On Time

December 21, 2015

IT FLIES AND it drags. It's precious and it's wasted. It's on my side and it's passing me by. We have too much of it on our hands and not enough of it in the day. It's endless and it runs out. It's a gift and it's a thief. It heals all wounds and we have to kill it.

Time is a shape-shifter. Time can't keep its story straight. The Kentucky Derby is the fastest two minutes in sports, and a two-minute penalty kill in the Stanley Cup playoffs lasts a century, but time claims they're both 120 seconds.

If you're on a rocket waiting for a moon shot, or you are a Rocket holding for the last shot, counting down from 10 seconds seems to take an hour. An hour spent in the green room free-falling in the NFL draft feels like a full day. Running racks in basketball practice and the water break afterward both last a single minute, but the former takes forever and the latter goes by in a trice.

"Which weighs more, a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers?" goes that staple of children's riddle books. To which we can add: "Which takes longer, a 39-second lap at the Indianapolis 500 or a 39-second home run trot?" One is unbeatably fast, the other unforgivably slow, putting the lie to the notion that a stopwatch can ever take time's true measure.

When Iowa State's unranked women's basketball team was preserving its upset of No. 3 Texas last January, guard Nikki Moody called the Longhorns' final, frantic possession the longest three seconds of her life. When Dwyane Wade was clotheslined in mid-drive by Ricky Davis in 2004, the Heat guard said the interval between getting fouled and falling to the floor was the longest two seconds of his life. Paula Creamer called the canyon of time between the ball's leaving the putter blade and its crawling into the cup to win the 2008 Samsung World Championship the longest two seconds of her life.

In sports, the less time you have, the more time you have. What constitutes plenty of time is always getting shorter. Three seconds in the lane is too long, and 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu is even longer. And this football season, single seconds have contained eons. Several teams with just ticks remaining—BYU, the Miami Hurricanes, the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers—genuinely had plenty of time to win the game.

Coaches and athletes treat the clock with contempt—they milk it, kill it, eat it, beat it and generally run it down. The clock repays that abuse with dishonesty. But then the clock could never be trusted. For kids, whole summers whoosh by in a blur, while the final five minutes before school dismissal last an entire geological epoch. (Think of Joel in Risky Business watching the minute hand of the classroom clock move backward while waiting for the bell to ring.)

The great philosophers—Friedrich Nietzsche, Rust Cohle—claim that time is a flat circle, when in fact time is the elastic waistband on your underpants, an infinite loop that expands and contracts to accommodate your personal circumstances. To parents of young children, the nights are long and the years are short. Four hours on the golf course do not pass at the same rate for the man who is shooting 65 and the man who is mowing the range in a dimpled yellow hailstorm.

Yes, time flies (tempus fugit). But also, time lies (tempus mendaci). We're told that time waits for no man, and we're told that time stands still. Which is it? Perhaps time will tell—but who will believe it, for time has lost all credibility.

As time lies to us, we lie to ourselves. Prisoners say they do time, when time is really doing them. The rest of us say time passes—"Where did the time go?"—when the truth is, time stays and we pass. But fear not. If Aaron Rodgers has taught us anything, it's this: Right until the very end, you'll still have plenty of time.

The clock can never be trusted. This football season several teams down to their last second still have had plenty of time to win the game.

Which athlete has best defied time? Join the discussion on Twitter by using #SIPointAfter and following @SteveRushin

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)