I was sitting in the stands a couple of weeks ago when the Huskies football team saw a potential victory evaporate faster than spilled beer on a hot sidewalk – all because of a referee’s call. A fan sitting just behind me meant to shout, “This is an outrage!” But instead, the words came out, “This is bull____!”
Another fan immediately countered with, “No! It’s horse____!”
So which sort of ____ was it exactly, I wondered?
After the game, I discussed the situation with some friends. We generally agreed that the referee’s call had been the byproduct of neither bull nor horse, but rather a combination of musk ox, dromedary and bighorn sheep, with perhaps a dash of moose____ tossed in, too.
It all served to remind that in sports, as in life, winning is terribly important to people. That’s why fans howl so loudly when something or someone – say, a referee – gets in the way of victory. In fact, some people get so angry at game officials that they will no longer go to the mall, just in case there’s a Footlocker store in there.
There’s been much said and written about winning and losing. Frank Sinatra did a song called “Here’s to the Winners,” but also one called “Here’s to the Losers,” just so both sides would get equal time.
A person once said, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” William Saroyan once wrote, “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure.” Pretty elegant, I admit. But W.C. Fields may have had it most right: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”
Yet, in spite of the obsession that we Americans have for winning, I would submit that there is a lot to be said for losing. My uncle used to say that if it weren’t for losers, there would be no winners. He also once said, “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.” He said that just before he was killed.
Losing builds character, they say. It makes us strive harder to win, they say. It makes us better grounded as human beings, they say. Oh, put a sock in it, I say.
After all, losing moments stand out in the memory every bit as large as winning ones – maybe larger. If winning feels like a million bucks, losing feels like a bounced check.
Winning moments are bright and shining. Losing moments are red and sore.
I remember once grabbing a loose ball in a grade school basketball game and scurrying down the floor for a magnificent, uncontested layup – into the other team’s basket. My coach later pointed out that my mistake wasn’t so bad. It only meant that our team lost by 40 points, instead of 38. He always knew the right thing to say.
When I was in high school, I tried out for the varsity basketball team every year, and got cut every year. “Keep practicing,” the coach would tell me. “You might make it next year.” So I did keep practicing, and finally became good enough to make the team. Unfortunately, I was then almost 32 years old.
My dad would console me: “Son, maybe basketball isn’t your sport.” So I went out for football. “Maybe football isn’t your sport either,” dad would say. As it turned out, baseball, cross country, wrestling, track and field, soccer, skiing, swimming, tennis, golf, ping pong, gymnastics and checkers weren’t my sports, either. If only my high school had fielded a Pictionary team, I might have lettered. Barring injury, of course.
Blake Jackson, an acquaintance, tells a different story. He did make his high school basketball team. He made the varsity squad his senior year, but spent all season as reserve, relegated to sitting at the far end of the bench. He sat closer to the refreshment stand than the scorer’s table.
But then one night, right at the start of a critical game, destiny dribbled in.
“Jackson!” The voice of the coach thundered from the far end of the bench. “Get down here! I need you!” Blake was astounded, but rose to his feet and ran down to the coach. “I’m ready, coach!” he declared, his heart pounding like a drum solo.
This was the moment Blake had always dreamed of. At long last he would finally get to show the world the incredible human scoring machine that he could be. He would astonish the enemy team as he effortlessly snatched rebounds from high atop the rim and convert them into spectacular swish shots delivered from every part of the floor.
Afterwards, every cheerleader would be clawing to date him. He could already imagine the cheers from the frenzied crowd: “Blake, Blake! Shake and Bake! Head fake! Earthquake! For goodness sake! Sweet as cake! We all ache for Blake!”
The coach looked him straight in the eye. “Jackson,” he said. “Take off your shoes! Charlie forgot his, and you wear the same size!”
In his mind, as “Shoeless” Blake Jackson sat through the game on the end of the bench, he may have been thinking, “This is donkey____ !” But he kept it to himself.