- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. | “I was a little bit tired.” Scott Hannan, the Washington Capitals‘ dependable 32-year-old defenseman, wasn’t making excuses for his gaffe against the Lightning on Sunday night, for the ill-advised line change in overtime that resulted in Tampa Bay’s winning goal. Indeed, he was only too willing to take the blame for the Caps’ loss, which put them behind in the series 2-nil heading into Game 3 Tuesday night.

No, Hannan was merely offering an explanation — and an unexpected one, at that. You just don’t get that kind of honesty from many athletes. In fact, in my 35 years as an ink-stained wretch, I’ve never heard any athlete admit that fatigue was a factor in some game-turning play.

It just isn’t done, I guess. In the macho world of sports, “tired” is the five-letter word that’s really a four-letter word. Better to have died as a small boy, to borrow a phrase, than to acknowledge that you blundered because, well, you were just plain bushed.

This isn’t a knock on Hannan, not in the least. In fact, if it were up to me, he’d be the NHL Player of the Week. It’s good to be reminded — every 35 years or so — that athletes, even professionals, sometimes run out of gas, that their tank isn’t bottomless. They’re not windup toys. They’re not a computer game. Sometimes, their batteries run down. Sometimes they do things just because they’re out of breath.


It’s funny. I’ve covered Boston Marathons — including one where the record was broken — yet I’ve never heard the winner say, “I couldn’t have gone another step.”

I’ve interviewed a cyclist as he was pedaling up the Rocky Mountains in the Race Across America, trailed behind him in a support vehicle, but at no point did he tell his team, “Why don’t we pull over, guys, so I can take a nap?” (He waited, no doubt, until I was gone.)

For that matter, I covered the Capitals‘ four-overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the ‘96 playoffs, and in the dressing room afterward there was no mention of the five-letter word that’s really a four-letter word. The discussion was more about a missed penalty shot and the hooking penalty that preceded the deciding goal. Missed opportunities and mental mistakes — isn’t that always the difference between winning and losing? It’s never That Other Thing, the thing Hannan brought up.

Pitchers, for instance, aren’t taken out of games because they’re tired. They’re taken out because they’ve hit their pitch count. It sounds better that way. Then it’s not about fatigue, really, it’s about lost velocity and the healthy maintenance of arms. And how many times has a basketball coach said after a defeat, “We didn’t have enough energy tonight”? Isn’t that just another way of saying, “We were exhausted”? It’s amazing how sports folk avoid the word: t-i-r-e-d.

It must, in their minds, carry unwanted connotations — raise the possibility that they Just Aren’t Tough Enough or didn’t run up enough hills in the offseason. And sometimes, perhaps, that’s true. But there are other times, no doubt, many other times, when it isn’t, when the issue isn’t so much toughness or conditioning as human limits. Nothing, moreover, tests those limits more than OT, be it sudden death in football, an endless fifth set in tennis or an extra period in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Think about it: When a player misses a key free throw at the end of a basketball game, it rarely enters our minds that he might have been tired. We’re much more likely to say he choked or has poor mechanics or was distracted by a sign-waving fan behind the basket. It’s almost a reflex. I mean, who ever chalks it up to accumulated weariness? Finely tuned athletes aren’t supposed to get worn out like other mortal beings; they’re supposed to be Energizer Bunnies in sneakers, cleats and skates.

Six minutes into overtime Sunday night, with the puck deep in the Tampa Bay end, Hannan decided to come off the ice and headed for the Washington bench. Seeing this, the Lightning’s Randy Jones shot a long pass along the boards to Teddy Purcell, and Purcell slid the puck to an unsupervised Vincent Lecavalier in front of the Capitals‘ net. Lightning 3, Caps. 2.

“I was a little bit tired,” Hannan said.

Hey, it happens. More than we’ll ever know.