Monday, January 7, 2013

Losing is for ... losers

Not a pretty sigh for LSU fans (photo:
     I've thought a lot about losses this past week, but not important ones like losing family or good friends or acquaintances. No, this was about my football teams losing.
      One night the Dallas Cowboys' season ended with a loss to the hated Redskins. Didn't have more than 24 hours to stew about that before LSU coughed up the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to Clemson.
      My mood swung from "disgusted" and "disappointed" immediately after the games to "bitter" -- thank you, Phil Rogers -- in mid-week to "reluctant acceptance" by Friday. I think I'm at the "that's life" stage now.
        Note that "crushed" was not one of those moods. (Read on.)
         The Cowboys, no big surprise. Never felt they were a playoff-caliber team, and I have no confidence in the owner/general manager/absolute joke and not much in the "I'm going to make a big mistake when you most need me" quarterback.
        As I said many times this fall, this is Murphy's Law's franchise ... whatever it takes to lose, the Cowboys will do. Poor free-agent signings, injuries to key players, incredible (and sad) off-the-field incidents, bad bounces.
        In the 1980s, Jerry Byrd at the Shreveport Journal used to laugh and loudly proclaim that the Cowboys were "losers, losers, losers." It wasn't that way in the early to mid-1990s, but since then ...
        (I could write a whole blog on the Cowboys, but I won't. Don't want to waste your time, or mine.)
        LSU's loss was more of a surprise, but not a big one. Clemson thoroughly outplayed LSU for most of the game and, let's face it, LSU was very fortunate to win several games this season (Auburn, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Arkansas, even Towson). Close escapes -- even, luck? -- have been the trademark of Les Miles' entire coaching stay at LSU. Talent, too, which is why Miles has a terrific record.
          Take it the other way, and the Tigers -- with a play or two more -- could've beaten Alabama and certainly Clemson.
           Anyhow, it didn't end well, and the LSU offensive play-calling left us befuddled once again, and so afterward, one of my Facebook friends -- and he knows who he is, and so do his friends -- posted that he had been an LSU fan a long time, but he was burning all his LSU clothes and memorabilia and he wanted Les Miles and his staff gone.
             And that's what triggered this blog piece. I've had this writing this in mind for a while. Because if you're a fan -- of teams and individual athletes -- you will remember the losses that did fall into the "crushed" category.
           I have seen the Yankees lose the World Series eight times (not counting '55 -- the one Pete Alfano and Brooklyn loved -- before we came to the United States). I have seen them lose in the bottom of the ninth inning twice (1960, Bill Mazeroski, and 2001, Mariano Rivera's blown save at Arizona). That's "crushed."
           I have seen them lose in the AL playoffs 11 times, including blowing a 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS to some team. Seen them swept four times (Dodgers, 1963; Reds, 1976; Royals, 1980; Tigers last year). Seen them lose to inferior teams more times than I want to remember.
            I have seen the Cowboys lose in the playoffs 24 times, starting with the last-chance interception vs. Green Bay at the Cotton Bowl (1966 season), the Ice Bowl and Bart Starr's sneak (Jerry Kramer false-started) in 1967, the two Super Bowl losses to the Steelers in the '70s (at least Terry Bradshaw was the winning QB), The Catch by the 49ers' Dwight Clark in 1981, three losses to the Redskins, Tony Romo's bobbled PAT in Seattle. Heartbreakers, all.
             Super Bowl V -- the Blunder Bowl -- deserves its own paragraph. A superior Cowboys team gave away the game to the Colts, with help from umpire Jack Fette. Craig Morton threw the two fourth-quarter interceptions, the last one by Colts LB Mike Curtis to set up Jim O'Brien's winning field goal with 0:05 remaining. Most awful Cowboys' loss, period.
             Louisiana Tech's two great comebacks in football this season, against Texas A&M and Utah State, only to fall short at the end. Tech's men losing to heavily favored Oklahoma in the NCAA basketball tournament in 1985 when Waymon Tisdale's winning shot bounced on the rim three or four times before going in. Tech's women losing the 1994 national championship game in the final second when North Carolina threw in an improbable 3-point shot.
