Monday, October 17, 2005

Two Tampa | by Jay

As a faithful disciple of the Charlie Weis Guide to Coping With a Loss ("no goddam silver linings!"), I was loathe to take consolation in anything walking out of the stadium Saturday night. After all, we had them, and it took a perfect throw and a couple of flukey bounces for the Trojans to pull off their improbable victory.

That said, if you're going to lose a ball game, Saturday was about the best loss you could hope for: to the number one team in the country with a streak on the line, with just about every sports fan in America tuned in to watch, at home, in front of eighty thousand fans screaming their heads off, right down to the wire, and down to seven seconds left on the clock.

Bill Simmons did a piece a while back called the Thirteen Levels of Losing, where he ranks memorable defeats on a scale from least painful to most painful (you can probably guess what Simmons' Level I is). I originally thought Saturday was a Level II Stomach Punch, "a roller-coaster game that ends with an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play, and usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all." In the immediate aftermath of a loss, I can honestly say I've never felt worse. (BC '93 was more dire, but this was more emotional, or maybe just fresher in my mind). I stuck around for the alma mater mainly because I literally could not move. We'd climbed Everest, only to fall off the edge, and I sat there in a daze with Ambrose Wooden's wiper-blade arms swishing back and forth in my mind, still trying to swat the ball away from a streaking Dwayne Jarrett.

After the EMTs brought out the crash cart to revive me, and after I'd downed enough beer to inebriate a small country, and after I'd eaten breakfast at 6:30am at Bob Evans by myself because I just couldn't sleep, and after we'd packed the car and headed back to Chicago, and after I'd watched my other team lose yet another playoff game and fall behind 3-1 in the series, I began to get a little perspective. The game began to look less like a Stomach Punch and more like some combination of a Level XIII Princeton Principle ("When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end...this one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes") and a Level XI Alpha Dog ("It might have been a devastating loss, but at least you could take solace that a superior player [Bush] made the difference in the end").

Coming into Saturday, we didn't have anything to lose. History was against us (31-point losses three years running), we were out-manned (two or three Heisman candidates on the other team), and we were up against one of the best teams of all-time, to hear the pundits describe it. Apart from all the rah-rah intangibles and miracles and legends and Touchdown Jesus -- and when it comes to talent versus talent, who counts those, really? -- we were expected to lose. And yet, it was Southern Cal who needed a miracle, a couple of them, actually, to continue their streak and bring home the win.

So what did we gain from this? What did we learn? Three things, at least:

1. We're a good team. It wasn't a fluke that the game was so close.

2. Our coaching is excellent, maybe the best in the country.

3. We're a couple of players (or a couple of plays) away from a national championship.

Mike Coffey said he'd rather feel agony than ennui, and he's exactly right. We're pissed that we lost, but not despondent. I don't really feel that much better today than I did at at Bob Evans early Sunday morning over a breakfast skillet, but at least now I've got some distance and some perspective. We went toe-to-toe with the best team in the country and came within a fourth-and-nine and seven seconds of knocking them off. Charlie says there's no such thing as a good loss, but in the grand balance of things, I think we came out ahead. In some strange way that ache we all feel is the best feeling...because when's the last time you felt that way?

That's the surest sign that Notre Dame football is back.