"That’s why they play the game” is a popular sports adage meaning that the game isn’t decided on paper. One team might have more talent and might be favored to win the game by oddsmakers, but when the game is actually played there is no certainty that the favorite will always win. “That’s why we play the game to see who’ll win” was said by Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp (1901-1977) in 1965. “That’s why we play the games” was said by a high school coach in 1968.
“That’s why they play the game” was credited to an “old sage” in 1971.
30 December 1965, Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), “Random Shots” from Bud Montet, pg. 2C, col. 1:
But as old Dolph Rupp of Kentucky says, “That’s why we play the game to see who’ll win.”
10 October 1968, Rockford (IL) Register-Republic, “E-Rabs Wary of Letdown,” pg. C3, cols. 5-6:
Bob Young, who has indicated plans to start both his little running backs, Ralph Bauch and Mark Cagnoni, isn’t conceding a thing to the Vikings.
“That’s why we play the games,” he said.
5 August 1970, San Diego (CA) Union, “Rose Takes Preston’s Side” by Wayne Lockwood, pg. C3, col. 5:
“Well, I don’t see any difference,” Rose concluded. “Every game is important. You’re out there to win. That’s why they play the game. Otherwise, you might as well flip a coin.”
(Cincinnati Reds baseball player Pete Rose—ed.)
3 January 1971, Sunday Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), “Random Shots” by Bud Montet, pg. 1C, col. 1:
But you must credit the Cornhuskers with the fact that they won and as the old sage says, “That’s why they play the game.”
26 August 1972, Capital Times (Madison, WI), “Monona Grove Title Pick in Badger” by Eric Hillstrom, pg. 8, col. 6:
Most everyone in the Badger Conference is picking Monona Grove to capture the football title this fall. That sits all right with new M-G coach Bob Jacobson.
“I just hope they’re right. That’s why we play the game—to win,” he says.
21 August 1973, Seattle (WA) Times, “The Sporting Thing: Cougars 3rd, Huskies 7th in Pac-8?” by Georg N. Meyers, pg. B1, col. 1:
You may not agree with all of that. That’s why they play the games, isn’t it?
1 November 1974, Del Rio (TX) News-Herald, “Horns, Raiders, Bears Rate Nod” by Denne R. Freeman (AP Sports Writer), pg. B1, col. 5:
The Longhorns, Aggies, Red Raiders and Bears are expected to be runaway winners. But then that’s why they play the games.
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3 January 1976, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Can Steelers Block Raiders’ Bid—Again?” by Vito Stellino, pg. 6, col. 6:
In contrast to last year, the Steelers are favored by about a touchdown. Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers football coach Chuck Noll—ed.), not a one for rash statements, admits he thinks the Steelers are the best team. “I think we are, but you have to prove it on the field. That’s why they play the games.”