Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bowl world problems

So LSU lost yesterday. Again. 

I was working during the game, so I didn't get to see more than a couple of plays. But I know the Tigers lost because my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with the misery. And what interesting misery it is.

Look, I understand if you went to LSU (or simply love the Tigers with a passion) that two losses seems like the end of the world. And when you're a major contender for the National Championship every year, diminishing odds for getting there seems like a letdown.

But grumbling that this means LSU is going to a disappointing bowl game, well, that's the No. 1 sign you're rooting for the overdog.

I've primarily been a Saints and Ragin' Cajuns fan all my life. Neither of those teams won anything since my mom passed her driver's test, but the hope and the fun always kept me coming back. Whenever they did show signs of greatness, it made a great experience even more wonderful. Now, they're both juggernauts — the Saints are perennial Super Bowl contenders and the Cajuns have won two consecutive New Orleans Bowls. But still, both feel like underdogs, small-market teams in their respective leagues currently having a run. There's always the feeling that the ride could be over at any time; but in the meantime, what a rush!

In 2010, I got my first taste of being a truly obnoxious fan. I know this because I was living in Missouri, where there were plenty of people around to not reinforce my Saints strutting. The Saints were no longer the lovable losers or scrappy underdogs; they were the defending NFL champions. Wins were expected and losses were all that much harder to take. Everyone gunned for them. It was a new angle of fanhood I'd never experienced. In a way, I'm still in that zone, as last week proved. I want my teams to crush their opponents every week, and that doesn't always happen. Oh, but only if it would!

But then I see LSU week after week, year after year, and I grudgingly start to appreciate those losses. The Tigers are the giants (though not the Giants) of college football. In a level of the sport defined by its utter imbalance, LSU rules the top of a very competitive heap. And that's exactly why it's harder for me to root for them.

It's not impossible, per se; I enjoyed the game I went to two years ago and I prefer them by far over any other SEC team. Many of my best friends and cousins went there, and one (a McGibboney, no less) even played for the Tigers under Nick Saban. But I'll never be a fanatic like I am for the Saints or for my alma mater Cajuns. There are plenty of reasons for this, many of which are only tangentially related to sports (and most of which involve the fans that even many other LSU fans can't stand). But the main reason nowadays is the team itself.

They win. Big. Almost every single week. They win and win and win and win and win and the cycle almost never stops. Fans speak of losing seasons in terms of eras, because it happens so rarely. That's exactly the conditions that lead fans to call for a coach's firing after the season's first loss, and despairing over the prospect of an inferior bowl after the second. Where's the joy in that?

Winning should be an enjoyable experience, even when expected. Too much a good thing — when the only question over the decades is, how thoroughly will we slaughter this week? — leads only to exaggerated heartbreak when they lose. And all that much more first-world-white-people-problem snickering from the outside world as a result.

The Cajuns and Saints better keep winning, though.

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