SALT LAKE CITY, October 10, 2012— Presidential politics always invites sports analogies, and this year’s contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama is best explained as the biggest football game ever.
The fourth quarter has just begun, and the sitting president—the defending champ, no less—is in a position with which he is entirely unfamiliar: playing from behind. And without any momentum.
When the game began sometime back in the spring, Mitt Romney came on the field an underdog on paper. He had bested his previous playoff opponents at great cost, having spent a lot of money and ceding some ideological territory. Team Romney was a victorious squad, but one tired and plagued with many injuries heading into the championship.
This race began not as a tie, like most football games, but with an Obama lead built in. Historically, incumbency has accounted for a two and a half-point advantage. The president entered the game slightly ahead of his Republican challenger, 3 – 0.
Nevertheless, getting to the big game is a momentum builder all its own, and Team Romney had some. They scored early by coalescing the Republican base more quickly than anybody had realistically predicted, and showed he could raise money, proving the enthusiasm was there. Touchdown, Romney goes up 7 – 3.
Team Obama, with its multiple byes, had been studying his likely opponent for some time, but was rusty and failed to capitalize on its slim advantage. Obama had several stalled drives, but managed two long field goals.
The quarter ends Obama 9, Romney 7.
It began when all other major Republicans had officially suspended their presidential aspirations and most primaries had been decided, in early May. Team Romney was happy enough to be down only two, given that his foe had won the previous Superbowl by a historic margin.
The defending champ, couldn’t possibly run the same offense that had dominated everybody in 2008; the competition had studied him and had figured out his playbook. With a completely new offense, Team Obama turned the ball over twice on absurd trick plays like going after private equity and unveiling “Julia,” the equivalent of a double reverse for which the defense was absolutely ready.
However, Romney couldn’t score off either turnover, and both teams played for field position for the first eight minutes of the quarter.
A costly penalty was called on Team Obama, when reform Governor Scott Walker survived his recall in Wisconsin. That put the field in Team Romney’s favor, who got in a field goal of his own, putting the challenger ahead 10 – 9 at the two-minute warning.
On the next drive, a broken play by Obama resulted in a fumble that the offense recovered deep in Romney territory, when the Supreme Court ruled Obamacare constitutional. On further review, however, the call on the field was overturned when it was determined that the mandate was in fact a tax. Romney ball.
In less than a minute to go in the half, many fans expected Romney to sit on his one-point lead. Instead, and to everyone’s surprise, he dialed up a deep pass play when he selected Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ruled complete, Team Romney was in business with the ball inside Obama’s fifteen and the clock running. In a succession of two running plays, an off tackle and a textbook draw, Team Romney caught the defense completely unawares during a debate on Medicare. Touchdown Romney, up 17 – 9 at half.
The party conventions opened the second half, when both teams offenses explored their playbooks and defenses broke down. Though the Republican convention offered an opportunity to score, but the warm up speakers couldn’t get into the red zone. Then Ann Romney’s speech resulted in a touchdown, and Clint Eastwood and the candidate both accounted for field goals. Romney increased his eight-point advantage to 21.
Just when it looked like Romney would run up the score on the defending champs, Team Obama responded. Obama’s speech didn’t yield a score, but the First Lady scored a touchdown, as did former president Bill Clinton; Vice President Biden added a field goal. Coming out of the conventions, Obama had closed the gap, but was still down 26 – 30.
Halfway through the quarter, the officiating crew came to the aid of Team Obama. In an unprecedented display of crookedness and incompetence that makes the NFL replacement referees look like King Solomon, they blew call after call. On Romney’s response to the Libyan embassy attack, they awarded the ball to Obama, despite the fact that clear evidence suggested Romney never lost control of the ball. Then, the 47% episode resulted in another controversial turnover call. Obama scored touchdowns on both.
In a high scoring quarter, Obama finally took the lead 40 – 30. It was then his supporters and the refs tried to call the game.
But league officials and rules prevailed, and the fourth quarter began on October 1. The first big play happened on the 3rd, when the two nominees squared off in Denver for their first debate.
Team Romney scored an early touchdown, and things fell apart for Team Obama.
The president muffed the ensuing kickoff and started off with terrible field position, going backward on two successive and totally predictable running plays. On third down of the drive, he fumbled the snap and Romney scored a safety. Then, Team Romney scored another touchdown. In all, Team Romney combined a masterful ground game with a quick and methodical air attack and some tough defense to outscore Team Obama 16 – 0 in the span of two and a half minutes. Before Obama had realized the quarter had begun, he found himself down 46 – 40.
The quarter has just begun, but momentum has shifted.
Many fans of Team Romney thought they should have been in the game four years ago, and that they were far superior—more disciplined, hard-working, and skilled than the defending champs. They thought their team would build an early lead and maintain it until the end.
Romney fans didn’t count on the refs blowing three crucial calls late in the third quarter.
In this football game, not only did the president have a three-point lead at the start of the game, but the refs had been bought off.
But Romney overcame those obvious attempts to influence the outcome and took advantage of several enormous Obama mistakes.
Now, some Team Obama fans have turned on their guy. Others have started to exit the stadium, believing he can’t possibly recover.
Big plays are possible with a vice-presidential debate tomorrow night, and two more for the nominees.
Perpetually mistaken for a cautious player, Romney might just go deeper into his playbook in an attempt to ice it. Obama may crumble under the pressure of such an outstanding defense and resilient offense.
During a wild football season, this game will be the wildest of all.
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Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative.
He writes about Salt Lake City and the World in the Food and Travel section.
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