Let me start out by saying I almost always prefer watching single elimination tournaments to playoff series. I feel making teams play multiple times kills the chance for amazing upsets and historic victories. George Mason would never have made it to the 2006 final four had they had to play a five or seven game series with Uconn or even UNC. The Arizona Cardinals probably would not have even had a chance to participate in one of the top 5 Super Bowls ever had they been required to beat the Eagles or Falcons in a series (I'm intentionally not including the Panthers as they were led by Jake Delhomme). Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon was amazing last year (the best match I have ever seen, followed by the 4-set Agassi-Sampras Showdown in 2001) and much of that was because of the fact that it all was on the line in one match.
While some would argue that not playing a series allows less talented teams to get lucky, preventing the best teams of the season from meeting in the championship, I respectfully disagree. True champion performers will step up in a big game. Sure, there are always some flukes, but many times those flukes looks less "flukey" in retrospect. For instance, the 2001 Patriots quarterbacked by a relative unknown QB named Tom Brady were assumed to be a one hit wonder and were not favored to win another Super Bowl any time soon. Eight years later that team is now considered by most the team of the century. I think single elimination seperates the true champions who will step up and lead a team to win the big game from talented athletes who just don't have what it takes to win the big one. Think of Peyton Manning. The guy was not able to win it all even when he had some of the best teams in the NFL. It wasn't until he finally was able to put the team on his back to come back and beat the Patriots in 2006 that he got his ring. Single elimination tournaments simulataneously allow for exciting underdog victories and illuminate the true clutch players.
All this said a seven game series does tend to work better with some sports. Baseball stands out, as players can quickly recover (except pitchers) in a 24 hour period to be ready for another game. In general baseball is such an erratic sport (given that each team has a multitude of pitchers) that playing a seven game series is almost a necessity. While sweeps are far from a rare occurance, the up and down nature of baseball leads to many games sixs and sevens that captivate the fans. The NBA and NHL are slightly different. On one hand athletes can recover quickly enough to play a seven game series in about two weeks. On the other hand, the lineup is going to be about the same for each game, and the seven game series make the playoffs seem like a seperate season onto itself, spanning from late April to mid June. While I know we just witnessed an amazing seven game first round series between the Bulls and Celtics (see my previous post for more thoughts on that epic), I feel both the NHL and NBA would be better served to change the first two rounds to 5-game series and reserve the 7-game series for the conference finals.
Despite this exhaustive prologue, Game Seven remains one of the best occurances in sports. It has all the positive qualities mentioned concerning single elimination tournaments, yet has an added intrigue of the teams already having traded blows and thus having become familiar with each other's styles. While players may have become wearied by the time game seven goes around, the true star will almost always rise to the challenge. In the exciting year of sports we have already seen one very good game seven with the celtics-bulls. The NBA may have several more up its sleeve (and hopefully one involving the Lakers and Cavs in the finals), but now the attention has turned to hockey. The hurricanes pulled off a miraculous game seven victory against the New Jersey Devils scoring two goals in the last 1:20 to take the series. The Canes-Bruins series and Ducks-Wings series were both pushed to seven last night, but by far the most intruiguing game seven will occur tonight when Ovechkin and Crosby meet again in what is to hockey as a LeBron-Kobe matchup would (and hopefully will) be to basketball. Game six was a stunner with all the stars coming out in force, and game seven in Washington is set up to be just as good. I am only angry as the final period may coincide with the LOST finale (I'm betting Juliet dies and the Incident somehow restores the 815 crew to the present). Either way, thank the sports gods for gracing us with the wonderful thing that is GAME SEVEN.