End of Football Season Reflections
On losing and what it means
Losing is pretty interesting. Winning is a thousand times better, but less interesting. You just don’t have as much to consider. You don’t have as much to manage.
Like so many people in the region, and apparently a lot of gambling sharps, I wanted the 49ers to win the nail biter Super Bowl on Sunday. I’ve become infected by the local sports media culture, tapped in to just how much and for just how long so many people around me wanted this. Why did they want it? What’s the point? These are fair questions but the fact is they do.
I sort of stopped being a fan when covering the NBA, even if I obviously wanted certain outcomes over others. Those games were professional settings and I wasn’t around my family. Even if the action had me on tilt for whatever reason, there was always a job to do and places to be. It was just less emotional, or emotional in a different way than watching with a pure rooting interest.
I had to laugh when, at a nervy point in the game, Tony Romo talked about how especially agonizing it was to be on the sidelines during a tense time because you, as a player, had no sense of control. At the moment he said it, it dawned on me that I, like so many millions watching, was miserable. And we had all chosen this. Romo had gotten paid handsomely to sometimes suffer like that. We pay money to participate in what Tony seemed to regard as the worst part of his job.
Watching a gut punch loss, as a grown man, surrounded by family members who’ve a far healthier perspective, is a pretty normal yet bizarre experience. After good plays, when your team scores, it’s pretty easy to look like Father of the Year as you toss your grinning kindergartener into the air. But throughout the game’s low points and in ultimate defeat, it’s surreal to project happiness and normalcy to an inquisitive child. You can’t just say, “Daddy is sad because his idiotic novelty 500-to-1 Ji'Ayir Brown Super Bowl MVP bet came very close to hitting, but he couldn’t snag a second pick, and also the Niners are drowning.”
You just have to act the part of someone unfazed, and at some point you start believing it. I was disappointed in the outcome of Sunday’s game, even while recognizing that I’m a witness to some incredible piece of sports history in Mahomes etc. Then I reconnected with my family, specifically my oldest son, and it all mattered less.
Beyond their apathy about the outcome, they’re also blissfully ignorant of nearly all it connects to. They aren’t ruminating over how Christian McCaffrey failed to break tackles after that early fumble. They don’t know there’s something called a “Brock Purdy discourse.” They don’t have any theories about what Taylor Swift’s relationship with Travis Kelce means in political terms. I mean, my wife knows they’re dating, but that’s about it. They don’t know who Kyle Shanahan is, let alone that we should feel bad for a 44 year old coach who makes $14 million a year.
Then I started to drive them all home in the bleak black night, from San Jose to the East Bay burbs, through heavy traffic wherein many drivers were obviously drunk. Perhaps some of you reading experienced this odd testament to the power of American football. On the ride home, we saw four instances of someone pulled over on the shoulder, hazards on, including one where a person was puking. So, I was snapped out of whatever it means that the 49ers lost because the game itself had created this scary circumstance I had to literally navigate. Just an entire region that was sad and sick, having drank too much during a game that painfully dragged on and on. Would it be more dangerous out there if Bosa hadn’t been tricked by Mahomes’ play fake? Probably, in part because we’d all collectively be more oblivious to peril.
I don’t really want to talk about my family much, at least specifically, for reasons I sense but can’t articulate cleanly. I’ll say that I once went to the funeral of a man and he was in the family I married into. He was a hard drinking guy in his day, as were his buddies. His best friend, long since reformed and sober, gave a eulogy. Much to my surprise, the speech was anchored in the 1975 NBA Finals, that one Rick Barry championship with the Warriors.
Apparently the deceased and his friends had a glorious few days in some house (I’m uncertain how it had been procured), just watching the underdog Warriors shock the Washington Bullets. They drank, they partied, they chain smoked indoors, all while deliriously cheering on the upset sweep. I never had a context for how popular 1970s NBA was back then. To me, it was all some sepia-toned abstraction. But apparently, the Warriors had delivered some of the fondest memories in a man’s life.
The eulogy giver, who I personally know to be decent and wise, noted that these wild times were fun, but also not exactly optimal. This group of friends should have been living different back then. They shouldn’t have been acting all feral off in some flophouse, riding the 1975 NBA Finals into an addled stupor.
And yet, these were still the best of times, worthy foregrounding in a eulogy. Which is why it’s hard to say that the games are meaningless even if sports fandom is easy to mock. It is, additionally, hard to say that winning is meaningless. Had the Warriors failed, I doubt we hear about Al Attles’ boys in those church pews. But, what ultimately matters more, at least to me, is not living feral. You don’t ignore your family. You don’t yell at your kid because a punt was muffed. You don’t get wasted and get on the freeway. You go from this pre kid existence where you’re fully living in the moment to this post kid experience of managing emotions and attempting stoicism. Because, regardless of what you’re feeling, it’s about them now.
I, like anyone else, hate losing. I also just have too much to lose now to act the part. I’d prefer for my kids to share in the joy of winning. I’ll gladly settle for them enjoying being around me when the losing happens.
House of Strauss is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.