Losing sucks. Always has. Especially in ancient times when they'd chop off your head if you lost. Then it really hurt.
Thankfully, society has evolved, but a gut-wrenching loss can still cause an otherwise-rational human to lose his head. And while it's always funny watching someone boil after a critical loss, it's even better watching somebody walk down the reluctant mental path of admitting defeat.
I was reminded of this while sitting in the stands of Virginia's Scott Stadium on a sunny afternoon in Charlottesville. USC, as you may recall, jumped out to a snappy 21-0 lead, seemingly before anyone had the chance to blink. For the 65,000 in attendance, the first quarter was an extended car wreck. And with a collective groan from an otherwise jubilant sea of orange shirts and sun dresses, the excuses began. They didn't stop until well after USC tattooed their beloved "Hoos" 52-7.
Indeed, I discovered a simple and obvious conclusion during my weekend trip: People only admit a loss after trying exhaustively to convince themselves of victory. It seems a natural defense mechanism while watching your team get its brains bashed by a superior opponent.
However, the whole rationalization process is so cliché that it's easily identified. All you need to be is completely neutral. So, to help you spot someone struggling with his team's gloomy destiny, here are a four basic phrases for which to listen. Any of them could indicate a close friend or fellow fan is bordering on Defeat Denial.
"Well, we're rebuilding..."
The implication here is the other team only led 38-0 because of the loser's "rebuilding" status. This is the ultimate "get out of jail free" card for desperate fans, hinting on some level that a given team is being forced to play with all walk-ons, secondhand pads and perhaps even blindfolds. It's not even close to being fair. If anybody else truly understood how much losing a backup long-snapper impacted team morale, they'd totally understand why Team X is getting annihilated on national television.
"We're being robbed!"
The sturdiest crutch for the common fan is blaming the referees when things start going awry. In fact, depending on one's perspective, it's possible that there has never been an objective and knowledgeable officiating staff in the history of modern athletics. This phrase is commonly used on a variety of "bad" calls such as holding, pass interference and nearly all personal fouls. It's also a staple among fans that remain oblivious to the actual rules of the game, namely those who are unaware of the "tackle box" and shout "INTENTIONAL GROUNDING" on every incomplete pass.
"They're just getting all the breaks"
It's a shame, really. Someone's team is down by 20 after two quarters of being totally dominated by a national power. Yet, things wouldn't be half as dire if it weren't for karma putting the screws to his team. Obviously, that's the reason for such a lopsided showing. Those four first-half interceptions? Never would've happened if it weren't for those wind gusts. Actually, has anyone else noticed that the wind only gusts when one team has the ball? It's freaking ridiculous!
"We haven't played this badly in years!"
The choice of those in advanced states of denial, this statement implies that every loss, regardless of score, is an outright fluke that occurs only once in a million chances. Every dog has his day, but things just don't add up. Either the stars were properly aligned or the other team should be investigated for some kind of misconduct. Under no circumstance does the winning team deserve any credit. I mean, technically, it did win. However, it's only because the "better" team tried harder to lose.
Saturday night was supposed to be the Clemson Tigers' coming out party in the glory of the Georgia Dome and spotlight of primetime television. And it couldn't have been any more perfect that the opponent, Alabama, was led by newly crowned coaching czarNick Saban and his No. 24 Crimson Tide. With a win, Clemson would certainly have gotten a boost in the polls, and due to a favorable schedule, the stage would've been set for a possible undefeated season. What, then, happened to explain the 34-10 thud that Alabama laid on the Tigers?
Well, it's easy, really. Clemson happened. Again.
Perhaps it's harsh to say, but every year of Clemson football feels exactly the same. Every season, the Tigers do something to generate excitement -- knocking off Florida State in last year's opener or drawing a top 10 ranking in 2008 -- and then something else to completely underwhelm you, like losing in 2007 to Georgia Tech, or being held to zero rushing yards against the Crimson Tide on Saturday night. You can practically set your watch by it. At this point, it's an upset if Clemson isn't upset by at least one team each year.
If its going-through-the-motions loss this weekend was any indication, Clemson is on track for another disappointing season. So, logic begs the question: Under any future circumstance, should Clemson ever be ranked higher than No. 20 in the country? The Tigers have failed to finish with a ranking higher than No. 21 in each of the previous five seasons. Why do we even bother at this point?
The question of the week: Were West Virginia fans more excited about the Mountaineers' romp of Villanova or Michigan's opening day 25-23 loss to Utah in Rich Rodriguez's debut? My guess: the latter. Presumably, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's Facebook account is bursting with wall comments and SuperPokes from new fans in Morgantown.
No, things didn't go as planned for Rodriguez in his Ann Arbor opener. In fact, the Michigan offense was downright anemic at times, tallying only 36 rushing yards and 203 total yards. And the situation figures to become more difficult once Michigan gets into the heart of its Big Ten schedule.
Few things in college football have been more fascinating to watch than the Mike Stoops coaching era in Arizona. Stoops, who previously coached with brother Bob at Oklahoma, was touted as the guru that would wake up the ghosts of Tedy Bruschi and Trung Canidate from the halcyon days of the mid-to-late '90s. So, we've waited, and waited, and waited for a sign that the Wildcats had regained their ferocity. But alas, it's been like waiting for the Arizona Cardinals to have a watershed season, or for Tom Hanks to make it home in Cast Away. Now, as year five of the Stoops era commences, you can't help but wonder when, or if, this little project is ever going to take flight. A bowl appearance would, you know, be a nice sign.
That's why Saturday's 70-0 massacre over mighty Idaho is so inspiring. Could this finally be the year Stoops does a little more than "just enough" to keep his job? Stay tuned.
Each week, I'll pose 10 questions on which, quite frankly, I could go either way. My answers are underlined, but e-mail yours if you disagree.
1. Tougher non-conference schedul: LSU or Ohio State?
2. Better southern football fashion: Shirts and ties or sun dresses?
3. Likelier Notre Dame win total: More than six or less than six?
4. Bigger hotel pet-peeve: Inconsistent key cards or hard water?
5. Better USC facial hair: Patrick Turner or any other USC player with facial hair?
6. Better TV role model: Michael Scofield (Prison Break) or Jack Bauer (24)?
7. Snarkier Nick Saban nickname: "Nicktator" or "Satan"?
8. Flashier freshman debut: Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) or Julio Jones (Alabama)?
9. Cooler old-school magazine: Highlights or Nintendo Power?
10. More effective recruiting tool: Text messages or illegal gifts?
Volume I: Skydivers with an official game ball, disoriented by cloudy weather, parachute into Duke's stadium during warm-ups instead of North Carolina's.
Volume II: Central Florida athletic director Leigh Torbin mixes up his digits and inadvertently directs sports reporters looking for a George O'Leary press conference to a phone sex line.
Yup, college football is back.
Ty Hildenbrandt writes Quick Slants every Wednesday. Catch his podcast at SolidVerbal.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.