I’m one of those people who gets mad at stat worship in sports. I believe what my eyes tell me way more than stats.

Greatness is a mental state, and a way of responding to specific situations when responding any other way could’ve sent things in a terrible direction. You can see moments in games where players make great plays that change the game more than anything else but don’t show up in any stats.

One of my favorite examples is “hidden yardage” in football. When a play is blown and a running back is about to be tackled for an 8 yard loss, but instead they break a few tackles and make it a one yard loss, that’s 7 hidden yards. It goes down as -1 on the stat sheet, but it might have been both the most difficult and most important yardage of the game. It might be the difference between field goal range and not, or go for it on fourth down or punt. It might just be an emotional gain that takes the fire out of a defense ready to erupt after a major tackle for loss. Games turn on these things.

Some players are quietly amazing in the hidden yardage department. Whether or not they make big stats, they rack up hidden yards where and when it counts most for their team. They turn a huge loss into a forgettable one. Or they take a knee five yards early to stay in bounds and keep the clock running, or go out five yards early to make it stop. Or maybe they turn a blown coverage into a pass interference penalty, preventing a touchdown. All of these show nothing or negative on stat sheets. All of them are regulars for great players.

Visible success gets all the credit, but avoiding invisible failures is just as important.