(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Fan Perspectives

Some philosopher somewhere once said something about how you can evaluate a society by how they treat their games. (And if no one said it, then I'll claim it as an original thought.) Do the fans show passion? Do they care? Do they care too much? Are they too rough on the team? Are they violent? Do they get too manic over wins and too depressed over losses? Are they holding their teams' coaches and players to higher standards than they themselves possibly could meet? And, if the answer to some of these questions is yes, does that make them passive-aggressive? Do they need to develop less intense hobbies? Do they need to get lives? Do they need some perspective?

I don't have that many favorite teams, I admit, but right now two of four favorite teams just suffered major defeats. The Philadelphia Eagles, my hometown team, just lost in the Super Bowl, and the Princeton Tigers' men's basketball team is off to its worst start ever in Ivy League play and blew and 18-point lead with 7:35 to go and lost to archrival Penn in OT, 70-62 last night. The 76ers won't get past the first round of the playoffs, if that, and the Phillies are looking at a solid third- or fourth-place finish in their division. Okay, so Eagles' training camp begins in late July.

Right now, Eagles fans are agonizing over the Eagles' loss. They are blaming Andy Reid for poor clock management (all but one particular talk show host on local sports talk radio WIP, the self-styled "King of Bling" who has been blasting his callers for not knowing anything about football if they're complaining about clock management, which means, of course, that he must believe that no national football columnist knows anything about football, either, because most of them did express bewilderment at the Birds' clock management in the fourth quarter). They are pasting Donovan McNabb, and they are dissecting the Eagles' team player-by-player to figure out what went wrong. And the Eagles' offensive line and even their defensive line isn't getting spared the cane that the fans are wielding.

Wake up call for Eagles' fans: your team lost to one of the five best teams in the Super Bowl era (the others being Green Bay in the 60's, the Steelers' in the 70's, the 49ers in the 80's, the Cowboys in the 90's and now the Patriots). And your team lost by only 3 points despite the fact that you didn't play your best game. Your team played better against the Patriots than either Indy or Pittsburgh did. They acquitted themselves well, just not well enough to win. Stop the self-inflicting wounds, stop cutting yourselves with your rusted fishing knives, stop holding Coach Reid and QB McNabb to standards that all but say Vince Lombardi and Joe Montana could meet. Congratulate yourselves on a great season, and congratulate yourselves particularly on the showing you made in Jacksonville. As Pats' special teamer Larry Izzo put it, "It felt like a road game out there." Friends of mine who were there said the same thing; they even passed tailgaters who were there for the experience in the parking lot -- the tailgaters didn't have game tickets and watched the game on a portable TV plugged into a cigarette lighter. You're a great group of fans -- let all of the post-game angst go. Celebrate your experience, and then gear up for next year.

As for Princeton basketball fans, well, last night's loss will be hard to recover from because the Tigers' season is all but over and because you'll be hearing about this game from Penn fans for years. In contrast to Princeton's even bigger comeback over Penn in 1999 (the Tigers rallied from 26 down with 15 to go to win 50-49), Penn's victory probably has more meaning. The reason: in '99, the Tigers (who had 7 frosh on the roster and only 3 returning veterans, 1 of whom was frequently injured) beat Penn on a Tuesday only to travel to play the following Friday a Yale team that would finish something like 4-24 on the season and lose in 2 overtimes, thereby letting Penn back into the race (and Penn won the title that year). This season, a win last night would have closed the gap and helped spur Princeton onto greater heights (a friend who watched the game on the local Comcast cable channel said that with Princeton up 53-35 with 7:35 to go, the announcers actually predicted a dogfight to the finish in the Ivies). Instead, your team blew a big lead, and they're probably out of title contention. Which means, of course, an open road for Penn, who is 5-0 and has at least a two-game lead on the pack.

What to do? First, don't bury your team's coach. He knows what he's doing, even if his team didn't finish off their opponent last night. He's not perfect, but he just got to Princeton, and his resume is impeccable. One day you'll look back on this, shake your heads, and then relish the thought of all the Ivy titles he brought you. Second, go easy on the players, they're just kids. It's okay to point out gaffes, but remember, it's just a game. No one feels worse about what happened last night than they do. It's easy to be supportive in good times, but now's the time to be supportive -- when they really need it. This is a program with a great tradition, and it will rise again. Third, forget about the officials. Yes, the same ref made two bad calls at two big moments in two games, but those calls didn't decide those games. Execute better, play your game better, and the officiating will be of little consequence, no matter how bad the call.

It's easy to be giddy and magnanimous when your team is pasting its opponents and when the last 10 minutes of every game constitute garbage time. It' s harder to exercise patience when your team loses, plain and simple. The most glaring example of fan silliness was with the Eagles last season, when they lost their first two games -- to defending Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay and to would-be Super Bowl champ New England. Oh, the despair. McNabb should have been benched in favor of A.J. Feeley, and Andy Reid deserved to be fired. Or so said most fans. Well, they went on a quite a run before losing in the NFC Championship Game (I for one laughed at the harsh criticisms, figuring that their schedule was downhill racing after those two losses, so thankfully I was right and spared myself any modicum of despair - I was in a distinct minority).

Finally, remember what these things are -- pastimes, hobbies, games. The last time I checked, they are meant to be fun. They're meant to be a distraction from what we need to focus on daily -- the love, sustenance and fortification of our families, being good citizens, being good neighbors, being good friends, being good employees and being good co-workers. They're meant to be a source of fun, a source of joy, a source of sharing good times with friends and family.

And that's it.

So stop agonizing, stop nit-picking, stop self-inflicting.

And give your teams, their coaches and players, and yourselves a break.


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