Josh Allen Had His In Tampa, Where Did You Have Yours?

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Something happened in the second half of the game in Tampa Bay on Sunday, December 12, 2021. After being outscored 24 to 3 in the first half, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills battled back by besting the Buccaneers by the identical score of 24 to 3.

Although Tom Brady would bring the Bucs victory in overtime, the second half turnaround marked more than a turning point in a single game, it signaled the start of a mid-season adjustment that sparked the Bills on a winning streak that ended with them standing atop the AFC East for the second year in a row.

So, what exactly happened in that second half? And why is it important for you to know?

It’s called the “Thermopylae Moment.”

OK, nobody calls it that. I just made that up.

But it works.

To fully appreciate the term, you’ll need to go back in history a little bit. And by “a little bit” I mean, oh, about twenty-five centuries.

The Thermopylae Moment’s namesake event occurred in 480 B.C. when King Xerxes of Persia sought to invade Greece. Bear in mind, this was the second attempt by the empire to the north to conquer Greece. Ten years earlier, Xerxes’ father Darius found his attempt thwarted at the Battle of Marathon.

Yes, we get the name “marathon race” from this event. The Athenians, outnumbered anywhere from 3:1 to 20:1, sent Pheidippides to Sparta seeking reinforcements. The swift speedster ran 150 miles in two days (and then he ran back again).

By the way, Sparta was too busy having a party to send troops, and the reinforcements arrived a day after the battle. They did, however, have the proper manners to declare Athens had won an impressive victory.

A decade later, Xerxes attempted to complete his father’s goal. The Persians took an overland route this time. To accomplish this task, they had to maneuver through a narrow pass between the mountains and the Malian Gulf. Named “Hot Gates” after the nearby hot sulfur springs, the Greeks believed this represented one of the entrances to Hades. In Greek, the word for “Hot Gates” is “Thermopylae.”

The Spartans, perhaps feeling envious of Athens’ heroic role at the Battle of Marathon, led the Greek forces to hold back the Persians at Thermopylae. It worked for a while at least. It didn’t matter if the invaders had 100,000 warriors, the narrow pass effectively countered the numerical superiority of the Persians.

But when Xerxes found a “secret” route around the pass, the battle was lost. That’s when King Leonidas had his Thermopylae Moment. He released his allies and only his 300 Spartans remained to hold back the Persians. It was a suicide mission. Leonidas knew this. The Spartans knew this. Xerxes knew this.

So did 700 Thespians and some Thebans, both who fought alongside the Spartans, but who apparently failed to pay their publicity agent that day. Or maybe it was because two of the Spartans survived to tell the tale while all the Thespians died. As a result, the story of the 300 Spartans rings through literature (and Hollywood, with at least two movies made depicting their bravery).

By delaying Xerxes forces, the Spartans allowed the rest of the Greeks to ramp up their forces and ultimately defeat the invading Persians.

If you remember the Alamo, then you understand the classic American “Thermopylae Moment.” It’s that instant when you realize victory is not possible but you continue to fight because there is something greater at stake.

Your Thermopylae Moment probably isn’t as dramatic. Actually, it can’t be as dramatic, otherwise you wouldn’t be around anymore to be reading this.

If you’re like me, your Thermopylae Moment most probably occurred on an athletic field.

My Thermopylae Moment happened many years ago when I was playing softball for the company team. Ironically, I didn’t learn the history of Thermopylae until much later. We were having a terrible season. Not only were we losing, but we were acting like the Bickering Bills. No one was having any fun. My coworkers couldn’t even commit to showing up for the games, so I had to recruit some old neighborhood friends just to field a team.

Halfway through the third or fourth game, we were losing 11-0. The players on the field – all co-workers – were constantly arguing and pointing fingers of fault. Meanwhile, my friends sat on the bench rolling their eyes.

So did I.

I was lead-off hitter the next inning. As I walked to the plate, I pulled all the co-workers out of the game and put in my friends. Boy, did that make my co-workers mad. “What does it matter,” they said, “we’re going to lose anyway.”

As the first pitch approached, eyes honed in on the ball, I yelled back, “This is why it matters!” and slammed a line drive hard into right center.

It should have been an easy single, but I didn’t stop running. It could have been a stretch double, but I didn’t stop running. It might have been a risky triple, but I didn’t stop running. It would have been an impossible home run, and it was as I beat the throw.

And I’m no sprinter like Pheidippides.

Something happened in that moment. My team changed. The half that was bickering stopped bickering. The half that were rolling their eyes stopped rolling their eyes.

Not all at once. But slowly. And with greater fanfare as I advanced from one base to another. They forgot whatever was bothering them. Instead, my wild inside-the-park run got them to cheer.

That started a rally as the new players decided it was more important to have fun than to keep score. We ended up scoring ten runs and shutting the opponent out. Sure, we lost the game, but we won something more important. For the rest of the season, we were a team and winning became our way.

A Pyrrhic Victory occurs when you win the battle but lose the war. You experience a Thermopylae Moment when you lose the battle but win the war.

Josh Allen did that in Tampa.

When did you do it?

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