Thursday, May 01, 2008

One of the things about being a sports fan, is it provides you moments of great joy which you have done nothing but watch TV to earn (though it sometimes feels like you've done a lot more), and along with that moments of great agony that sometimes come at the worst times of your life, and make you actually depressed over something that really hasn't happened to you at all. A number of defeats have hit me particularly hard over the years.

In particular, I can remember distinct extrememely hard losses, which while both painful, represent a different period than the last few years. Growing up, sports was the only serious hobby I had, not getting into music until later on, and watching TV as much as a normal kid did, but without the type of focused precision I have now. I got into sports on my own volition, with neither of my parents having any interest in it whatsoever, and by fourth grade (which is when, in hindsight I consider my true sports fandom period to start - having been interested earlier, but never knowing names of many players and such) I was reading the sports pages of Newsday before I went to school.

So, let's begin talking about one of the losses that hit me hardest. Even though I've never been in Syracuse for more than a couple of minutes passing through, I am a huge Syracuse Orange(men) fan, particularly of basketball. This particularly team has always had an interesting place in my heart, because unlike with the Mets, or Rangers, I've always been the only person I knew who was a big Syracuse fan, and I've established a certain private bond with the television while watching games, often manifested in fits of yelling at the team, assuming they can hear me.

I consider the start date of my fandom of Syracuse in particular to date back to the 1994-95 season, and I was heartbroken when that season ended at the hands of eventual runner-up Arkansas after Lawrence Moten pulled a Chris Webber, and called a time out after 'Cuse was out, throwing what should have been a win into overtime, when the 'Cuse lost it.

However, the pain after that loss, didn't compare to the next year, when fourth seeded Syracuse made an incredibly improbable run to the Final Four, reaping the benefit of a number of upsets, which their greatest victory being in the Elite Eight, over the #2 seeded Jacque Vaughn-led Kansas team. They beat 5 seeded Mississippi State, an equally unlikely Final Four team, to face Kentucky, one of the best college teams of all time (ranked #2 in a ESPN page two list:, led Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty. Now, all college basketball analysts could talk about was how the semifinal between Kentucky and a Marcus Camby led UMass squad was the "real" final, and 'Cuse was a gigantic underdog, but for some reason, I, with my John Wallace jersey, believed that they could/would win.

They kept it extremely close - after Kentucky had won all four games before UMass by at least 20 points, 'Cuse was felled by just 9, and was closer than that at several points before Kentucky ended it.

Rationally, I should have set myself up as proud we made in that far, and not to expect anything - but it's very hard to set realistic expectations in sports, especially in American sports which is build around a playoffs anyone-can-win mentality. It took days and weeks before I was fully out of the funk that that loss put me in, and far longer than that than I could really realize what an achievement it was to really make it that far at all.

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