Although my championship revolved around football on both the high school and the collegiate level, it involved accurately picking the correct team to win in each one of the selected match ups — commonly (as well as infamously) known as the Daily Mountain Eagle’s “Out on a Limb” contest that 13 staff members at our office wage every football season.
Winning the “Limb” has long been a goal of mine, going all the way back to my days when I was a seasonal football correspondent in 2006.
I wondered how I would line up with the company’s top forecasters and if I had the potential to finish with a high ranking.
I got the chance in 2010 when I joined the staff on a full-time basis.
My cartoon likeness was placed on the hallowed branch and my weekly picks were publicized for the world to see.
It was a tough time to enter — our editor and fearless leader, James Phillips, had won back-to-back championships and was chasing his third, while challengers like Sports Editor Johnathan Bentley, Barbara Haynes and Rick Jones proved to be difficult challengers.
I finished in fourth place that year, with Phillips winning his third consecutive title and Bentley in the runner-up spot.
A strange set of occurrences took place in 2011. First, Bentley wrote a column a few days after the winner, Phillips, was announced.
In his column, Bentley, who lost the three-game lead he had over Phillips going into the bowl season, compared James’ three-year championship run to Jimmie Johnson’s dominance in NASCAR.
He ended the column with the hopeful statement of, “Well, there’s always next year. My luck has to change, right?” Seven months later, Phillips wrote a column of his own about not only his three-year championship run and the joy he has in doing his picks, but also his comparison to the Johnson dominance.
Phillips took the subject two steps further — first, stating that the inspiration for his streak could be summed up in the immortal words of professional wrestling legend, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair: “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” He also added that he fully expected to make it four years in a row with a 2011 title.
Expectations are a funny thing.
I was always taught when I was growing up to only expect three things in life: death, taxes and pain. Gruesome? Sure. But in the wisdom that was doled out to me by my grandparents — who raised me — laid the main lesson: anything you receive comes from hard work, dedication, a fighting spirit and God’s blessing. So far in my life, I’ve stayed away from unsafe expectations. Phillips should have learned that lesson as well, for as he found out, high expectations often find a way of coming back and biting you in your posterior.
In 2011, Bentley unseated Phillips and became the Limb champion. Phillips didn’t finish in the top five, and was even beaten in the bowl pick competition by his son, Stone.
Meanwhile, I finished tied for runner-up with Michael Keeton — giving me some additional confidence that I was getting better at playing the game, as well as leaving me looking forward to my chance to compete again in 2012.
This year’s Limb was a lot of fun — due in no small part to the battle Bentley and I waged. For a seven-week period, Bentley would take the lead, only for me to come back and tie him up the following week.
This cycle continued until the bowl picks, where Johnathan had a slim one-game lead over me. In head-to-head competition in the postseason, I emerged as the victor, going 5-2 against Bentley for my first-ever Limb title.
I have to tip my hat to my runner-up. We pushed each other tooth and nail and I would be all too happy to revive the titanic rivalry next year.
Even though I attempt to stay away from unsafe expectations, I have a few that I think will be pretty safe to make for next season’s Limb. I won’t make a lofty one — such as a guarantee that I’ll repeat as the 2013 champion. The field is tough — I’ll just have to fight and do my best. But I believe that Bentley will be back in top form to attempt to reclaim his title.
For all my barbs directed at James “JP” Phillips in this column, he’s a great friend of mine who tied me for the best bowl record — enough to place him in third for the overall season.
Next season, he’ll be as dangerous as ever. One person to be on the watch for is our publisher, Jack McNeely.
Jack, being an old sports guy, did outstanding in his first year — garnering a fourth-place standing to end the season…the same placement I had in my inaugural season. As his knowledge of our local teams grows, we should all be wary of the threat Jack will be. But for now, I’ll relish my imaginary crystal ball Limb trophy that now occupies a spot on my desk. For my sake, I hope no one figures out where it is and accidentally shatters the ball.
W. Brian Hale is the Sports Writer for the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org