When losers become winners.
When one thinks of losing in sports what comes to mind? Is it stirring back ground music with an apocalyptic voice intoning about, "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?" Or are your nightmares less romantic, filled with self doubts, low esteem and anxiety about whether you will ever amount to anything? Do you want to go poison trees at Toomer's Corner the way that whacked out Alabama fan did after a loss to Auburn?
I don't know which coach first said it but many coaches have repeated the dictum that losing produces no good thing. Then there is Lombardi, one of the most admired coaches in history, who purportedly said, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." We respect that no-nonsense, General Patton-like approach even though in real life we sometimes see how losses can create a better person. We could go on but let's cut to the chase with a few basic reflections on those teams that have to incubate like a fetus for the next nine months knowing that they are losers.
Let's begin by saying the obvious. Some teams seem to get better after a loss and some teams seem to crumble. Trying to analyze why this is conjures up a quote from the preacher in Ecclesiastes, "Again I saw under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all." Since we don't know all of the variables of character, timing and chance involved it is only after the fact that we attribute character traits like toughness, tenacity, resilience or any of those other things that seem to cause some people to bounce back after adversity while others are left crushed.
Consider this. An unscientific reading of the blogs after LSU's loss finds that only about 1 in 10 people commenting thanked their team for a great season. The rest spoke disparagingly of particular coaches, especially Les Miles, and called out individual players by name. Several comments were along the lines of how this last loss ruined the entire season for them. I noticed that it was mainly non-LSU fans who have posted on various sites that pointed out it was going to be really difficult to beat any good team twice in one season, let alone Alabama.
Now consider this. Most experts are picking LSU to be either the number one or number two team in the nation in their preseason voting for next Fall. Clearly the thinking is that this loss revealed no terminal flaws in LSU as well as the belief that they will only work harder after this loss.
Now let us consider the humiliation, dare I say, the public castration of Clemson. This loss was so embarrassing that many professional talking heads seem to have just kind of averted their eyes. Yes, you have to talk about it because it happened and it is sports news, but "Lord, let us not dwell on it," seems to be the attitude. An unscientific survey of Clemson blogs reveals that only about 1 person in 25 feels at all good about the season or the prospects for next year. Popular sentiment is calling for Dabo's head, various coaches including the strength and conditioning coach and the defensive coordinator. Many are despondent that most of this team is young and will be around for awhile. There is such a consensus that a general house cleaning is needed from top to bottom that there are informally organized efforts to withhold money from the school until changes are made.
Which leads to our next consideration. Clemson is being picked by several experts to compete with FSU next season for a spot in the top five in the nation. Now let this soak in a moment. West Virginia is not projected in the top five nor is Alabama, at least not in any poll I have seen.
Georgia is projected by at least a few voters so far as being as high as 3rd in the nation next season. This coming after a pretty near total destruction by LSU. But Georgia fans were not nearly as spiteful after their bowl loss as were LSU fans. Does losing on a more regular basis make you more philosophical, more emotionally balanced? I am not suggesting that. And, to be sure there were the usual weirdo Georgia fans calling for Richt to be fired. My suspicion is that these are the same fans who masquerade as Georgia Tech fans and call for Johnson's firing after every difficult loss.
So what should we expect of Georgia Tech next season given that losers are given a second chance in sports? Will they continue to climb as is projected for LSU, Clemson and Georgia? Here is what we do know. As much as the bowl loss hurt, if Tech only gets better next season we will have fewer and fewer regrets. We will see the loss not as "a good loss" but as simply one of the steps along the way on an upward climb toward greatness. That makes no sense now but it will if the overall trend is positive.
Of course after the fact we will claim that there was something inherent in this team, some strength of character that allowed them to forge steel out of a baptism of fire. We will see every virtue of body and spirit through the clear lenses of hindsight. Losses may produce "no good thing" but if a team gets better afterward then it allows us to create a new mythology about our team's indomitable spirit. And since sports are primarily about creating myths in the first place then that becomes a good thing to many.