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Having your sports heart broken

Last weekend was one of the more frustrating in recent memories. I mean that specifically around sports, or more pointedly about watching the few teams that I still actually cheer for. For the most part at this stage of my life, my fan loyalties have been ground to a pulp through a confluence of disappointment, geography, and cynicism. But I still find the strength and courage to root for a couple of my favorite teams, driven almost exclusively by where I went to school – perhaps the one sports habit you can’t quit.

 Two of those teams managed to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory within a couple of hours of each other on Saturday night. First, Cornell men’s hockey lost to Princeton 2-1 when they gave up a breakaway goal with less than five seconds remaining in overtime. The worst part is that Cornell completely dominated the game, doing everything but actually putting the puck in the net. This includes Cornell going scoreless in 11 minutes of power play. That’s like getting locked into a Krispy Kreme overnight and not eating a single donut. So that was gut wrenching. Then, a couple hours later, University of Florida football dropped a game to Missouri on a last second field goal, a score that was facilitated by Florida collapsing on a Missouri 4th and 17 with only seconds left. In both cases, I and my two kids yelled the kinds of yells you normally reserve for when your flight gets cancelled at JFK after a seven-hour delay. My kids may argue a lot, but one thing we can all agree upon is anger about the ineptitude of Gator football.

 Of course, these are by no means the only or worst sports disappointments in my life. I grew up in Houston and lived through the Houston Oilers blowing a 32-point second half lead in a 1993 playoff game. And I sometime would have to pull over during Houston Rockets playoff games if I was listening on the radio, especially during the stretch when the Sonics eliminated them as an annual tradition. Heck, a couple of weeks ago my 13-year old’s soccer team went from a win to a tie on a final second free kick from 25 yards out. If you’re ever allowed yourself to fall in love with a sports team, you have undoubtedly had your heart broken. That is nearly by definition what it means to be a sports fan. In some cases, it’s nearly an identity – say, for Cleveland sports fans, who hardly knew what to do with themselves when the Cavaliers finally won an NBA title. It’s also why most hardened sports fans can’t stand frontrunner or bandwagon fans – people that jump on the bus when times are good but haven’t paid their dues in broken remote controls. It’s why I’ve never been fond of people who said they became Chicago Bulls fans in the 80’s. Or anyone who roots for Duke basketball who’s never been to North Carolina, they may be worst. The joy of winning should be earned and, some might suggest, is a birthright. These are some of the unspoken truths of sports fandom.

Perhaps the other truism is that we rarely learn from the past. This holiday weekend, I’m going to watch the Gators play basketball in the Barclays Center on Friday, then I’m going to the Garden Saturday night to watch Cornell Hockey play Boston University – who, as you should know, is the arch enemy. And also my wife’s alma matter. And during that game, I’ll also be watching Florida football play Florida State on my phone with a chance to end FSU’s perfect season. It is entirely possible – some might suggest likely – that my teams will lose all three. If I were betting a trifecta, which I will not be, that’s exactly what I’d take. But I am still going to watch, with some foolish fantasy that we – and delusional sports fans always say we -- will somehow win all or most of these games. And even if we lose, it won’t be some kind of buzzer beating heartbreaker, where you can’t stop wondering what if. That is the heart of sports fandom. The willingness – eagerness, even – to stare misery in the face time and time again on the faint hope it might not happen. That maybe this weekend will be better than the last.

Or at the very least, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, slightly less frustrating.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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