I don’t remember how I used to react as a child to defeat. Most likely, I yelled and screamed and stomped around and – were there no authority figures around – swore like a bloomin’ sailor. OH how I would cuss a blue streak! My profanity-laced tirades were cultivated on the 3rd grade playground … but I digress.
As I grew into a sporting fanatic, my reaction to defeat has changed. My first real bitter pill – aside from so many underachieving Seahawks teams languishing in regular season mediocrity – was the 1993 Sonics/Suns series. A travesty, to be sure, but for the life of me I can’t actually remember any details of that gut wrenching Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, when the refs decided to hand Charles Barkley an opportunity to get destroyed by the Bulls.
An image I’ll never forget – indeed, an image NO Sonics fan will ever forget – is that Game 5 against Denver the very next year. Dikembe Mutombo, on the floor, clutching the basketball with abject glee. While that portrait is seared into my brain, I can’t really remember my reaction, exactly. I want to say it was dumbfounded shock, the kind where you simply can’t refrain from having your mouth hang open.
The first time I really remember how I felt after a crushing defeat was Game 6 of the 1996 Finals. Instead of sitting on my lucky beanbag chair (to which I was glued for Games 4 and 5, both wins), by myself, in my bedroom, watching on a 19-inch color TV; I was dragged to my aunt and uncle’s for dinner and board games. Ugh, don’t ask me why I actually went; if you want to know the source of all my sports superstitions, look no fucking further. Anyway, the game was kinda close, but it had that feel all along that we were going to lose. Couldn’t hold a lead, seemed to struggle just to stay within a handful of points, could never fully grasp that all-important momentum. Of course, of the entirety of my family, I was the only person fully invested in the game’s outcome. Which is why I ignored board game night in favor of the television. I’m almost positive my family was annoying the everloving shit out of me as the Sonics struggled – as families are wont to do – but all I could do was sit there and stew. Silent, bitter, scowl a permanent fixture, desperate for the opportunity to scream FUCK and SHIT and COCKSUCKER to my family, to the Bulls, to the world. I was miserable, couldn’t wait to get home, and too young to afford a cab ride away from those pricks.
Those types of feelings have stuck with me through every big subsequent defeat, though they manifest in different ways. I bring you Example #1:
The Seahawks @ The Bears. This game was horrid from the get-go, I was surrounded by people far less passionate about the NFL than myself, and the Seahawks couldn’t stop shitting the bed for two fucking seconds. This game was a rout by halftime, the outcome never in doubt.
The Huskies @ The Tar Heels. This game was amazing from the get-go, I was only with my dad (who may not give a hoot about college basketball, but has grown into at least a good Husky fan over the last year), and the Huskies managed to hold a lead for much of the game. The game came down to the final seconds, until finally it was stolen from us at the very end.
Now, you’d THINK Example #1 would be easier to take. It was only the second round of the playoffs, the Seahawks were a go-nowhere 7-9 team who lucked into a division title thanks to a historically terrible NFC West, and they’d at least come off of an inspired, franchise-defining victory vs. the defending Super Bowl Champions the week prior. Meanwhile, Example #2 was tense throughout, featured a Huskies team who probably should’ve won, and featured a heartbreaking finish where we didn’t even get a proper shot at the basket with a chance to win.
Admittedly, I’ll tell you, aside from the refs literally stealing victory from you due to their incompetence and/or lack of ethics (see: Supersonics vs. Suns, 1993; Seahawks vs. Steelers, 2005), the most frustrating event in sports I can imagine at the moment is being down a point, with the ball, and less than 10 seconds remaining in the game; having the ball stolen from you on an inbounds pass; and ultimately NOT at least having a SHOT at winning the game. I acknowledge that 2 points were no guarantee had we actually caught the ball, but just give me the CHANCE!
Ahem, ANYWAY, let me return to a point: you’d THINK Example #1 would be easier to take, but in fact you’d be sorely mistaken.
While the casual observer might believe it’s the knowledge of impending loss combined with time that determines how one feels when that loss actually completes itself, I find these variables have nothing to do with how I ultimately feel. Sitting there, an hour into a 3-hour game, knowing it’s all over for your team SHOULD give you plenty of time to simmer and stew and curse and throw things. Then, when the double-zeroes rear their ugly heads, you can stand up, say, “Boy THAT sucked,” and move on with your life. Whereas, when the loss hits you all at once, you don’t have the opportunity to let the five stages of grieving play out over the course of the entire game (like I did with the Seahawks/Bears game); THAT should take a gargantuan amount of time to get over. The shock, the dazed feeling, the sinking pit in your stomach, the anger, the annoyance, the depression … it all comes at you at once like a Japanese tsunami.
But, I’m telling you, for me that’s not the case. For me, it’s all about HOW the team played, not necessarily the outcome.
When I see an offense that could do no wrong only one week prior against the Saints, when I see a team in the Bears we’d previously beaten that very same season (with still much of the same roster intact for both squads), when I see a Bears team that wasn’t anywhere NEAR as good as their lofty record … when I see all that, and then I see my team get totally flushed away down the shitter before I can even settle into my chair’s ass-groove, I not only experience all of those feelings of grief, but an overwhelming sense of resentment.
Now … I have to SIT here. And take my medicine.
When the team I’m rooting for doesn’t even get out of bed until they’re down 4 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, yeah, I’m going to be resentful. I know they’re better than that, I know they’re not giving me their best game, and I know if they DID give me their best game, we’d have a chance to go into Chicago and shock the world! In the end, would it have made a difference? Could ANYBODY stop Green Bay’s offense, or hope to contain them in the slightest? Doubtful.
Nevertheless, I’ll take a hundred sucker-punch games like yesterday’s Husky defeat over the sewage I had to wade through with that Seahawks defeat. At least I know the Huskies gave it their all. They played as well as they did in that Pac-10 Championship game. This time, it just wasn’t enough.
Surprisingly, after a few hours left wallowing in and around my bedroom, I was pretty much okay. I even took in a little basketball on TV; something that would’ve been unheard of had the Huskies stunk up the joint and lost by 30.