Comeback Stories and Turning Points

To say Saab has taken a severe beating in the last few months is a gross understatement. Many consumers already think the brand was killed years ago. But sometimes when problems seem insurmountable, when everyone else gives up hope and turns their back and moves on, something incredible happens. Many of you know I love the sports analogies here, and I’m pulling out an old but classic one here again that has a personal connection.

On January 3, 1993, I went with my dad and sister to watch the Buffalo Bills play at home against the Houston Oilers. It was a cold grey day, and while I normally loved going the games even if we were losing, the Oilers were absolutely crushing us and even the biggest Bills fans were covering their eyes in horror, unable to watch the massacre. As halftime neared the score was 28-3, and the stadium began to clear out. No one wanted to stick around and watch the pummeling continue. As a young kid, I wasn’t really in the mood to sit in the cold, even though it meant it was a good diversion from my homework and eat concession style pizza. My Dad of course, was in no way going to leave the game until the very end though, so we stayed.

Meanwhile in the locker room, a very resolute coaching staff sounded a lot like the commenters and armchair quarterbacks we have at SU. Defensive Coordinator Walt Corey yelled at the defense.

“I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field…I can’t repeat the words, but the more I talked, the louder I got. The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. They looked like they were going to get in the right spots, but they weren’t going to make anything happen afterward. This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing and you’re afraid to make things happen or afraid to make a mistake.”

Nose Tackle Jeff Wright recalled “With every word that came out of Walt’s mouth, he reached a new temperature level, until he finally just exploded. He had every right to say the things that he said. We were embarrassing him, we were embarrassing ourselves, we were embarrassing Buffalo Bills fans.”

In many ways, the way Saab was managed in the last year resembled the first half of that game. So many mistakes occurred, so many missteps and too much complacency. There wasn’t enough recalibration when the situation warranted it, and just like the defensive coordinator told his players, the company seemed to be going in the right direction but they weren’t following through, weren’t making corrections fast enough, and weren’t keeping an eye on the score well enough to be prepared for the situation that befell them this spring.

The head coach Marv Levy, a legendary figure in all of sports told his team, “You’ve got thirty more minutes. Maybe it’s the last thirty minutes of your season. When your season’s over, you’re going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You’d damn well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out.”

After they left the lockerroom, it still took a little time for the players to get their bearings. Quarterback Frank Reich threw a tipped pass that was returned for a touchdown. Just when no one thought it could get even worse, the score was now 35-3. No other team in NFL history had ever come back from that great a deficit. But then Buffalo got lucky with the return kick. They somehow managed to pull themselves together and make a 50 yard push for a touchdown. Out of sheer determination or desperation, they made onside kick then touchdown, one after the other. The bills won the game, won the division championships which led them to the super bowl (which we won’t talk about ;)) and many of the players from that game are now in the NFL Hall of Fame. To this day, it’s the greatest comeback in NFL history. I encourage everyone to watch the film at for a complete retelling of what is one of the best sports stories of all time.

So here we are, at the bottom just like the bills were at halftime. This is the point where Saab either turns itself around or throws in the towel. No matter how many engineers leave or hits Saab may take, the facts remain: the company has one of the strongest lineups in their history, selling at prices that make them the most competitive in their segment. They have a strong IP portfolio with too many technological inventions to mention in the pipeline. They have a history, brand, customer base, and dealer network that gives them a global presence that nearly no automotive startup could just buy.

Saab has a choice to make. They either come out of this guns blazing, with a newfound intensity and leanness, ready to pounce and go after every customer willing to stand with the company, or they can throw in the towel. Once Victor delivers, the workers who were loyal to Saab will no doubt have to work tirelessly to turn the ship around and get back to building and promoting their uniquely Swedish wares. The dead weight they carried that were a liability to them and bled money and resources in their first year of independence will need to either change their tune or retire from the company. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but I’m just as serious as the Bills’ coaching staff– once Muller gets his deal through, he has full license to demand swift and thorough changes within the whole company to make sure Saab pulls through.

When some commenters remark that their trust in Saab management has turned from trust and confidence to hope and prayer, I have to step back and remind everyone just who is at the helm. Victor Muller’s motto for Spyker has never been given a stronger test than now. Nulla tenaci invia est via, for the tenacious, no road is impassible. Let’s just say now that I’d rather stay on this road and follow Muller’s lead than bet against him. If history is an indicator, he’ll convince whoever he’s negotiating with that Saab will not only pull through but bring an incredible return on a modest investment in such trying economic times. If (when) Muller completes the deal, we at SU are ready to take up the cause and make absolutely sure that this company can get back on track. After that Bills game, I learned that sometimes even if it’s popular to leave when the show seems like it’s over, it’s not a good idea to bet against a proven formula for success. Even though there are so many doubters, I still billieve. Let’s show the world the greatest comeback in automotive history.

21 thoughts on “Comeback Stories and Turning Points”

  1. I’m with you on this one Jeff and believe me, if I can help turn this thing around at least here in Canada, I will be doing everything I can too. People like to take the easy pokes at Saab right now and that’s ok, but you have to be willing to give some credit too when credit is deserved and Saab has some incredible stuff to offer and really has set a nice path to the future.

  2. ulla tenaci invia est via, for the tenacious, no road is impassible. Let’s just say now that I’d rather stay on this road and follow Muller’s lead than bet against him. If history is an indicator, he’ll convince whoever he’s negotiating with that Saab will not only pull through but bring an incredible return on a modest investment in such trying economic times. If (when) Muller completes the deal, we at SU are ready to take up the cause and make absolutely sure that this company can get back on track.

