Sports columnists are below average at saying that we’re sorry, that we were wrong, or that we have re-evaluated anything in our lives other than which malted beverage we’re consuming after a hard day of “work.”

Wait, “below average?” Let’s not be excessively generous. We stink at it. Every time I accidentally set down the remote control and hear big-city, branching-into-TV brethren throw out a ridiculous, outlandish prediction for shock value, I feel the bile rising into my throat.

Because there’s never a retraction, or even a backpedal. Just another snarky declaration in a painful attempt to see if something will stick. Even in a time when video goes viral more quickly than snot on an elementary school doorknob, printed words last immeasurably longer.

It is armed with this knowledge, and overcome by, well, relative humility, that I apologize to the Bates College football program for words that flew off my fat fingers four years ago.

There is no statute of limitations on bulletin-board material, you see. My long-range forecast that morning, while issued from the heart, was a tad reckless.

“I’ll be the killjoy,” yours truly penned on Sept, 27, 2009. “Bates will never win this conference or go undefeated in my lifetime or yours.”

No, Rip Van Winkle, this isn’t 2033 and you didn’t sleep through the victory parade down Central Avenue. Bates hasn’t won that NESCAC trophy or hoisted that banner yet, nor do I necessarily think that glorious day is imminent. The chance of accomplishing either outcome this season evaporated Saturday in a 28-17 opening-day loss to Trinity at Garcelon Field.

But I dismissed the possibility of it ever happening as if it were ludicrous, and we’re starting to know better.

“In the academics-first, sprawled-across-the-region NESCAC, Bates is no closer to threatening 8-0 than is Vanderbilt to being in a BCS bowl or the Pittsburgh Pirates to waving a banner that reads National League East Champions.”

Yikes. I was having a flashback to Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Kent Tekulve at the time of that writing, obviously, because we all know the Pirates are in the NL Central. And yes, we also know that unthinkable division crown is within the Bucs’ reach this September. Gosh, there’s nothing worse than researching your old missteps and finding more of them.

A few words of self-defense here. If you’ve been paying attention at all since the early 1980s, you could understand how I arrived at my conclusion, both with my heart and head. My brain processed that it had been 28 years since the Bobcats’ previous winning season, 10 past its most recent .500 campaign. I’d sat through more muddy, rainy, dreary, depressing Bates football games in my career than I cared to count.

“Bates speaks, believes and commits itself to all the right things. We tell kids when they’re growing up that such a strategy will guarantee them success. Not in NESCAC football, unfortunately.”

There went my heart. I know, no cheering in the press box. In a quarter-century of sporadically covering Bates’ sports teams, however, I’ve fallen in love with the place. It’s against my cynical, conservative nature, but I can’t help it.

I’ve never met a coach or athlete affiliated with Bates whom I didn’t like. They’re shake-your-hand-firmly, look-you-in-the-eyes, give-you-a-thoughtful-answer folks. They have sports and life in perspective. Lord knows we need more of those qualities in this world.

Funny things happened since I abandoned all hope for Bates football.

Foremost among them, former players and benefactors banded together to deck out Garcelon Field with a majestic, artificial turf surface. It’s gorgeous. It also was necessary if Bates was even going to pretend it had a prayer against the Massachusetts and Connecticut corridor of NESCAC.

Then the Bobcats went 5-3 in 2012. That might sound middle-of-the-pack to you, but it was the best record for this beleaguered program since the double-dip of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Dallas” was Friday night, must-see television.

Bates long has enjoyed stability in the presence of head coach Mark Harriman, a Maine native now in his 16th year. In addition to having the patience of a kindergarten teacher, Harriman has shown wisdom by surrounding himself with a staff comprised almost completely of former high school coaches and recent Bates graduates.

The experienced assistants — Daryle Weiss, Chris Kempton and Skip Capone — are adept at breaking down the game to brass tacks. That’s an invaluable skill when you may not match up with other conference rivals, athlete-for-athlete.

Weiss’ triple option is a fun offense to play and a confusing one to stop. The changing looks of Kempton’s defense have put the Bobcats among the national Division III leaders in takeaways.

“To catch lightning in the water bottles and upset Trinity once would be a miracle on the same plane as a bipartisan health care solution. To think it’s possible autumn-in, autumn-out is patently absurd.”

Bates was 15 minutes away from beating Trinity on Saturday, leading by a field goal before turnovers turned into Bantam touchdowns and a watershed morphed into a what-if.

I’m no talent scout, but I saw two evenly matched teams. Bates can beat Trinity. Eventually it will. And if you can beat Trinity, you can run the table and win a NESCAC championship.

“There are too many geographic, academic and historic barriers to overcome.”

Maybe I was right, but there’s a chance — better than a lightning-in-the-water-bottles chance — that I could be wrong. Better odds than the average sports talking head embracing revisionist history, for sure.

Sorry, ‘Cats.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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