Rooting Beyond Hope

I think I’m beginning to understand what Red Sox fans felt before they won the World Series for the first time in nearly a century.

You see, I really like the underdog. I grew up rooting for the Mets when they were awful and was so excited when they won it all in 1986. That team should have won 5 more Championships, but alas, the drug problems of their 80s stars caught up with them and down the tubes everything went. I ended up covering the team for two radio stations in the 90s and the Mets organization treated me so horribly that I swore that I wouldn’t root again until Fred Wilpon sold the team.

Still waiting…and holding my grudge. I’m sure Wilpon is very hurt by this by the way. Rubbing salt in the wounds, the Yankees treated me very well when I was covering baseball and I root for the classy Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi from time to time.

I’ve also been a lifelong fan of the New York Jets. Wesley Walker and Freeman McNeil and the New York Sack Exchange, especially Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau were all big heroes. Check these cool cats out.

Even with all of their skill, they could never quite get over the hump to win the big game or even get to the Super Bowl. I root nonetheless, knowing that it builds a bit of character with each loss and with coming back again and again.

And now that I live in Buffalo, the Bills and the Sabres have become a nice distraction as well. Games are fun, but we know we’re not going to win most of the time. Fans are impatient for a championship, as is the owner of now both Buffalo squads, Terry Pegula.

But you always wonder if the stars are aligned against these teams. The Bills started out strong at 2-0 before crumbling to the Chargers this year.

Grantland gets this:

Even last year, they nearly upset the Patriots in Week 1, and went 2-2 through September with wins over the Panthers and Ravens. Manuel had been a horrible reach in the first round, but he actually looked pretty decent. Things were looking up. Then they lost eight of their last 12, and … yep, 6-10 for the fourth time in five years.

People know about the four consecutive Super Bowl losses, and even if you don’t know the exact date the Bills last won a title (1965, in the AFL) you know it’s been a really long time. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. It’s the suffering that’s made Buffalo football famous. But now we have this new twist, with September hope making the eventual heartbreak even crueler.

The Sabres, for the record have never won the Stanley Cup in their history (since 1970).

Rooting for any of these teams is often a Charlie Brown like experience, especially when they start to win. It seems like this may be the year that Lucy doesn’t pull the football away and then slam! Into the ground we fall! These teams have a great habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

And yet, we come back for more. Old time Red Sox fans know what I’m saying. Beloved Cubs fans really know what I’m saying. Teams often disappoint and it feels like loss will continue. But it is living with that hope that provides much faith. Commitment to a team is much like marriage–good times AND in bad, sickness AND health, playoffs or rebuilding season…staying the course is a lot tougher than walking away. I regret walking away from the Mets years ago and have seriously considered coming back to the fold (although friends will never let me forget it). In times of reflection rooting for a team that knows loss well allows deeper pain to be a bit easier to handle.

When the New York Rangers hockey team began to turn things around in the early 90s I remember covering a game and a small child was crying over their elimination from the playoffs. It was a year or so before they finally won in the 1993-1994 season. Previous to this, the Rangers had not won the cup since 1940. My friend, a longtime Rangers fan saw this little kid crying and said: “Kid, stop crying! You haven’t suffered enough yet!” Then he bent down to him and said, “Hey it’s OK! It’s hard to lose, but you know what? The Rangers love you for being so upset. But we’re going to lose a bunch more and each time you won’t cry as much. When we win the cup one day, it’s going to be so much cooler and mean so much more!”

The kid stopped crying and cheered up. My friend was right. And I hope that many of the long time losers will soon have at least one taste of victory. 1986 is a distant memory for me now and it’s the last time one of “my” teams won anything.

So today, let us pray that our losses are not too much to bear and that our victories not be too sweet that we forget the feeling of loss. May God make us tough enough to continue to handle loss with grace and graceful enough to live in the hope that victory will make us appreciate all that we are and the excellence for which we all strive. Amen.