There’s Always Next Year

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(NOTE: This post is inspired by the Spartans’ 44-point calamity in the NCAA tournament, an event my wife will fondly remember as “WHAT THE F*** IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU STUPID CHUMPS?!?!” Day.)

There are invariable truths that all Michiganders* have come to accept at some point in their lives.  There will be construction at all times on every highway you travel, because our highways are made of Styrofoam.  It will reach 65 sometime in January, and it will snow sometime in late-April.  The only small talk topics we’ve ever mastered are road construction and/or the weather.  And our sports teams will lose.

(*NOTE: A Michigander, as you can imply by the name, is an ungodly mutant hybrid of the Michelin Man and an adult male goose.)

Oh sure, Michigan State has been consistently good at basketball and the Red Wings will always be in the playoffs, but Sweet Sassy Molassy (!), consider what we have witnessed:

– In the post-strike era, the Detroit Tigers went eleven straight seasons without breaking .500 for the year.  You could have bought a puppy on the day after the strike ended and it could have died of natural causes before the Tigers won more than half their games!  In seven of those years, they didn’t get to 70 wins.  In three of them, they didn’t get to 60.

And in 2003, the Tigers’ record was 43 wins and 119 losses, one loss away from the most losses in a season in MLB history, and they had to win five out of their last six to avoid that distinction.  The team that still holds the record for most losses in a season is the ’62 Mets, who were in their first year as a franchise.  The ’03 Tigers were in their 109th year as a franchise.

Even when the Tigers are decent they blow.  In 2009, the Tigers had a three game lead on the Twins with four games left in the season and blew it.  This hadn’t happened in baseball since the turn of the century.  LAST CENTURY.

– Amazingly enough, in the two years after Barry Sanders retired, the Lions were . . . kind of good!  In 1999, they actually made the playoffs (somehow, despite going 8-8).  The 2000 team appeared to be making it back-to-back trips to the playoffs when fate (and a Michigan State grad) devastatingly changed the course of their fortunes for the next decade.  The Lions were 9-6 going into the last game of the year; a home game against the 4-11 Chicago Bears.  A win would have put the Lions in the playoffs, but former-Spartan Paul Edinger kicked a 54-yard field goal (his previous career long was 47 yards) in the final seconds to end the season for the Lions.

Enter: Millen.

Matt Millen took a mediocre franchise and turned it into nightly monologue material on the Tonight Show.  Consider the teams records for Millen’s first seven years: 2-14, 3-13, 5-11, 6-10, 5-11, 3-13, 7-9 (a Millen best).  During that seven-year stretch, Millen was permitted to hire three coaches, none of whom lasted more than 3 years before getting the axe.  We saw a coach “take the wind” after the overtime coin flip.  We saw three straight top-10 draft picks go to wide receivers: Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams (yeah . . .).  We saw Millen use homophobic slurs against a former player.  We routinely saw the Lions reach double-digit halftime leads, and routinely blow them.  And we saw Millen get CONTRACT EXTENSIONS!

And then came 2008, the first 0-16 season in NFL history.  Only one other team, the ’76 Bucs, had managed to go winless throughout the year (0-14), but of course that team was in its first year as a franchise.  When the Lions became oafers, they were in their 78th year as a franchise.  Sound familiar?  Millen had reached the level that most thought unattainable: absolute zero.  During the midst of its worst economic environment since the Great Depression, the city of Detroit bafflingly was able to look at its professional football team and find people to pity.

With these experiences in tow, most Michigan sports fans just expect losses.  But this mindset is a blessing!  This is why we can appreciate wins like no other sports fans.  A win to us now is like receiving a shoulder rub when you’re expecting a kick in the groin.  It’s like tasting Warsteiner when you’re expecting Natural Light.  It’s like dating Kim when you’re expecting Khloe.  Trust me, you CANNOT understand how euphorically elated we all are whenever the Lions and Tigers win.  You can’t because you just haven’t seen what we’ve seen!  Unlike us, you’ve never been able to say the words “it can’t get any worse” and actually be right!

Your team might win the World Series.  Your team might win the Super Bowl.  And what do you do?  Get drunk and buy a t-shirt?  Golf clap.  When the Tigers got to the World Series in ’06, the governor pardoned 400 violent criminals (many of whom have gone on to have successful careers in politics).  When the Lions secured a playoff spot last year, the entire Detroit metropolitan region had a mass orgy the likes of which made an ancient Greek’s Dionysus veneration look like the Republican National Convention.  Why?  Because it means THAT much to us now!

With this in mind, I’m going to take this Spartan loss like a grownup and look forward to next year.  That’s something we’ve come to appreciate.  No matter if your team scores 44 points in a Sweet 16 game or finishes the season 43-119 or 0-16, there’s always next year.  And next year is always when we’re champions.

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