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Three Lessons Learned from Lots of Losing: Fan Wisdom
I am what you'd call a loser.
In the sports world, I have been surrounded by losing for the majority of my life. What I've learned, though, over the years is that there are great lessons to be learned from losing. Here are three of them.
History of Losing
For a variety of reasons, my favorite college football teams are Michigan, Texas A&M, Washington State, and Indiana. Washington State and Indiana, in particular, are not exactly what you'd call juggernauts on the gridiron. Over the course of my fandom of Texas A&M, there have been some good times, but there has also been a lot of losing. Overall, Michigan has provided the most winning, but since the arrival of the Rich Rodriguez-induced Dark Ages, it's been pretty brutal watching Wolverine football.
In the NFL, I've loved the Seattle Seahawks since their inception in 1976. Not a whole lot of winning there. My other favorite team is the Indianapolis Colts. You can probably imagine how this season has been here in central Indiana.
My favorite MLB team is the Oakland Athletics. Most seasons, the A's are lucky to finish with a .500 record.
I played on losing high school football teams, and even the recreational softball team I play for loses many more games than we win.
That's okay, though, because all the losing has been quite beneficial to me.
Enjoying the Little Things
When your team loses a lot, you tend to stop focusing solely on winning and start enjoying the little things. I remember growing up in Washington and watching the newly-formed Seahawks as a kid with my dad. As so often happens with expansion teams, Seattle simply wasn't competitive in most of its games. Much like Colts games are this season, Seahawks games in the late 1970s were usually over—and not in our favor—at some point in the first quarter.
I learned from watching my dad that there are other things to observe during a game than just the scoreboard. For example, the early Seahawks liked to run trick plays on a fairly regular basis. So every time they lined up to punt—which was quite frequently—we'd eagerly anticipate a fake punt. You don't see many of those in the NFL, so it was a lot of fun to watch the 'Hawks try them, even if they looked like the 11 Stooges in their execution of the play.
My dad would take me to Washington State games as a kid, too, and the Cougars had such a tendency to self-destruct during games that there was a widely-used phrase around Pullman, Wash.—"Coug-ing it"—to describe WSU's maddening habit of getting fans' hopes up and then completely imploding late in the contest. That sort of thing would frustrate me to no end until my dad taught me to appreciate the little things rather than focusing on the score.
For example, when the Cougars were on defense, my dad would jump up and yell at the top of his lungs, "SON! Did you see that hit on Oregon's wide receiver?! WOW, that was a great hit!"
"Um, Dad," I'd say. "He blindsided the guy about 10 seconds before the ball got there. That's a personal foul."
"Yeah," my dad would say. "But it was still a great hit."
See? Enjoy the little things.
A Different Focus
Through my lifetime of losing, I've also learned to focus on competition instead of on the ultimate outcome of the game.
I absolutely love competition. I enjoy watching games between two winless teams almost as much as I liked watching LSU and Alabama this season, simply because it's often a closely-contested game. Blowouts are boring to watch, and it's been my experience that it's not all that much fun being on either end of the blowout stick (unless Texas A&M is blowing out Texas, or Michigan is blowing out Ohio State).
Now, sometimes you have to really isolate the competition on which you focus. An example of this came up in this season's first softball game. In a game against the team that ended up going undefeated and winning the league championship, we were getting absolutely obliterated.
My best friend pitches for us, and he was clearly focusing more on the scoreboard than on the competition, letting out a string of profanity that would embarrass a group of drunken sailors after the other team launched their 973rd home run of the game. As all four of their base runners rounded the bags, I came in from third base to calm him down and refocus him.
"That was a heck of a nice pitch, man," I told him.
"What the (expletive) are you (expletive) talking about?!" he screamed back at me, spit flying everywhere. "That girl hit the (expletive) thing 600 (expletive) feet!"
"True, but the last girl hit it 700 feet, so you're getting better," I replied.
"Go (expletive) yourself," he growled at me.
That was just his way of thanking me for illustrating how his level of competition was improving.
The 1998 Rose Bowl. Michigan versus Washington State. You'd think I'd be happy, regardless of the outcome, but for very complex reasons understood only by me, Michigan was the bitter enemy that day. I'll simply summarize the game by saying, "THERE WERE TWO SECONDS LEFT!!!!"
Ryan Leaf even titled his recently-penned book "596 Switch"—the play that was to be called by the Cougars had the officials not robbed them of the final two seconds of the game. So you see? I'm not making this stuff up. They really got rooked in that game.
I was so blinded by rage at how that game ended that without saying a word to my parents, with whom I had been watching the game, I stormed out of their house and drove an hour home at about 80 miles per hour, steam blowing out of my ears the entire time.
It was January in Indiana, so there was about eleventy-seven feet of snow on the ground. Not a very smart thing to do, putting myself and everyone else on the road in peril like that. Plus, nearly 14 years later, I'm still on blood pressure medication and in psychotherapy because of that game.
I really don't like that feeling of having my hopes and dreams ripped out of my chest and crushed like that. It's not good for me or for anyone else around me. It's so much easier on my heart and my health to root for losing teams. Set your sights low, and you're never disappointed. And sometimes you're pleasantly surprised, like when the Cougars beat Arizona State recently. No one expected that.
On the same night that I was on Cloud Nine because of WSU's unexpected win, Stanford fans were bawling their eyes out after getting stomped by Oregon. Yeah, who's the smart one now, Stanford?
By rooting for losers, you cherish the moral victories. A few weeks ago, I excitedly called my dad after the Colts lost a nail-biter to the New Orleans Saints, 62-7, and as soon as he picked up the phone, I blurted out, "Dad! Did you see that awesome game? Curtis Painter almost threw for 70 yards this time! He was so close!"
"I know! He's developing so quickly, right before our eyes!" my dad said, "And did you see the hit that Colts guy laid on that Saints receiver?"
"I sure did! Who cares if it was a personal foul! It was still a great hit!"
As you can clearly see, I'm much healthier and much happier now that all of my teams lose. The Wolverines are starting to show signs of life with Brady Hoke at the helm, though, and it's really starting to tick me off.
So when I begin to feel that tightness in my chest and that shortness of breath associated with the stress of rooting for a winning team and having raised expectations, I pop in a tape of the game between Indiana and North Texas, and I feel much, much better.
The blood pressure comes down, the profuse sweating subsides, and the ringing in my ears goes away. I live to lose another day.
Therefore, I win.
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