The opposite of sports joy isn’t pain, it’s apathy.
Mizzou wasn’t cursed by the Fifth Down in 1990; it was cursed by the five or six listless seasons that preceded it (and the few more that would follow). And the fact that Mizzou fans got their collective hearts ripped out last night was a sign that those hearts were beating again.
Give me pain like last night over the listlessness of 2015 any day of the week. It means we’re part of the game again.
Not sure what this says about me, but a few of my favorite pieces that I’ve written have been about sports pain.
You want to flee the scene, but you cannot. You stomped to your car, with a faster pace than normal, fueled by a combination of anxiety, hours-old tailgate alcohol and "What just happened?" rage, only to find yourself in an endless line of traffic.
Maybe you then weave through the lot and cut in line and anger other already-angry drivers. Maybe you just sit in your car, resigned to defeat, for a good hour. But you cannot escape your brain, and you cannot escape the fact that your team just lost a game you didn't think it would lose, and at home, no less.
A week ago, you were an Alabama fan, facing an interminable drive back to Birmingham, or Mobile, or Atlanta, or wherever you live when Tuscaloosa isn't once again serving as your temporary home. This past Saturday night, you were an Oregon fan, facing the same drive, only to Portland. Maybe Seattle. Your suffering, almost identical to that of your Alabama cohort, is a rite of passage, passed along in its entirety like evil in a comic book, transferred via handshake. That you took on this pain, that your team lost to Stanford, freed Alabama fans. Their team is right back where they were until last Saturday, when their team unexpectedly lost to Texas A&M.
Welcome to college football, where the only thing as fleeting as life is death.
Being a sports fan, especially a college sports fan, is basically agreeing to be hurt. Not a lot of us get to root for teams that win the national title or even get to the title game. Those of us who do, probably don't get to do so more than once or, if blessed, twice. Some of us were born into winning fanbases at just the right time. But most of us aren't Alabama fans in the '00s, or Nebraska fans in the '90s, or Oklahoma or Miami fans in the '80s. Most of us are Missouri fans, or Michigan State fans, or Oregon State fans, or South Carolina fans, or Iowa State fans, or Virginia fans.
We all have lists of terrible defeats. The more I get exposed to other fanbases and program histories because of my job, the more I realize that Missouri just isn't as unique as we want to think in the pain department. The Sports God has certainly been extra creative with us; the Flea Kicker and Fifth Down haven't happened to others. Losing the national title because of Bert Coan didn't happen to others. But beyond that, we've had a pretty normal, mid-tier history. No need to take it further than it needs to be taken.
We show off our scars to each other as a form of brotherhood. Pain unites us. Pain is all that is guaranteed when we become fans. Hell, even Alabama fans can regale you with stories of pain, and they've collectively suffered less than any fanbase. We've all been there. And if you don't feel enough pain after a loss, that might be a sign that your team is losing too much. That this Missouri loss felt so bad is a morbid sign of progress, confirmation that the Tigers are back on the right track after last year's trip-ups. If the loss had moved Missouri to 3-5 instead of 7-1, the feeling would have been one more of anger or resignation. This was pure, soul-crushing heart break. The best kind.
If you drove home last night (perhaps a couple of hours to your east or west) replaying in your head the J’Mon Moore fumble, or the brilliant fourth-down catch by Isaiah McKenzie, or the brilliant interception by Quincy Mauger that prevented Mizzou from attempting a field goal that could have all but put the game away ... well ... I’m not going to tell you that’s a good thing. But welcome back. We have a new scar to show our friends, and it’ll be someone else’s turn to show us their fresh scars soon enough.
Mizzou’s 2015 campaign was miserable. The Tigers had talent and a wonderful defense, but the offensive hopelessness (not to mention the consistently crappy weather) made the year as much of a slog as any I can remember. The meager wins made us question our existence, and the losses were listless enough to make us wonder why we go to the stadium each home Saturday. I run a Mizzou site and was struggling at times to care.
But last night, we had reason to truly care again, reason to put our hearts on the line again. That said hearts got stomped on is almost secondary. Barry Odom and his staff fielded a young, explosive team that made a ton of offensive plays in the first half and a ton of defensive plays in the second. We don’t know how good Georgia is yet, and we don’t know how good Mizzou is. We won’t really know what this game means for a while longer.
Mizzou made one too many mistakes, and we’ll talk about those soon enough. But it was a really, really fun night. At least, it was for about 58 minutes. Last year, sitting in traffic after games, I felt like I was almost trying to justify to myself why I was there. Last night, I couldn’t wait to come back.
Fandom is an agreement to risk pain for joy. Give me last night over 2015 any day.
(And then next time, give me a damn win.)