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“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” That famous quote is credited to UCLA Bruins football coach “Red” Sanders. But if winning is everything, how do players and fans cope with losing?
Super Bowl XLVIII pits two great teams against one another. The Kansas City Chiefs under Patrick Mahomes, seemingly the second coming of Tom Brady, face off against the San Francisco 49ers led by the shockingly good Brock Purdy, who was literally the last player drafted in 2022 and earned the name “Mr. Irrelevant.”
Only one will win. And congratulations to the team that does. Come Super Bowl night, fans of the winning team will be celebrating not just across America, but worldwide, thanks to the NFL’s growing global fan base. The stadium will be filled with confetti and players will be lost in the greatest feeling in sports – winning.
You can just hear, “We Are The Champions” playing in the background. Americans, we love a winner.
The other team will be defined by the loss. Forever known by that loss. No matter how many games you win, if you lose the big game, that’s what fans remember. As general manager Billy Beane said it in the movie “Moneyball,” “If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a s—.”
Only, nearly every team that makes the playoffs loses the last game of the season. In all of the NFL’s 32 teams, 31 are losers. Most didn’t even get to the playoffs. Some make a habit of it. The Super Bowl era has featured 57 big games, yet a dozen teams have never won the trophy. And it weighs heavily on their franchises and the fans.
The Cleveland Browns have come to define this annualized failure. The Browns are a storied franchise that has its roots in the early days of football, when it dominated. But the hapless Browns have never reached a Super Bowl and no matter what they do, the team seems to self-destruct.
The Browns have had 38 starting quarterbacks since they returned to the NFL after a brief, three-year hiatus. That number is so astronomical that a photo of a fan went viral in January because the man wore a jersey with a near-complete list on the back. The photo even ran in USA Today.
For a few of those 12 teams, losing still showed growth. The Detroit Lions made it to the championship and won their first playoff game since 1992. That’s something to be excited about, the prospect of the team finally turning around.
The same holds true for the Houston Texans under rookie quarterback sensation C.J. Stroud. If he continues to play at a similar level, the Texans are looking at years of playoff level competition.
The rest of the teams, not so much. And even one of the Super Bowl teams is going home empty-handed. For fans, losing is a harsh reminder about some of the realities of life. No one wins all the time. Not even the biggest stars and most famous teams. If they can lose and move forward, then the rest of us can, too.
So how are fans supposed to deal? Here are just a few guidelines to help you lose gracefully:
Find another sport to follow
The majority of Americans consider football to be America’s sport. I get that. I do as well. But it’s not the only sport. True sports fans find solace in rooting for multiple sports and different teams. This isn’t romance. You aren’t cheating on your first love.
That means it’s time for baseball for many of us. (Go, Orioles!) Pitchers and catchers start reporting on Feb. 14, for spring training. Others can move on to the NBA and NHL seasons. Or look forward to college basketball and the March Madness tournament.
Or take up an international sport – cricket, rugby or soccer (ugh). I’ve watched everything from Rock Paper Scissors tournaments to Australian Rules Football. If you can hold out, the 2024 Summer Olympics start in Paris on July 26. Anything to avoid election politics.
Embrace the offseason
Some of us are NFL addicts. No amount of the other three big-name sports will satisfy us. Accept it and focus the offseason on how your team will do next year. For football fans, that means the scouting combine and the draft. It’s the ultimate intersection of college football fandom and the pro addiction.
The Scouting Combine runs Feb. 27-March 4 and is a great chance to see some big surprises for the coming year. Draft time is just around the corner, in Detroit, Michigan, on April 25–27. Hardly any time at all. That gives you just enough time to study your team’s likely picks and celebrate the weekend of true NFL obsession. (It probably would shock some non-football fans that this has become a major televised event.)
That gets you to May and preseason football is only about three months later, with the first preseason game landing in early August.
Get a (non-sports) life
Go cold turkey. This used to be the expression when people kicked smoking. Do the same with sports. There is a world of cool stuff out there that involves you doing more than sitting in the stands or in front of your TV. Try an art museum, go backpacking, get some friends together and go to a gun range or start going to the gym.
We all got too used to staying indoors during COVID-19. It’s time to leave our cocoons and become the butterflies we were born to be.
The potential is endless. Make a list of day trips close to home and hit one a week, especially on Sunday when you are going into withdrawal. Try charity work or, yes, go to church Sunday instead. You don’t have any excuses in the offseason.
Remember, there’s always next year… when the odds are your team will lose again.