               LSU's semifinal losses in each of its last three men's Final Four appearances, twice to Indiana ("disgusting" considering the coach of the other team).
              The Dallas Mavericks blowing a 2-0 NBA Finals series lead and a 15-point lead in Game 3 against the Miami Heat in 2006. I was a Lakers' fan in the 1960s and early 1970s -- because I was a Jerry West fan -- and they kept losing the NBA Finals to the Celtics and then Knicks, sometimes in incredible fashion.
               Right now, our Mavericks are working on a 10-game streak of overtime losses. Painful to watch, or not watch.
              Centenary basketball: Robert Parish (No. 00) missing two free throws with 0:00 on the clock and the Gents losing by one point to nationally ranked Houston at the Gold Dome.
              Greg Norman -- Bea and I were fans -- blowing his six-shot lead in the '96 Masters. Thirty years earlier, Arnie blowing a seven-shot lead and losing to Billy Casper in the U.S. Open. Some tough losses by Shreveport's Hal Sutton and then by Shreveport's David Toms three years ago at The Players Championship.
                 Muhammad Ali getting knocked down in the 15th round and then losing -- for the first time as a pro -- to Joe Frazier in their first "Fight of the Century" on March 8, 1971, maybe the most exciting sports event I've ever seen.
               How about the Team USA's first-ever Olympics basketball loss -- the absolute robbery in Munich, 1972?
              I saw Woodlawn lose a state championship football game, in the rain with Terry Bradshaw at quarterback. Saw Woodlawn lose a state championship basketball game, with Robert Parish at center. Woodlawn also lost four times in the state football semifinals, and one other time in the boys basketball finals.
              The most "crushing" loss of all for me: West Germany 2, Holland 1, in the 1974 World Cup soccer championship game. We had the best team, one of the greatest teams ever.
              But just to get crushed even more, Holland lost the 1978 World Cup final to Argentina, in  overtime, in their stadium, with a frenetic home-country crowd. Our Dutch team played with honor.
              To complete the triple play of World Cup title-game failures, there was the 1-0 overtime loss to Spain in 2010 ... on the day of my mother's memorial service. OK, we didn't have the best team that day, but I was very proud of our team throughout that whole tournament.
            And so, back to LSU football. Was there ever a more crushing loss than at Tennessee in 1959 when -- the week after Billy Cannon's famous punt return on Halloween night against Ole Miss -- he was stopped short on a two-point conversion late in the game.
            LSU, the defending national champion ranked No. 1 and winner of 19 games in a row, outgained Tennessee 334-112 and led in first downs 19-9, but missed a couple of short field-goal tries. The Vols won 14-13.
            That's "crushed."
            All those losses to Ole Miss in the '60s, including 37-3 in 1963 and the two games when Archie Manning flat-out beat the Tigers (including the only loss in 1969). In fact, any loss to Ole Miss.
          The last-minute 78-yard pass by Texas A&M in 1970; we saw it again in Nick Saban's last game, last play as LSU coach -- Iowa's 65-yard pass to win the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
           The two triple-overtime losses, to Kentucky and Arkansas, by the 2007 team that still won the national championship. The two passes totaling 81 yards in the final minute by Arkansas for the touchdown and PAT kick with 9 seconds remaining in Little Rock at 2002 that kept LSU from clinching the SEC West title. The 69-yard drive by Arkansas for the touchdown and PAT kick with 21 seconds remaining in Little Rock in 2010, another one-point Tigers loss.
         The five fourth-quarter interceptions -- three returned for touchdowns -- by Auburn to wipe out LSU's 23-9 lead in 1992. LSU could have snapped Auburn's 14-game winning streak.
          Was anything worse than Ole Miss' 21-0 Sugar Bowl win in the 1959 "replay" game? Yes, Alabama's 21-0 win last year in the BCS Championship Game -- also a "replay" from the regular-season LSU victory.
           I have seen LSU lose 17 postseason football games. You think the loss to Clemson was that bad?        
           So there you have my Legacy of Losing (I can match it with a Legacy of Winning; that's another blog soon.) I assure you this: The losses still feel terrible. That will never change as long as I'm a fan.
            I'm not much of a good loser, and I don't want to be.


