I know this isn't going to be a popular sentiment at the moment, but I was expecting this to hurt more. I've been waiting for the three-day pit in my stomach to recur, the same one I had after watching Dennis Dixon writhing on the ground from a barstool in November '07. I've been waiting for the stiff neck and shoulder muscles, the feeling that my head weighs twice as much as it actually does, the heavy sighs, the vague chest discomfort, the insomnia.
But it hasn't come yet, and I'm pretty sure that this time around, it isn't coming at all.
What kind of a fan does that make me?
I'll tell you the kind of fan it doesn't make me: the lesser one. I love Ducks football more than is probably mentally healthy. I know this in my heart. I can prove this to myself with the amount of time, emotion, and, yes, money that I spend obsessing about it for four months out of each calendar year.
It also does not make me the more jaded fan, the one disallowing himself from feeling pain as bad as the countless ones he's felt for other favorite teams who lost other games. I was ready for the pain of the Ducks losing the championship, dreading it and expecting it as every realistic sports fan does, as I'm sure the majority of Auburn fans also were.
I shudder to think it simply makes me the older, wiser fan. I'm 38, with a wife, kids, and career. But there are droves of older, wiser, and infintely more successful Duck fans than me out there. And I still feel like I'm 13, especially when two nights ago I was jumping up and down in a football stadium screaming, "JEFF MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAEHHHHHHHHHHHHL!!!!" at the top of my lungs as he caught that two-point conversion, giving me a memory that I will keep forever.
Sports fandom continues to baffle me. More specifically, the question of why I am a sports fan continues to baffle me. Part of the why is the sense of community it gives me, even though as you Vonnegut fans know, we are a bit of a granfalloon: a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.
Another part of the why, the bigger part, is that following a team allows me to vicariously experience two of the greatest feelings the human soul can have: Hope. And, redemption.
And I think that's really the reason that losing doesn't hurt as bad as it used to. As horrible as I felt watching Dennis Dixon rolling on the turf, and as numb as I felt watching UCLA beat us 16-0 the next week, the Ducks got up, dusted themselves off, and went on to trounce South Florida in the Sun Bowl. And I don't care if it was "only" South Florida. That win was as redeeming as they come. And it gave us all hope for the future.
How bad did you feel watching LaGarrette Blount's rage spiral out of control in 2009? For me, the rest of the season, even the Rose Bowl loss, made up for every sling and every arrow that outrageous fortune slung our way in the weeks after that game. I learned so much about sports, and even life, watching Chip Kelly mentor those kids the rest of the way, that I wouldn't change a thing about 2009 if I had the choice.
And isn't that why we all love sports? Surely the playing is more important than the winning. Next game, next year, one more chance. Hope and redemption.
As every sports fan has heard ad nauseam, ad infinitum, Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." Personally, I much prefer fictional bonus baby Calvin LaLoosh's, "I love winning...it's like, you know, better than losing!"
The conclusion I've come to as an adult is that Lombardi was an asshole.
And who didn't love Nuke LaLoosh?