    +900 … Very well said Jeff. We are going to win this thing!

  3. Good post – I’m one of those on the edge. I agree its put up or shut up time for Saab and Muller. I think about it all the time – I hope they do it and make it. I sure hope for the people in Sweden that it works out. I sit here in the USA and think my government is pathetic and look at Sweden and feel pretty good…but this sure is quite a saga.

    Maybe this will all work out and I can read Njal’s Saga or Hrolf Kraki’s Saga in peace and quiet with Saab’s future secure.

  4. If they can pull through…we need to as well. I don’t need a new saab…but I want one, so I will get one…stay United!

  5. I’m not leaving the stadium.
    I WILL be driving a new 9-3 (or Griffin?) for 2013. Gotta pay off the new SportCombi bought March ’09!

  6. “Even though there are so many doubters, I still billieve. Let’s show the world the greatest comeback in automotive history.”

    Amen to that, brother 😉

    Still there is something nice around the corner… Muller is a smart guy with some real good friends I think =)

  7. Thrilling! Although for someone like me, who knows next to nothing about American football, it doesn’t say too much. How many points do you get for a touchdown, for instance?

    Many of those who like real football will remember the near-legendary Liverpool victory over Milan in the 2004/05 Champions League final. Liverpool was down 0-3 in half time, a score which, in football, is something you really don’t expect anyone to be able to turn around. But that’s just what Liverpool did: at full time, they had evened the score out to 3-3, the game went to a penalty shoot-out that eventually saw Milan defeated by the team they all but crushed during the first half. I remember hardly being able to believe what I’d just seen, and I remember getting up from the couch filled by that same feeling that the Liverpool players must have had as they walked out on the field for the second half: that no matter what the situation, anything is possible.

    • The comeback has to happen…I want a 2.0T Aero with Hirsch fettling to replace my 9-5 Aero (either a 9-3 or 9-5)

      The legendary comeback occurred on a cold January afternoon in 1992. Date 4 January 1992, location Wales, Wrexham, Mold Road….rewind to May 1991 – football champions were Arsenal, 91 places below – bottom of the Football League – my other love, Wrexham.

      FA Cup 3rd Round Jan 1992 – everyone expected an easy match for Arsenal, they went 1-0 before half time….an easy stroll for them.. But Wrexham pushed and pushed. Then in the 82nd minute, we got a ‘dubious’ free kick (payback for 1978), Mickey Thomas’ free-kick is the stuff of legend. 1-1! Two minutes later, more pandemonium in the Arsenal defence, Steve Watkin wrote his name into the Wrexham FC Hall of Fame. 2-1!!!!

      Wrexham have had their share of dodgy owners over the past couple of years, looking into the oblivion trapdoor, even as recently as last week, but we are looking to a future as a fans owned club.

      My other love is Pentax cameras, their premature demise has been incorrectly reported time and time again, yet they come out with strong products, and secure within the Ricoh Organisation.

      I am just looking forward to enjoying Wrexham, Pentax and Saab for the long term

    • Another amazing come back well worth having a look at. Kimi Räikkönen overtakes Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap at Suzuka 2005 to win the race after starting 17:th (if I remember correctly) on the grid. Due to the time difference I was watching this live at 0800 sunday morning shouting like a maniac and probably waking the neighbours.
      Kimi is from our brotherland Finland and he`s got SISU wich is a finnish expression meaning fighting spirit and persistence.
      That is what VM and SAAB has!

  8. Hopefully next year we will be able to look back att 2011 as the Annus Horribilis for Saab. It w i l l be one of the greatest comeback-stories in the history of big companies ever. And comeback or not, it will surely be extremely interesting to see the documentary/book of all this, with all the facts that are now, for business reasons, hidden from us.

  9. Lets not kid ourselves – I am sure Saab will survive in some form or another but there has been a lot of severe damage done and it will take years to recover.

    Where I live there are no Saab dealers, the last one shut about 6 Months ago, there will be more go this route I am sure. No matter how you spin it this is a disaster and will take years to revover from!

  10. One simply must enjoy the way how Americans always use sports parallels to illustrate a point. Europeans generally employ history for that but the American way is so much more lightfooted and lighthearted.

    Thnx, Jeff, for a hearty laugh on an otherwise grey and wet Dutch summer day (so what’s new…).


  11. Fantastic memory, and one that I remember as well. As a University of Maryland fan and ultimately an alumni I followed Frank Reich’s career closely. In fact, he was involved in another just as amazing comeback while he was in school which is etched in my mind even though I was just an 11-year-old kid at the time myself. Here’s the paragraph from Wikipedia:

    The biggest highlight of his college career was the comeback he led against the University of Miami Hurricanes on November 10, 1984 at the Orange Bowl Stadium. Reich came off the bench to play for Stan Gelbaugh, who had previously replaced him as the starter after Reich separated his shoulder in the fourth week of the season against Wake Forest. Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar had led the ‘Canes to a 31-0 lead at halftime. At the start of the third quarter, Reich led the Maryland Terrapins on multiple scoring drives. Three touchdowns in the third quarter and a fourth at the start of the final quarter turned what was a blowout into a close game. With the score 34-28 Miami, Reich hit Greg Hill with a 68-yard touchdown pass which deflected off the hands of Miami safety Darrell Fullington to take the lead. Maryland scored once more to cap a 42-9 second half, and won the game 42-40, completing what was then the biggest comeback in NCAA history.

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