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The Fine Art of Losing
Truly Tragic Football Teams
If the Vikings defense comes together this year, and there’s a chance it will, they should go 15-2. If the Packers struggle on offense, entirely plausible with a new quarterback, then they should go 2-15 and all will be right with the world. Wait, that is never happening. They’d be lucky to win ten games. My dreams for Vikings success (corresponding with Green Bay suffering) are not going to materialize.
Football makes us crazy and we’re never crazier than when the season starts and we have delusions of grandeur. Well-adjusted fans keep this exuberance under control. They say their team has a tough schedule and a few injuries in the secondary. But then your team starts 2-0 and you’re back in the game and looking at prices for Season Ticket
Why does fandom not diminish with age? Why? Shouldn’t we be more subdued at this point in our lives? Why do we invite pain down upon our shoulders? We know better but we go down the road where pain is there waiting for us. And it’s waiting more for some of us than others. Don’t talk to me about pain unless you’re a lifelong fan of one of these five teams. Curiously all of these teams might be good this year (except mine). But success on the horizon, as these fans know, is the first step toward even more pain.
-Buffalo Bills. In Silence of the Lambs Buffalo Bill (serial killer) says “You don’t know what suffering is.” But fans of the Buffalo Bills (football team), sure do. The northern city has short days each winter but long memories when it comes to Super Bowl devastation. Bills fans young enough not to remember the most famous missed kick ever had to endure the 13-second Pat Mahomes loss. Now multiple generations of Bills fans understand each other perfectly and appreciate what true midwinter suffering is.
-Cleveland Browns. A legacy of losing big games to the Steelers by a field goal. Will that change behind healthy Miles Garrett and beloved Nick Chubb? I always root for Cleveland teams. But it’s harder with their current quarterback. Yes, the Browns historically are bewilderingly average, the quintessential 8-8 team. They should still play 16 games just so the Browns can go 8-8. But don’t feel bad, Cleveland had LeBron and that makes up for everything.
-Detroit Lions. Oh I didn’t see you down there Lions fans, I almost forgot you were there. When I talk about tragic fandom then Lions fans come up out of the cellar and ask for their dose of pity. Nice try. The Lions have never been good enough to be a great bad team. They’re simply bad. They used to have the worst stadium, the worst quarterbacks, the worst GM. And sadly they’re locked into the Thanksgiving game and put this awfulness on display for the nation forced to watch against their will. Nobody should have to eat turkey and watch Wayne Fontes coach. Being bad is different than tragic. Tragedy involves the chance for success denied in excruciating circumstances. Lions fans know nothing of that. I know you’re hot and heavy about this team and the offense. Be careful what you wish for. I have no doubt, none, not one bit, that if the Lions make it anywhere near the promised land then they will lose in a ludicrous way. Then let’s talk tragic.
-New York Jets. The most flawed big market team in American sports. The Jets love to get Jetsy. What does Jetsy mean? Well, Jetsy is a lot of things and none of them are good. Jetsy is losing with a strong coach and a weak quarterback or a weak coach and a strong quarterback. Jetsy is losing when you secretly think this is the year. Jetsy is suspecting you’re going to lose beneath a cloud of Tri-State resignation and then going out and losing and losing big. Now the Jets have Aaron Rogers and Hard Knocks and are starting to believe. A perfect Jetsy situation! It doesn’t help that Jets fans typically like the low-flying Mets and round out the trifecta with the Knicks. That there are still tabloids in New York means one usually lands the most poisonously apt phrase the day after another Jetsy loss. A city of millions waits for their team to do what they do best: disappoint them.
-Vikings, Minnesota. Now if you thought I was going to ignore my team you do not know the program here. I have written about our specific troubles every year, it’s a tradition. Before the Bills even dreamed of losing four Super Bowls in a row the Vikings has lost four in the 1970s. We’ve lost playoff games because of missed kicks and because of absolute horseshit rules that they changed the following year (Saints kicked an overtime FG, Vikes never touched the ball, though we bungled end of regulation too, naturally). We set records, the bad kind: We were the first road team favored in an NFC Championship and then went out and got absolutely waxed 41-0 by a team whose QB was Kerry Collins. If there’s a unique way to contrive to lose a game the Vikings will find it. If there isn’t a unique way then we will invent one. Unless we’re playing the Bills, in which case we try to lose the game hard but the Bills try to lose harder. This isn’t routine and it isn’t easy, it’s oddly creative and legitimately hard to do. This is losing as high art. The last ephemeral Vikings success was the NFC Championship against the Nick Foles Eagles and we jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and were driving again and threatening to go up two touchdowns. I am ashamed to say that for a brief moment I had visions of a blowout win. Then Case Keenum (sweet Jesus) threw an interception that was run back about 80 yards (I tried to block this memory). Suddenly it was 7-7 and everybody knew what was what and we bowed out in typically humiliating fashion.
I don’t know about other tragic fans, but in a weird way I find it easier when the Vikings aren’t that good. I don’t get sucked in. There are no expectations waiting to be dashed along the rocks of a bad defensive line. But no matter how hardened we get the sport endures because, against our better judgment, we can never fully extinguish that flicker of belief.
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