GOP Halftime: What Rick Santorum Can Learn From Sports’ Greatest Comebacks

Apr 6, 2012 7:00am

The race isn’t even at halftime yet.
      -Rick Santorum on “Fox News Sunday”

It’s kind of like Team Romney wants to go into the locker room at halftime and declare victory.
      -Santorum campaign manager Michael Biundo, speaking to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday

We have now reached the point where it’s halftime. Half the delegates in this process have been selected, and who’s ready to charge out of the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?
      -Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, after Mitt Romney’s wins on Tuesday night

As Rick Santorum is so fond of reminding us, we’ve entered the second half of the Republican primary.

It’s time for him to huddle with his campaign team, to march toward the goal line. The coming weeks will test his ground game. This is no time to punt. Even if Mitt Romney moves the goalposts, Santorum could win on a Hail Mary, unless his earmarking record becomes a political football. And every other tired metaphor you can think of.

Santorum is right: With Tuesday’s primaries in D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin, Romney crossed the halfway point in his quest for 1,144 delegates, and about half of all delegates have been given out.

It bears mentioning, however, that if Santorum is to win the nomination, or at least to fight on credibly until the convention, he’ll need a miraculous second-half comeback. He trails Romney’s 858 delegates with 281 of his own.

So we figured that Santorum could use some metaphorical inspiration from actual sports comebacks, and we got some help from a friendly editorial mind at ESPN. Here’s a list, along with some lessons for the candidate:

2005 Elite Eight: Illinois defeats Arizona

Facing its largest deficit of the season, down 15 points with just four minutes to play after a decisive second half by Arizona, Illinois guards Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown kept their composure and rallied to an unbelievable comeback and a 90-89 overtime win. A string of three-pointers fueled their resurgence.

Illinois went on to lose the championship game to a powerhouse UNC squad.

Lessons for Santorum: Stay focused and shoot the three. You’ll have to drain a few deep ones, which means you might need to win decisively in California or New York.

 

2004 Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

The Red Sox found themselves down 0-3 in the ALCS to their hated rivals, and were pummeled 19-8 in Game 3 … but they came back, doing desperate things like employing Pedro Martinez as a reliever and relying on the “good luck charm” of Nelson de la Rosa, aka Pedro’s Little Friend. No baseball team had ever come from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series.

After the Red Sox took the AL pennant, the World Series was pretty much decided. A powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals team was hopeless against that kind of momentum.

Lessons for Santorum: Employ unconventional surrogates who are small in stature. If you win the nomination in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion, Barack Obama will be no match, and the White House is yours for the taking.

 

1993 AFC Wild Card Game: Buffalo defeats Houston

The Pro Football Hall of Fame calls the Buffalo Bills’ win over the Houston Oilers the NFL’s Greatest Comeback. Here’s the Hall’s description:

Faced with watching their team trail by 32 points, many fans made their way to the parking lot while the Bills headed for the record book. Buffalo’s backup quarterback Frank Reich, who was filling in for the injured Jim Kelly, led the charge. …

Buffalo began their rally with a one-yard run by Kenneth Davis and when Christie recovered the ensuing onside kick, Reich took over the show. He calmly directed the offense as he connected first with Don Beebe and then hooked up with Andre Reed for three more touchdowns.

Lessons for Santorum: Trailing Houston 35-3 is kind of like trailing Romney 858-281 in delegates: No mathematical deficit is insurmountable. You can start a comeback with a one-yard run, something an NFL offense is supposed to be able to accomplish—kind of like winning Pennsylvania after you represented it for 16 years.

 

Jack Nicklaus Wins 1986 Masters

Trailing by six shots with 10 holes to play, Jack Nicklaus lit up the back nine at Augusta with a record-setting 30 to capture his sixth green jacket.

Lessons for Santorum: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. By overperforming in a few contests, Santorum can find himself on a roll.

 

Doug Flutie’s Miracle in Miami, 1984

Trailing in the final seconds to the University of Miami Hurricanes, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie dropped back, scrambled and unleashed a 63-yard touchdown pass to Gerard Phelan for a 47-45 win as time expired, completing the most famous Hail Mary pass in football history.

Lessons for Santorum: The equivalent of a convention win. Even facing a certain loss, if you put it all together in the final seconds — with a successful last-ditch plea to superdelegates, unbound caucus-state delegates, and prominent Republicans before the first round of voting in Tampa — sometimes you get lucky and walk away with a win.

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