success in the regular season find themselves at the top of the league standings. Teams that find success in the playoffs find titles.

Most athletes know that when the playoffs arrive, nothing that happened in the regular season matters anymore. The team that wins is the team that advances. There is no time to have a bad game, no time to fall down and no excuses when a run comes to an end. The good teams can’t let down because there always is an underdog waiting for the chance to make its mark

There are plenty of examples — just look at the 2007 Colorado Rockies. The team needed an incredible winning streak and a tie-breaking game just to get into the playoffs. But once they were there, the team made the most of the opportunity.

The team raced past the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks en route to the only World Series appearance in franchise history. Nobody saw it coming, but what a great playoff moment it turned out to be.

Sadly, the team’s run ended with Boston but not before we had a chance to enjoy the moment. It was one of those moments that make us all understand why the playoffs are so special.

Other Colorado examples include the 1994 Nuggets team that upset the highly favored Sonics and the 1977 Broncos that posted a 12-2 record and beat the highly favored Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.

The Nuggets were pretty average in 1994, and while the Broncos had a good team in 1977, there were very few people outside Denver who expected to see that team make it to the Super Bowl.

But this is the playoffs, and that makes all the difference. It’s those expectations, or lack thereof, that make us all cheer.

History has proven again and again that anything can happen. Good teams are upset every year, and underdogs continue to find ways to grab our attention.

This week, several teams from Routt County will head into the postseason with high hopes. They might win or they might lose, but the games they play will be some of the most memorable in their high school careers.

The excitement of knowing that this game is bigger than the others, more important than the regular season, will fuel the athletes to take their game to another level, a level where anything can happen.

In the end, one team will advance to play another day and the other will head for home to start making plans for next year. But every athlete on the court, field or track this week understands that this is the playoffs: a place where anything can happen.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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