categories: Cocktail Hour


Americans aren’t too keen on losers and losing.  I thought about this during the pain of the Patriots’ loss over the last couple of days. “Pain” is the right word, even if it seems overdone to non-sports fans.  I know there is a big gap between people–and between the readers of these pages–on how seriously they take these things. It was nice of my wife Nina to pat me on the back and console me after the game.  But you had the feeling this was a little hard for her to take seriously, as if I were consoling her after someone she liked got kicked off The Bachelor.

I don’t care.  It did hurt.  If only through empathy—for instance seeing Wes Welker–great, gutsy Wes Welker–cast as a goat, his eyes red from crying and his voice quiet.  And not only empathy.  I was sad for me as well as them.  When I think Patriots I think sitting on the aluminum benches at Schaefer  Stadium with my Dad watching Sam “Bam” Cunningham or Randy Vataha, so yes I sometimes say “us” or “we” when I refer to the team, feeling at least a much a part of the whole thing as last year’s third round draft choice.  Still, I didn’t expect to suffer this time. Hadn’t dread fled New England after the Sox won and the Pats did a judo flip on their perennial loser tag?  In the days running up to the game I talked to a couple of friends who had grown seriously depressed after the loss to the Giants in 07/08.  I felt for them, but I thought “I’m different…I get all the pleasure of rooting for the team but I no longer let what happens on a football field affect my emotional life.  It’s only a game after all.”

I was dead wrong.  The loss crushed me.  I think one of the things that is lost when you lose is possibility and as the Pats drove down the field in the second half—so efficiently it looked like they should do it very time—my mind already rushed ahead to possible glory, though tinged with fear of course. Then when the fumbles starting to bounce the wrong way the old New England dread returned….

Of course it is different for me than it is for Wes Welker.  It’s Tuesday morning as I type this and the intense pain has faded (the dull pain will stay until we win again.)  For Welker career and reputation have been altered, and he is enduring what his quarterback called the “a week of sleepless nights.”  Hopefully, he isn’t watching a lot of television where the blowhards of Sports Center are busy elevating some reputations and destroying others.  I am reminded of the publishing industry where, after a book has done well or poorly in the market, the less-sane agents and editors scramble to paste a narrative, a reason, atop the randomness of things.  A football game hinges on the random, too, but that won’t do if you have hours of air time to fill.  There was a telling moment at the end of the first half when the Patriots scored and the announcers, who had just seconds before been confidently relating the narrative of why the Giants were playing better, scrambled to reverse themselves and explain why the Patriots were the better team that day.

On a small scale, I know a little of Welker’s pain. During my years playing Ultimate Frisbee, I never won it all. We would train for eight months and the effort to win the national championship always shaped the year. I have many friends who did win nationals, but I did not, so it could be argued that the whole thing was a waste of time for me.  I think differently, but there was certainly a lot of pain involved. One year in the semifinals of Nationals down in Florida, the season ended with a bad throw from my own hand.  Believe me that was a little harder for me to get over than Sunday’s loss.

In today’s sports culture we are quick to say someone is “clutch” or that they “choke.”  What is forgotten is that most human beings, even well-trained athletic human beings, are some combination of both, different people in different moments.  Maybe Michael Jordan screwed things up for everyone else by being so consistently cold-blooded, but I certainly remember both Magic and Bird having their share of choke-y moments. There has been a lot of anger directed at Tom Brady over the last couple of days for “letting us down.”  Please.  If the ball bounces a foot higher after the last second endzone heave, and Gronkowski comes down with it, Brady is Doug Flutie re-born, his reputation not just in tact but shined to shimmering, and the 16 complete passes completed in a row are the stuff of legend. The problem with elevating winners to heaven and consigning losers to hell is a simple one: it is a lie.

“For us there is only the trying,” said T.S. Eliot.  This is the deep truth that the sports blowhards, and most of us, don’t really get.  The effort, the shape, the attempt.  Take writers for instance.  We throw our entire selves into making books.  Our “season” often lasts several years and, almost invariably, the result of our training and effort, is some sort of worldly failure: either the book is not published or it falls short of our expectations for it.  Does this mean our efforts were pointless?  The sportscasters in our heads would have it so, writing their narrative of failure.  It is up to us to wrestle back the narrative, to turn it into a story of effort, bravery, and persistence. 

But enough pep talks.  It’s okay to be sad.  That’s part of it too.



  1. Tommy writes:

    I grew up a fan of a perenial 4th place American League East baseball team. We hoped, year in and year out (through the sixties and early seventies) for a .500 season, or maybe a 3rd place finish. Baseball was my game. Some time later, I lived in Boston during the Larry Bird years, and Oakland during the Joe Montana years, and I learned to like winning. I listened to the last quarter and a half of the big game last weekend on the radio, and wasn’t vested in its outcome. I LOVED that the outcome wasn’t decided until the last play – that to me is a what, win or lose, makes a great game. But what’s all this cry-baby shit about losing and being losers. This is the problem (one of the) of sports, we make the 2nd best team in the whole league, after the whole year, out to be losers, even though they bested 30 other teams. Why can’t we celebrate finishing 2nd, or is that what losers do??

    • dave writes:

      I couldn’t agree more. I thought the Pats had a great year, especially with such a young d. But the loss was painful. My title was “Losers” (mostly to draw in more readers) but my theme was that those who put in great effort are anything but.

  2. Bill writes:

    Elysia and I had friends over for the Super Bowl. Her mom and a friend went out to the movies. But the theater was CLOSED because, well, no business. Brady et al are the NEW ENGLAND Patriots, and this is Maine. Still, half our small group of guests were Giants fans. What? One of them, Dan Salerno, a fairly rabid Giants fan, the kind who leaps off the couch, eggrolls and cupcakes flying, and shouts at every Giants success, hugs the TV. My sorrow was mitigated by his pleasure. His pleasure gave me pleasure. His shouting made me laugh. It’s all entertainment. And feeling bad is entertaining. King Lear, for example. Romeo and Juliet. Welker. Wah!

  3. monica wood writes:

    Even though I have never thrown or caught a football, not even once, in my entire life, I think I know how Wes Welker feels today. And Brady.The devastation after long effort, the instant drop in status when you “fail”–it’s all so familiar to those of us who write for a living. Sure it’s only sports–just as it’s only writing. Whether we “win” or “lose” makes no difference to the world. But it makes a difference to us, we who try to be good–no, the best–at our chosen work.

    And it’s not just writers, of course. A legion of teachers, Wal-Mart greeters, pipefitters, CEOs, day-care providers, prison guards, meter readers, and middle managers all feel the ache today, for the same reasons.

    Our humbled heros have much to teach us about our own failures. The “pain” we felt yesterday is the most human of emotions: empathy, pure and simple. Thanks for writing this, David. It’s beautiful.

  4. Mike writes:

    A nice fresh take on winning and losing and all the emotion that comes with it, even when we’re supposed to be old enough to know better.

    I haven’t lived in Alabama in 30 years, but watching the Tide win national titles again brings me back to the emotional roller coaster of boyhood – that sick feeling in my gut when we kept losing to Notre Dame, and the exhilaration when it actually worked out. One sign of my assimilation of things New England is that, while I now have learned to love the Fighting Irish, the Giants have taken their place.

  5. George de Gramont writes:

    And don’t forget Rudyard Kipling : Winning & Losing are imposters!

    Character is the name of the Game. Although Gunhilde has a point . Brady can’t throw ball & catch it too .No wonder she is the highest paid in her field.

    And lets not forget Eli. What a performance!