By Rich Levine
Short of winning a title, theres no good way to end a season.
It doesnt matter if youre living in a city like Boston, where success is only measurable by rolling rallies, or a place like Cleveland, where the only reason to rally is in protest of some arrogant jackass who left you in the cold.
As a fan, it doesnt matter where you live, how big you dream, or how long that dreams even a reality
When the season ends, a part of you dies.
Obviously, thats a slightly dramatic way of looking at it. Obviously, sports arent life or death. But at the same time, for most of us, they are life.
For instance, you spent roughly three hours a week for 17 weeks watching the 2010 Patriots. Thats more than two days of your life. When you werent watching them, you were reading about them, you were talking about them, you were watching other people talk about them. This is time you could spend doing any numbers of things far more important than football, but this is what you do.
If the Pats play on Sunday afternoon, you clear your schedule. If they play Sunday night, you clear your schedule. If theyre supposed to play Sunday afternoon and then get switched to Sunday night, you probably get into a fight with your wife or girlfriend because you had dinner plans and this is the fourth time footballs screwed things up this month. You invest a ridiculous amount of time, energy and money into these guys. Its not your entire life, but its a still a pretty big part.
And when the season ends, that part is gone. Or at least, it goes into hibernation. And when it wakes back up things are different. You can never replicate the feeling you had in any given season the drama, the storylines, the trust and the expectations. Just like the end of a relationship, or job, or even (although to a much lesser extent) a death in the family, you cant change what happened. But it does change you.
Obviously, this works on different scales throughout sports. The way New England feels right now isnt the same way that Cleveland did when the Browns season ended; its not even the same way Seattle feels today, after the Seahawks met the same fate as the Pats. And thats not to say those fans care about their teams any less than Patriots fans do. Among true fans, allegiance is pretty consistent across the board.
The difference is expectations.
Like anything in life, when you make the decision to devote so much into a particular season, you dont do it without perspective. You still dream, but its just as important to be realistic as it is to be optimistic. Otherwise, youre just setting yourself up for disaster, and that point why even bother. Its like if I posted this column and then went into deep depression when it didnt win a Pullitzer. Or if I proposed to Marissa Miller and became paralyzed with grief when she said No. (Or more likely, Who the hell are you and how did you get into my dressing room?). I just wouldnt do that (I don't think). And for so many other cities and fans across the country, expectations are an easy remedy for any end of season sadness.
What did we expect, theyre the Browns?
The Seahawks won a playoff game, what more could we ask for?
At the heart of it, everyones after the same thing. The only reason any fan is willing to devote a large part of his or her life to a team is for the possibility of one day celebrating a title. And when the season ends without that, that season left you unfulfilled. But at the same time, you know how elusive that title can be. You know its not something that happens all the time, and while in most cases, at one point or another, a fan can convince him or herself that, maybe, just maybe, a given season is their year, its usually only a matter of time before reality hits, perspective changes and your expectations are lowered.
That doesnt mean you care any less. It just means that for that one season, you let go of the dream and hope next year is better. Now, the prospect of the future is what keeps you watching every second, re-arranging your schedule, and arguing with your girlfriend over canceled dinner plans. You just keep finding reasons to believe.
Thats how it typically works. But obviously, theres nothing typical about the life we live as sports fans in Boston. For the past 10 years, weve ever needed an excuse to believe. Weve never needed perspective or guarded optimism, because since the moment Vinatieris kick went through in 2002, the supposedly elusive titles have always felt attainable. Every season, no matter what the sport, its like the Pulitzer committee is knocking on OUR door, or Marissa Miller is sending us flirty Facebook messages and asking US on dates. Weve grown into a city where only the largely unattainable is acceptable. With the teams weve had and the success weve experienced, weve had no choice but to release all perspective and fully expose ourselves to potential disaster.
And we keep getting hit.
In the last nine months alone, Bostons now seen a hockey team go up 3-0 in a playoff series with only one win, and a series with the eighth-seeded Canadiens standing between them and the Stanley Cup Finals.
Weve seen a basketball team up 13 points with 20 minutes to play in Game Seven of the NBA Finals, on the road against their biggest rivals.
Weve had a football team go two months without losing a game, and reach the point where they were one of five teams left vying for a title, and had beaten the other four remaining teams by a combined score 151-63 in the regular season.
In each case, despite all kinds history and logic suggesting otherwise, the team from Boston fell. And we were left to suffer. To question the players and the coaches. To question why we even care as much as we do, or if, in the end, we even should.
Why invest so much of ourselves into a team, when just like that, beyond our control, and without warning, they can turn and deliver four straight losses, or 20 minutes of bogus basketball, or one of the least inspired and strategic game plans in team playoff history?
For a while, it can really throw you for a loop. Its not life or death, but theres no question that it really does affect your life. And it makes you wonder if its all worth it. If maybe it would have been better if last years Bruins rolled over after the Matt Cooke debacle, or if the Celtics just never got it right, or if the Patriots had kept Randy Moss and finished at 10-6 and just snuck in the playoffs like last season.
Those moments are fleeting, but for a time, it really does feel like the better option. The life of a Browns or Seahawks fan doesnt seem like an awful alternative.
But then, eventually, and thankfully, a different reality sets in.
The reality that at some point, we probably will be the ones sitting back after another so-so season and saying What did we expect, theyre the Patriots? Or, The Patriots won a playoff game, what more could we ask for? Who knows when that will happen, but it will. So in the end, we know that all the pain and suffering that comes with investing completely in a team that so dramatically lets you down, is offset by the privilege of having something to invest in, in the first place. Its the knowledge that we wont always have a chance to do that. That we didnt always have the chance to do that. And that if youre not going to roll the dice during this current pocket of time in Boston sports history, and risk feeling the way you do after Sundays loss to the Jets, than you might as well as find something better to do with your life. The time is now. This is why you suffer through years of low expectations and apathetic endings. For this season, for the last 10 seasons, and for the next three or four seasons, at least, it has to be worth it.
Of course, that does absolutely nothing to ease all the anger and frustration that exists today and will exist every day until the Super Bowl is over and football goes away for a few months.
But in the meantime, maybe the idea can serve as a temporary diversion from the misery. And maybe a reason to be thankful.
OK, break's over. How the hell did they let that happen?