Embracing the Loss
It’s not easy rooting for losers.
The Yankees have had their lean years. The Jets make a living disappointing their fans. And the Islanders haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and haven’t even had a decent post-season effort since the 90s.
So I know about losing. I know about putting yourself out there, handing over your heart to a team that seemingly does its best to break it. But we go back for more, don’t we? We hand our hearts and minds over to the teams again and again, expecting different results each time. “Maybe next year,” we say. “We’ll get it together soon.”
Year after year we hope, we wait, we look for the silver linings in tarnished seasons. We tell fans of other teams that our team is just going through a rebuilding phase. So maybe that phase has lasted the better part of a decade. Maybe deep in our hearts we know there’s little hope for a championship. The management is a mess. Bad trades are made. Free agents flee. Draftees won’t sign. Suddenly there are more empty seats in the arena than people and fans of your rival team make jokes like “Hey, look at all those fans wearing blue shirts! Oh wait, those are all empty seats! Hah!” A part of you wants to cry. A part of you wants to punch him. But you know there’s no defense, no argument. So you do what all those people who didn’t show up for the 40th loss of the season did. You lose hope.
Congratulations. You have reached the acceptance stage of fandom. Once you pass denial (“Thing are looking good! We might even make the playoffs next year!”) it’s amazing how easily the acceptance comes. It’s even freeing. You learn to embrace being the fan of a losing team. You wear that sub .500 record like a comfortable sweater. You try on the phrase “lovable losers” even though you hate your team, the owner, the general manager and the whole front office. Maybe even the girls who shoot t-shirt out of cannons during tv time-outs. You shrug off each loss with a “Well, I didn’t expect them to win.”
And that’s the great thing about acceptance. The lack of expectations. You have freed yourself from the anxiety and frustration that comes with waiting for something good to happen. You set your sights low. You’re fine with resting on the laurels of “Well at least we aren’t the worst team” and you take pride in the fact that you have all of section 215 to yourself and you’re on a first name basis with the beer vendor. Instead of rooting for wins, you’re hoping for that first draft pick.
At some point you realize there is a grand life lesson at play here. While other fans are gloating about their team’s performance and feeling smug and self satisfied with their “2011 World Champion” sweatshirts, you know you are the real winner here because you learned some valuable things about love and loss and life.
And, if you’re like me, you will turn being a loser into being a smug asshole and maybe you take what you’ve learned and teach your own kid a thing or two in the process. I hammered home the benefits of being a loser to my son at the end of the New York Rangers’ 2009 playoff run.
“You make fun of me for being an Islander fan, but who’s laughing now? Not you, that’s for sure. See, it’s ok to be the fan of a really bad team. We have no expectations. We don’t get our hopes up for anything. We go about life knowing damn well that our team will be playing golf at a time when your team is making you sit on the edge of your seat every night, wondering if they’ll make it through to the next round or not. We’re carefree. We welcome April and the end of the season with open arms, instead of anxiety. We never feel that devastation that you surely felt last night as you stood there with your heart in your mouth as the game winded down and you prayed for that goal to even up the score, you had hope right down to the very last second and oh, so sorry, they blew it. Up three games to one and it all came down to that final minute of the final game and you still had hope even then, didn’t you? And you went to bed sorrowful and dejected and maybe a bit pissed off and you know what? I went to bed and slept the sleep of the peaceful, the peace that comes when your hockey team sucks so bad you write off the season in October. And this is a good lesson for life, kid. Set your expectations really, really low and you’ll never be disappointed. Have a great day at school, son. Also, fuck Sean Avery. And I love you.”
He might not have taken too kindly to that soliloquy, but I like to think he was thankful for the lesson I taught him about losing when the Rangers didn’t even make the playoffs the following year.