  1. Teddy Allen: This might be your Finest Hour, as Churchill -- and Jerry Byrd -- once said. [Cowboys-Colts] is the third Super Bowl I watched. You are a little older than me so I missed I and II with the Packers.

  2. From Liz Piker: Oh, boy, now THAT is one depressing blog! I was around for ALL of those losses, but I did not have such a strong, strong feeling for some of those teams as you. ... I think that we are so fortunate to love our teams so much that we definitely FEEL the wins and losses.

  3. From Maxie Hays: If only Jerry Jones would get the hell out of football. ... Can't wait for your "WINNING" blog. I hate losing, too.

  4. From Jim Pruett: I love the last couple of lines.

  5. From Don Birkelbach (Red Sox fan): 1967, 1975, 1978. 1986, 2003 ... you have nothing on me, my friend. Can't believe that you are still a Cowboys fan, must be a geographic thing. I haven't pulled for the Cowboys since the Landry firing, although I did have a full appreciation for Jimmy Johnson's ability. Jerry Jones is an absolute joke and Romo is what he is. Worst Cowboys losses of all time were the Ice Bowl loss to Packers or the Super Bowl loss to the Colts...those were HARD to take. Keep on bloggin...

  6. From Dave Moormann: If only Jerry Jones ran his football team the way he runs his business affairs, the Cowboys would be sure-fire winners.

  7. From Pat Booras: You wrote an excellent column. Hey, I asked Robert Parish about those missed free throws as a freshman against the then-No. 5 nationally ranked Houston Cougars when I met up with him at the Gold Dome about four years ago. Robert still couldn't believe he missed them. All is forgiven though as "The Chief" led Centenary to 87 wins in four great years ... and a national ranking of its own.

  8. From Leo Van Thyn: I could write an essay on what it's like to be a Toronto sports fan. We have cornered the market when it comes to losing (Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors). It hasn't been because of lack of money. As you have Mr. Jones, we have MLSE and Rogers -- two incredibly wealthy organizations. The problems include bad decisions on how to spend the money and poor strategies. I too HATE LOSING, but continue to spend the big bucks since supporting teams is not a logical decision, it's purely emotional.

  9. From Mike Richey: LSU in 1959 had to be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all in a seven-day period. We watched Cannon's run on a Philco radio at our house in Jena. I say watched, because at some point during the game my older brother was staring at the radio with such intensity he made me move out of the way. He could hear it fine. I don't remember which way the Tigers were moving on the radio dial. Our four-digit party-line phone rang for what seemed like hours with my parents' family and friends calling to relive Cannon's return. Funny, I don't remember even going out for Halloween. A week later I was in the movie theater in Jena when the "LSU lost" reports started spreading. I do remember some controversy over whether Cannon actually scored on the 2-point conversion. Was that game televised? Where was replay when we needed it. I think the loss to Tennessee was more crushing than last year's BCS. Probably the only sporting event that ever made me cry, but then I was barely 10. By the way, crying after a loss is what I call "Tebowing."

  10. Nico... It's my experience that as you get older, you don't fixate on losses for quite as long as you once did. I used to carry big-game losses with me for days. I'd would demand trades, firings, heads to roll, etc. I'd throw my Nerf ball at the TV screen when the Football Giants blew another key game, when the Yankees lost to the damned Marlins, when Syracuse choked again in the NCAAs, when the NY Rangers got beat up by the Hated Flyers, when Arsenal lost another one to ManU. Now, I still get angry, but it lasts for a few minutes, not days, and then I recall some memorable moment from my relationship with that team, smile, then move on: the Giants winning three Super Bowls with me in the stadium, Syracuse winning the national title with me in the Superdome coaching my ass off, the Yankees winning 27 Series, the Rangers winning their Cup, the Gunners winning their Triple. The memories quickly kill the pain.
    Ken Sins

  11. Nico, over the past 3 years I have attended many LSU football games in person, and the Chic-Fil-A Bowl is the first time I have seen LSU lose in person. I think it is even more painful in person when you have to watch the celebration on the other side after the win. What was most disappointing to me throughout the game was how engaged and passionate the Clemson fans were as compared to the LSU fans in attendance. It appeared a lot of LSU fans didn't want to be there, or were expecting the inevitable collapse. All the LSU fans around me started talking about how LSU's offense would be run for that final series, and how right they were. What a disappointment compared to what might have been.

  12. From Doug Bland: This hit it on the head with me. I have something to confess. I have not been able to forget our last loss at Bogalusa to the point where I went back to Woodlawn, found the film and had it transferred to disc so I could look at what we did wrong, As time will do, I had thought we played badly, but looking at the film showed we had just a few bad plays at the wrong time ( Randy Stephens having cramps on a pass play where the receiver ran by him). Can't change the score but I feel better. You always remember the losses more than the wins.