Monday, October 11, 2010

“How did the other team feel?”

Among the many great ‘Peanuts,’ strip drawn by the immortal Charles Schulz, one of my favorites is the one in which Linus is telling Charlie Brown about the ending of a football game. I’m paraphrasing, but he says something like: “It was amazing Charlie Brown, our team was behind with one second left in the game and we were on the one-yard line and the quarterback threw a pass all the way down the field and the receiver caught it and ran in for a touchdown. Everyone was screaming and yelling and celebrating. You should have seen it!”

At that point Charlie Brown looks at Linus and says: “How did the other team feel?”

That strip ran through my head right after the final play of Navy’s 28-27 victory over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Saturday night. Needless to say I was thrilled for Navy and enjoyed watching the players and coaches pour onto the field to celebrate after Wake’s final pass had fallen incomplete ending a wildly entertaining (and, for the record, poorly officiated) football game.

Then I looked at the Wake players, some sitting on the field in shock, others walking slowly across the field to congratulate the Midshipmen. I felt it even more when the Demon Deacons followed the Mids to the far corner of the field to stand at attention for the playing of the Navy alma mater. Wake’s always been a class school and Jim Grobe is a class coach. My guess is his players are the same way. This was their second consecutive loss when the opponent scored in the game’s last 30 seconds.

And so I thought of Linus and Charlie Brown.

Of course endings like that take place in sports all the time. For every Mookie Wilson, there’s a Bill Buckner and for every Bobby Thompson, there’s a Ralph Branca. You feel it more acutely though for non-pros—which might eliminate some big-time college football and basketball programs from the mix. I certainly felt it in Indianapolis last April when Gordon Hayward’s last second shot rolled off the rim and Butler missed beating Duke in the national championship game by exactly that much.

Sure, I was happy for my alma mater and happier for Mike Krzyzewski—my feelings about my alma mater as most people know are decidedly mixed—but watching the Butler players and thinking about what a victory for them would have meant in the basketball and sports pantheon, I couldn’t help but feel some disappointment.

But that’s what makes sports so compelling. We all feel terrible for Brooks Conrad—even a San Francisco Giants fan has to feel badly for him even if he’s happy his team won on Sunday—but the way Conrad got to that moment is a dramatic story in itself. Almost every day and certainly ever week, stories play out across the country and the world that we should care about even if no one involved is going to any Hall of Fame. Athletes who are worthy of our attention, our support and, in some cases, our sympathy when they come up just short, compete because they love to compete; because they want to win but also because they understand that losing may hurt but it isn’t—shouldn’t be—the end of the world.

Maybe that’s why I get so angry at the rich and famous who never take responsibility for their actions—on or off the playing fields. I’m a sucker for underdogs and for those who try like hell even when they know they have virtually no chance of winning. We all are to some degree. Even in Masters swimming, when one of the older swimmers comes chugging in at the end of a long race well behind everyone else, everyone in the pool gives them a round of applause.

Many swimmers call it, ‘the dreaded sympathy clap.’ I got one the first time I tried to swim a 200 butterfly as a Masters swimmer. I almost didn’t finish. My stroke was so bad the final length of the pool that a friend of mine, seeing the stroke and turn judge eyeing me closely said, “he’s still legal.” The stroke and turn judge said to him, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to DQ him, he’s already suffered enough.”

God knows that was true.

So please don’t ask me to lose any sleep over the fact that the SEC might not get a team to the national championship game this year. I might feel some sympathy for the players, but certainly not for the coaches, the administrators or the fans. I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for any of the so-called big-time schools. Alabama losing to South Carolina isn’t a whole lot different than the choking dog Green Bay Packers losing to the Washington Redskins. (Am I bitter? You bet).

Other than the celebrity photos from each of the six Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classics, I have one photo in my office with an athlete in it. It’s from the 1995 Army-Navy game. That was the year that I researched ‘A Civil War,’ and it was taken right after the playing of the two alma maters. In the photo, Andrew Thompson, Navy’s defensive captain that year, is crying on my shoulder. A few minutes later, he cried on the shoulder of Jim Cantelupe—who was Army’s defensive captain that year.

Just in case you think that Thompson wasn’t a tough guy because he shed a lot of tears after Army drove 99 yards to win that game, 14-13, you should know that he is currently a major in The Marine Corps who has served in Iraq. Believe me, you’d want him on your side in any sort of fight. You would also be proud to call him a friend.

My point is this: We all celebrate victories—our own and those of individuals we root for and teams we root for. God knows I will celebrate if the Islanders ever win another Stanley Cup or the Mets ever win another World Series. (Not holding my breath on either). But when we celebrate—especially when the competition involves kids—we should all pause to think about what Charlie Brown said to Linus. On Saturday night, as happy as I was for Navy, I couldn't help but wonder how the other team felt.


Jeremy said...

I love this video of the players, coaches, and fans from each side following Fulham-Hamburg game in last year's Europa League semifinal. Yeah, they're professionals, but the emotions all around are great.

Anonymous said...

Wait, this is a blog post and not a WaPo article? Well done, I enjoyed it tremendously.

PeteWill said...

John, your comments today go right to the heart of what is great about sports. If one really cares than it really hurts to lose. Many of us, me among them, hate losing more than we actually enjoy wining. There is something heroic in a gracious loser. And when I think about that Jack Nicklaus always comes to mind. If my recollection in correct, Jack actually finished second in majors more than the 18 times he won. Who can forget how he was with Tom Watson at both Pebble and Turnberry? And his famous concession for a halve to Tony Jacklin in the Ryder Cup was another special moment. So as much as it hurts, when you see the losers gather themselves for the alma mater of the winning side it is something that should send warm feelings right through you. It is worthy of a tear.

Tim said...

Does anyone know Bret Bielema's email? He might want to take a gander at this one...

Ed said...

Thanks for your sentiments as I am A Wake fan and love to see the the likes of the Deacs and the Mids knock off a established football powers. I always think it is the kiss of death to a coach when his team is upset by the Deacs ie T. Bowden & C. Gailey.

Regarding this weekend's senior tournament at Avenel, what is the financial future of the champion's tour? The golf was decent, I went on Saturday, talked my way into preferred parking, there was hardly anyone watching and tickets were free! Other than providing golf channel with two hours of programing and corporate sponsors, where is the revenue from this business?
Bernard Langher made a birdie putt, I said, "Nice putt," and he nodded to me in acknowledgement. I think this was considered one this tour's major events. I don't believe that there were more than a few hundred "patrons" on at this event on Saturday. I don't see how this tour can make sufficient revenue to continue.
These guys have talent but they also have a number of guys that are really overweight and others who look like candidates for hip and knee replacement procedures. Look, I would watch almost anyone play golf but it seems that the Champions Tour is not appealing to its targeted audience and is in critical condition. They no longer have Palmer, Trevino, Player and Nicklaus to draw fans to their events.

John, your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Some of the most memorable scenes in sports are of the losing team or athlete, the one who laid everything on the turf court or field they could muster, and just came up short. Each year when One Shining Moment comes on at the end of the NCAAs, there are usually more of the losing team video vs. winning team video pulling at the heartstrings.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy - great video link. Thanks...


Anonymous said...

Why is John bitter about the Packers???

Momus said...

Cue Jim McKay --

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition...

Anonymous said...

John is bitter that the Packers didn't win. If you havent noticed or don't know, he isn't such a fan of Dan Snyder winning anything.