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On Narratives

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What do Phil Mickelson and Kirk Cousins have in common?

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When Kirk Cousins signed with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent after the 2017 season, we all became familiar with his contradictions and limitations—all the talent in the world, puts up great stats, and can win games he’s supposed to win. But he can’t win in primetime, can’t beat a good team, can’t win a playoff game, etc.

Through two seasons in Minnesota, The Narrative continued to dog him, and the drumbeat grew louder. There were chances to destroy The Narrative, yet at each opportunity, The Narrative was reinforced. It wasn’t always due to the play of Cousins, yet it was Cousins that had to carry the heavier bag that The Narrative became.

The Narrative seemed to take on a life of it’s own, and it began to consume the oxygen out of the room whenever An Opportunity to end The Narrative came around. It reminded me of Phil Mickelson, and his struggles with his own Narrative.

Mickelson joined the PGA Tour, and he was expected to win major championships early and often. Mickelson came close, but couldn’t get over the hump. He finished third or better eight times, but couldn’t end The Narrative. He won 22 times on tour from 1992-2004, and with each win The Narrative seemed to grow. By the end of 2003, many people were saying ‘he can win the tournaments that don’t matter, but Phil always chokes when it does matter.’

Phil was always stoic and polite in interviews, and said that either the majors would come or they wouldn’t, and he was going to be okay either way. Still, though, athletes are human beings, and psychology is psychology. If people are saying things like you are unable to win something big, it becomes a thing, and it sits in your head. It becomes an unwelcome guest that is with you constantly, and it’s never far from your thoughts.

We’ve all been there. There has been something in our life we fell short of achieving, and until you accomplished whatever it was, that thing became a bigger issue in your mind than it did in anyone else’s.

For me, it was learning how to hover a helicopter in flight school. I think I might have been the last guy in my class that was able to do it, and the more I heard guys coming back saying ‘yeah, nailed it today’, the more pressure I put on myself. The instructor would get us in a field, give me the controls, and I couldn’t keep the UH-1 within the confines of the state of Alabama. Every day, someone would ask me how it went, and it started to become a thing.

Until, one day...bam. We got to the field, set it down, and my instructor looked at me.

‘You ready?’

I wasn’t, but replied I was. I picked it up, fully expecting to go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride again, yet...I was hovering. It was over. I had climbed that mountain. And once I got over that, the rest of flight school was pretty easy, to be honest. Every big test or checkride I nailed, graduated, and went on to have a pretty good career.

Let’s go to back to Phil, and Augusta, Georgia, spring of 2004. It was the first major of the year, The Masters. After three rounds, Mickelson was tied at -6 going into the final round with Chris DeMarco. Mickelson became a self-fulfilling prophecy on the front nine, bogeying three of the first six holes. But he rallied on the back nine, and came to 18 tied for the lead with Ernie Els, a three time major winner. Phil was facing a 40 foot putt for birdie and a win. Everyone assumed he would par, go to a playoff, and lose to Els, who was considered a heavy favorite by that point.

Sound familiar?

Phil sank the putt and won.

The Narrative for Phil died at the bottom of the 18th hole, just like it died for Kirk Cousins in the corner of the Superdome end zone last weekend.

Mickelson went on to win two more majors in quick succession in 2005 and 2006; and he’s won five majors total. When he calls it a career, he most certainly will be in the Golf Hall of Fame. Once The Narrative had died, the monkey had come off his back, and he played up to what many said was an almost limitless potential.

How will it end with Kirk Cousins? I don’t know, but I do know one thing: Now that The Narrative is dead, Cousins is no longer playing with a monkey on his back, and he’s no longer chasing psychological ghosts.

I can’t wait to see him sling it on Saturday, and let the chips fall where they may.

Skol Vikings, beat the 49ers.