Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ecstasy to agony

The Wednesday theme was supposed to be soft news. But the Wednesday theme sucks. So I'm junking it. Honestly, I just wanted an excuse to blog about my air bed.

Now, on to tonight's topic. Most of you have no idea about this situation, which involves two Virginia schools that I covered in December and January. Throughout the year, Stonewall Jackson had dominated every team it faced. The Raider girls were undefeated in the regular season and their district tournament. Potomac had struggled with injuries most of the year, and entered with double-digit losses. As you might expect, nobody gave the Panthers any chance against the Raiders in the first round of the regional tournament. In fact, a fellow journalist who also covered Stonewall privately told me after the Raiders thrashed Battlefield that Stonewall would not lose a game before the state tournament.

So of course, a tip-in by Potomac at the buzzer gave the Panthers a 60-59 win over the Raiders. In the blink of an eye, an undefeated season is gone, and it means absolutely nothing. Game over. Season over. For Stonewall's seniors, dream over. Meanwhile, Potomac is one win from the state tournament despite having to fight hard to even make it in as the second seed from its district.

This is the reality of sports, fortunes can change in an instant. Strangely, the reality hits hardest at the amateur level, where one postseason loss can turn a fantastic year into disaster for the top teams. The professional sports don't have that. The NFL has that reality of one loss ending a year, but if they so choose, each player can come back and try again next year. They choose their eligibility, or if they want to go somewhere else. The other three sports give multiple options. For an NCAA team to win the national title, it must go 6-0 in the postseason. An NBA team can go 16-12 and win the title.

At that same level, the reality divides into elite and underdog. The underdog is happy to still be playing, taking pleasure in every unexpected success. The elite set their sights on the title from the beginning. For them, anything short of making the highest level is a disappointment.

It is both the blessing and the curse of being on a top team. When an athlete plays for a poor team, the pressure is almost none. You simply enjoy the game, and losses don't tend to hurt as much as they would for a good team. On a team that has a chance to win everything, every loss is a blow. The pressure is fun, and the success enjoyable, but defeat is a terrible experience. Either way, there are positives and negatives.

That's why amateur athletics are such an important part of our culture, they bring out the most human emotions. This Stonewall-Potomac game was a reminder of why we love March Madness, why we love struggles with everything on the line. It's who we are.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Seven Wiser.


Shawn Garrison said...

This is my favorite post thus far. Anyone who has ever played a high school sport knows exactly what you're talking about.

The triumph of victory+The agony of defeat=BEAUTY.

hoosierdaddy1913 said...

I agree I just wish one of the New England Patriots could read this post. And I don't want any of the Fair Play Hornets reading this post before the end of March