Loving the losers

How does a person continue to follow sports when it seems that at every turn hides another loss?

It begins to wear on you. It’s true. This Dolphins season has been less than savory. After starting out 0-5, the Dolphins are causing must of us who root for the team – for whatever inexplainable reason – to give up hope.

And not just for this yea. The future looks bleak too. With a defense that averages 52 years of age and one of the worst offenses in the history of football, there’s really nowhere to go but up.

Unfortunately, we can’t help but think “up” is a long ways away. We’re not floating close to the ceiling here, fighting to break through. We’re in the floorboards, a tell-tale heart just scratching to make it above the floor again.

The funny thing is that, after a while, you begin to embrace losing. I’ll forever root for the teal and orange, no matter how outdated their uniforms look and how many quarterbacks it takes to get a win, but I find myself rooting for losses, cheering for the difficulty of defeat instead of screaming for a win. The Dolphins are the only team to go undefeated throughout a season. Could it be that, 36 years later, we could see another unheard of feat – the totally defeated season?

The extremes are easy to root for. There’s a gamers high that is often associated with winning. It permeates all of sports – an aggressive loss of inhibition that causes fans to lose touch with reality and claim their squad the greatest. And at the opposite end, there’s a feeling of release. The games ultimately don’t matter – the stress of backing your team is dropped, and you can be a lovable loser, pitied by your friends and understood by your opponents.

Winning is stressful. It’s hard on fans. Losing, however, is expected. It’s easy. It’s relaxing to settle, so settle we must.

No – the real difficulty is being right in the middle – the .500 club, the win one, lose one (or even worse – win six, lose six) territory. This the territory of the Minnesota Twins. And this is the territory of my beloved Pacers – a team that has settled into mediocrity after several years of contending. Now, they’re an also ran – too good to get a decent lottery pick, but too bad to ever even sniff the playoffs.

So it’s odd to find myself torn between rooting for wins and rooting for losses. The Pacers are as vanilla as you can get – a boring team with a new coach in a lame division. They’re already matched up against two Eastern Conference powerhouses – the only two remaining, actually: Detroit and Cleveland. They have little chance of making a splash.

And I’m trying hard not to give up, already, before the season starts. But, even though they won their first preseason game tonight, I can’t help it. I’m already expecting the worst.

It all started with Michael Jordan. Being a Chicago Bulls fan was easy. As a kid, I picked a team that had a chance to win the championship. And just like that, they won it. I was spoiled, thinking my team always had a chance, fooling myself that the opponents held some sort of spell over my team when I knew they had no shot.

And, when I realized what I had, I gave it away. I stopped watching sports and found myself drawn back into different teams – new favorites; no more Cardinals – now it’s the Twins; no more Bulls – now it’s the Pacers.

Those decisions have brought me heartbreak. The Pacers were very close for a while. Very close – several Conference Championships and a Finals appearance. And the Twins, well, they’ve created some amazing second half heroics in recent years.

But regardless of the surges they’d make, they would ultimately came up short, leaving me exhausted and somewhat betrayed. My lucky card never came in; my wishes never came true. The photo finish I always dreamed of is still just that – a dream.

So you’ll have to forgive me. It might be hard to watch a loser. But it beats going through the tulmultous ups and downs that accompany a mediocre team’s season – the maybes and the could haves and the almosts.

It’s easier to just accept loss. At least the only place my expectations can go is straight up.

Straight from the basement to the floor.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 10th, 2007