Backdoor Cuts: Keeping the faith

October 28, 2010

When the playoffs began a few weeks ago, I thought the Yankees had no shot of winning the World Series. To my chagrin, and to the delight of the majority of people who root against the Evil Empire, I was right.

But last Friday, when the Rangers mercifully finished manhandling the Yankees, I was anything but ready to accept my team’s fate. Despite their suffering throughout what had to be one of the most lopsided American League Championship Series to go to six games, somehow, I believed that the Yankees could turn it around until the final out.

I was that delusional, despite having already admitted to myself that this team was too flawed to have a shot. All it took to erase weeks and months of warning signs were three games against the Twins. To paraphrase former NFL head coach and Coors Light pitchman Denny Green, the Yankees were who I thought they were, and I let them off the hook.

And while most will revel in the disappointment of a defeated Yankees fan, this is hardly the first time I, or any sports fan for that matter, got caught up in the fervor of false hope. In fact, I remember something similar happening with a certain college basketball team last March.

It’s all too easy to let a spurt of success overshadow a season’s worth of hard-learned realism. That’s why Georgetown’s near-miss Big East Championship run last season was enough to push memories of losses to the likes of Rutgers to the back of our minds as they headed into the NCAA Tournament.

I was there in New York last March, and even after the devastation of Da’Sean Butler’s basket, I still thought that Hoya squad could go deep in the Dance. Firing on all cylinders, with all that talent, Georgetown was surely destined for at least the Sweet 16.

But I was also in Providence a week later, and I spent the long trip home thinking what an idiot I was for forgetting how many times that the team had underperformed against lowly opponents.

I couldn’t help but get caught up in the recent success. It’s hard for any passionate fan not to, because there’s really no other way to make rooting for your team bearable.

Sports fandom is predicated on false hope. The problem is that at the end of the season there can only be one champion; everyone else ends up a loser. At some point, most fans have to come to accept the cognitive dissonance of believing this is the year your team can win it all even though the odds are so stacked against you.

That realization hardly needs to interfere with our enjoyment of sports. By accepting the near impossibility of winning a championship, I’m actually able to appreciate the smaller victories even more. Sure, Georgetown hoops couldn’t win it all, but neither could hundreds of other teams, and they didn’t get to enjoy beating Butler and Duke. Of course, the difference between false hope and the real thing only becomes clear in hindsight. It will be a while before my confidence in this year’s Hoya squad reveals itself as legitimate or not. Still, I know that cutting down the nets in April is a long shot, to say the least.

Right now, though, it’s football season, and I think enough games have been played that I can start to draw some conclusions. Clearly, 2010 has already made me an expert in false hope, but my favorite team, the Jets, could go all the way this year. A much improved quarterback, the same solid core on defense, and the best record in the NFL—nothing delusional about that.

At least that’s what I tell myself.


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