Friday, December 12, 2008

A Sports Fan's Lament

You pull up roots, move halfway across the hemisphere make new friends, develop new habits.

But you never lose your connection to your sports teams.

I moved from Chicago almost half a century ago, but I'll always be a Cubs fan - even though I don't even follow baseball anymore. I was born a Cubs fan, the son of a Cubs fan. That means I have a family legacy of some of the most painful memories in sports. Summer of '69? That might mean all sorts of political and social upheaval to you, but mostly to me it means the Great Choke, the year the Cubs fell apart in August and lost the pennant to the Mets.

I lived in L.A. in the '70s and still have an affection for the Dodgers, although as I say I don't care about baseball anymore. (I figure if the owners and the players don't care about the game, why should I?)

Now I've left the Pacific Northwest after 28 years in the region, but my heart as a sports fan is still there. And it's been a very, very bad year to be a fan. It's even harder watching from a distance.

You see, part of a fan's job, his or her duty to the team, is to always be supportive, always to believe, always to care so damn much that collectively we fans can will the team to victory. (See, you can tell I'm a Cubs fan. I still believe, even though it's been a century now.)

The year started with a bad season for the Portland Tailblazers. Seattle lost the Sonics. Not just a game - they lost the whole damn team! Oregon State's men's basketball had a pathetic, awful season, fired the coach and hired a guy who happens to be the brother-in-law of the president elect. Not that that will help. The Mariners started the MLB season with high hopes based on their huge team salary, and turned out to be the worst team in baseball this year.

But the hardest part has been football season, because I'm mostly a football fan and it's been terrible.

I've been a Seahawks fan since they started the franchise. Seriously, I was still in L.A. when the team first took the field, but I've been a fan from the beginning. I really, truly believed they were Super Bowl bound this year. Instead, for one reason and another having mostly to do with a vengeful God, they pretty much suck this year. Almost the same personnel that won the division last year, and they've lost all but two games so far in 2008. It's been crazy. They've had so many injuries, so much bizarre trouble, that it can only be ascribed to the diety. (They will win this weekend - they're playing the Rams who are much, much worse - but all that'll mean is they'll drop down the list for next year's draft and lose a chance at a better player.)

And if the 'Hawks have been in the toilet, the Northwest's college teams have been much, much worse. U-Dub didn't win a game this year. Not one. WSU won two games, but one was against the Huskies so that doesn't really count.

The lone shining spot was the OSU Beavers. They started shaky (they ALWAYS start shaky - when will Riley get them to start the season sharp?) but then they went on a roll. They won six straight games. They beat highly touted USC (I hate USC. Beating the Trojans was great.) All they needed was one more win or a USC loss and the Beavers would go to the Rose Bowl, which they'd last visited in 1965 (or 4 B.C. – Before Choke - for any Cub fans keeping score.) All they had to do was beat the hated University of Oregon Ducks in the Civil War game two weeks ago.

It took quite a bit of effort to find a way to listen to the game. We finally found a station in Oregon that streamed the game live, downloaded software, and gathered around the computer to listen to history in the making.

So of course, having built up our hopes, the Beavers lost. And they didn't just lose. The Ducks crushed them, exposed them, made us see that the whole six-game winning streak was a sham, even the win over SC. It was pretty awful. They'd just been setting us up to break our hearts. Why would you do that, Beavers? Why?

But it wasn't quite the end. The Beavers could still smell Roses if USC lost to its bitter cross-town rival UCLA last weekend. It could happen. That's the stuff that makes sports so engrossing, the possibility of the impossible, of the underdog rising up and bringing down the bigger, cockier rival.

Which of course they didn't. The Trojans ran roughshod over the Bruins. It wasn't as bad as the Ducks dismantling the Beavers, but it was a steady, workmanlike victory that put the nail in the coffin that was the Beavers' season.

Really, I can only blame myself. Even though I've moved 4,000 miles from the region, the fact that I still care about teams from the Northwest is enough to doom them.

Don't believe me?

Remember, I am the son of a lifelong Cubs fan. Dad brought his sports jinx with him when the family moved to Los Angeles in 1970. The 1972 Lakers were the greatest basketball team of all time. Don't give me Michael Jordan's Bulls or Larry Bird's Celtics or the Kareem-Magic-Worthy Lakers of the '80s. For one season the 1972 Lakers were better than any team ever. They finished 69-13, won a still-record 33 straight games. Think about that. For almost two months they didn't lose a single game. In the finals they beat the Knicks four games to one. Chamberlain, West, Goodrich, Hairston, Riley, Erickson, Ellis. They won all but five of their home games - they were 36-5 at the Forum.

My dad went to four Laker games that year. They lost all four. What are the odds?

So even though I'm now out here on my warm sunny island, as far from the Seahawks and the Beavers and the Huskies as it's possible to be, those jinxed fan rays that shoot out of me are still beaming clear across the continent and dooming my teams.

But just wait. Next year the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl. I know it. I'm sure of it.

I believe.



Ed said...

Loved this post John! Made me smile, made me sigh, made me believe!

Jen said...

I feel an element of your pain. It was bad enough that my Florida State University Seminoles did badly (again), but then my Jacksonville Jaguars had to flounder after a hopeful start as well. And for a little salt in the wound, I live in the hometown of the Seminoles' arch enemy, the University of Florida Gators, who will be playing for the national title! I'll be glad when football season is over.