The beauty in defeat: Takeaways from a year of losing
This has been perhaps my toughest year as a fan of sports.
There have been years where teams I root for are bad and I have to watch them trudge through the season, painfully being battered before finally crawling mercifully through the finish line. I remember watching the Kansas City Chiefs gain less than 100 yards during a 31-0 loss against our divisional rival, the San Diego Chargers. And the Chargers weren’t even that good that year. For a non-sports analogy, this was like playing monopoly and going bankrupt on the first turn. This year, the teams I loved weren’t bad. They weren’t even disappointing. They were just shy of being great. The Chiefs, this year, won the division and dominated the first half of their playoff game against the Tennessee Titans before they stumbled and lost in the last minutes of the game. The University of Kansas basketball team, the only thing that gets KU fans through the miserable football season, made it to the Final Four. They were then promptly shellacked by Villanova. Even the bad teams I liked weren’t the most enjoyable level of bad. The Sacramento Kings were mediocre this year, but not bad enough to have a good chance at a solid draft pick.
Having joined the Washington University community this year, I started following the results of our sports teams. The results of the year fit with the results of my other favorite teams. The Wash. U. women’s soccer team had an impressive season, but they exited their pursuit of another championship earlier than expected. The men’s basketball team was expected to win the whole tournament. But instead of watching them throttle a lower seed in route to a championship, I watched as their hopes were extinguished at the last second. Many occasions throughout the year, it has been easy to feel demoralized by the outcomes. However, this year has been a reminder of why I love following sports in the first place.
Very few teams win championships. Not all franchises are the New England Patriots. Not all college teams can be the University of Alabama football team. What all teams can do is try their best and give themselves and those who follow them memories that last a lifetime. I won’t remember the margin the Chiefs lost by in a decade, but I will remember how electrifying Tyreke Hill was for most of the season. Malik Newman single handedly outscoring Duke in overtime will always be more impactful to me than Villanova breaking a record against Kansas in the Final Four. I will remember Wash. U. basketball player Matt Nester hitting three pointers at will to match with Aurora University’s top scorers. Those glowing moments are going to stick with me far longer than the sting of defeat can.
And even in defeat, there can be a certain beauty. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota getting the block that sealed the game against the Chiefs, as much as it hurt at the time, is iconic. The effort he put in, the drive he had to finish that game on top is commendable. It is not the result exclusively I watch for. Its also out of love for the game. Now that time has passed, I think back to the last five seconds of the Wash. U.-Aurora game not with frustration, but with admiration. The clutch shot made by the Bears to tie the game with a second left was awesome. The play drawn up was brilliant and well executed. The sheer euphoria on the face of Wash. U players when the shot reached the bottom of the net and the shrieks from the crowd that matched that emotion was powerful. But on the other side, when Aurora’s Marcus Myers caught the pass down the court, past the defense. When he leaped and let go of the shot of his life, when amidst the chaos he sunk the dagger that killed the hopes of the team. The silent shock of the crowd, the stunned pain of the Wash. U players, all contrasted with the ecstasy of Aurora: it was all so beautiful. It was like a renaissance painting, where in the periphery, anguish is plentiful, but the focus is still drawn to the pleasure and joy in the corner. Our team was on the wrong end of those moments players and fans live for, but we still experienced it and there’s something meaningful in that.
When the next seasons begin, I hope that the teams I root for will have greater successes. But even if that isn’t the case, I’ll still being the crowd: taking in the details and enjoying the games regardless.