Monday, March 24, 2008

The Perils of Being a Sports Fan

It was one of those really bad sports weekends, about as bad as they get, that every now and then make you question if the highs of being a sports fan outweigh the lows. The answer is yes, but still... To wit:

(1) Duke apologists like these may come up with excuses, but when it comes down to it, right now Duke isn't the premier program in college basketball. UNC is. We have no more than two players on our roster with true NBA talent, and while unlike in '06 I really thought K did a good job coaching this team, the weaknesses speak more to recruiting miscalculations than anything. It used to be we could count on getting into the Sweet 16 on the basis of simply having more talent and athleticism than the opposition. But now, we're just like a number of other programs, more dependent on who's in our draw and whether our shots are falling to keep advancing. Sure, almost all programs would choose to be Duke in the blink of an eye, no questions asked, and would look at a 28-6 season as remarkable. But to me, when you start accepting having a great regular season followed by consistently not playing up to your seed in the tournament, you've accepted no longer being great. The fact is, since 2001, we've been eliminated by a lesser team in every year except 2003, and technically 2004, though we had that game salted away. And sure, we're spoiled by the success, no question about it, but I think high expectations are a good thing. We don't expect a national title every year, but it would be nice to take advantage of the high seeding every few years and perhaps at least get to the Elite Eight. Maybe I'm wrong, but Stewart Mandel of cnnsi wrote a column last month about how Duke peaks in early February every year and then declines through March, and frankly the statistics since 2001 bear that out. And while we should be tougher and more mature next year, given the continued lack of a big man, chances are, we'll be around a 2 seed again, but still needing a good bracket and our three-pointers to fall to advance past the second or third round. Am I still glad that I'm a Duke fan and not any other program in the country, absolutely, but it's a tad frustrating realizing your team is no longer the pre-eminent dominant program, and yet only took away one title during that period of dominance.

(2) After Duke game, I watch Stars lose their seventh in eight games, this time by taking a 2-1 lead into the last three minutes against the worst team in the NHL, only to surrender three goals in the next two minutes.

(3) To top it all off, I'm at American Airlines Center watching the Mavs try to salvage a disappointing homestand against the Spurs, and feeling like the weekend at least will end on a bright note as they take a 54-42 lead in the third. What follows is not only a 19-0 San Antonio run, but Nowitzki tumbles and pulls a Yao Ming, with the prospect of hearing today that he could be out two weeks, or he could be out for the season. And if it's the latter, there's a chance both participants from the '06 Finals will be out of the playoffs, and the Mavs will have gone from 67 wins to the lottery.

Of course, at the end of the day, I'll likely become a father this week, and it makes sports look silly in comparison. But since we're the dudes, and we like to talk sports, it was a weekend that makes you wonder.

7 comments:

Big Daddy said...

The question I've been asking myself over the weekend, in my darkest moments, is "Have we become Arizona?" (a good friend of mine whom I taught went there back in the 80s so we always talk hoops)

A team that wins 20-25 or more games a season, fades down the stretch and is destined to go out in the first or second round. Maybe occasionally making a run to the Elite 8 when the chips all fall miraculously into place.

I wonder if it's more not about recruiting miscalculations but Coach K's seeming love-fest for a guard orientated/dominated approach.

Seriously, if you were a premier "big man" (Love for example) would you ever seriously consider going to Duke?

Sorry about Dirk and the Mavs though.

ThadisRad said...

I have been grappling with the same "does a loss sting more than a win brings joy?" issue. Right now, three of the four teams I root for always come with ridiculously high expectations. In fact, at this moment, of those three teams, Duke's expectations are lower than the others! The Patriots went 18-1, and I am certain the loss hurt more than the win. If the Pats won, well, it was inevitable, they were 14-point favorites, and it's there fourth title since 2001.

I still love the highs and lows of a sports season. I still study every Red Sox box score and game story. I am watching their season opener right now. But it does change things knowing that if this team doesn't win it all, they will have fallen short of expectations. (The Red Sox also come with their own issues, thanks to MLB's payroll policy)

And with this Duke hoops team, as they were peaking, they were playing a really fun style of basketball to watch. It was the most I had enjoyed a Duke team in several years (though it's not as fun to watch when DeMarcus can't run past people and three pointers clang off of the iron). But I do look back at the glory days of the late 90s early 2000s and think, just one?

So what about that fourth team? The team with no expectations? Over the past few years I think I am more into Duke Football than any other sport. You can laugh at that, but there is something incredibly exciting about watching a team try to build up from the ground. That near win against Miami two years ago was as excited I have been about a sporting event in quite some time. Now part of this is due to the fact that I get to go to games, part of it is I feel special to be in a small club of loyal supporters, but I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. Four wins is a big success. I watch each team hoping this is the team that finally breaks through. And to watch them have a winning season would bring a lot of joy to this humble fan.

So in conclusion, I have rambled on about probably nothing. And the Sox are now in extra innings, and while this one game is completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I will continue to watch. Stupid sports.

ThadisRad said...

I have been grappling with the same "does a loss sting more than a win brings joy?" issue. Right now, three of the four teams I root for always come with ridiculously high expectations. In fact, at this moment, of those three teams, Duke's expectations are lower than the others! The Patriots went 18-1, and I am certain the loss hurt more than the win. If the Pats won, well, it was inevitable, they were 14-point favorites, and it's there fourth title since 2001.

I still love the highs and lows of a sports season. I still study every Red Sox box score and game story. I am watching their season opener right now. But it does change things knowing that if this team doesn't win it all, they will have fallen short of expectations. (The Red Sox also come with their own issues, thanks to MLB's payroll policy)

And with this Duke hoops team, as they were peaking, they were playing a really fun style of basketball to watch. It was the most I had enjoyed a Duke team in several years (though it's not as fun to watch when DeMarcus can't run past people and three pointers clang off of the iron). But I do look back at the glory days of the late 90s early 2000s and think, just one?

So what about that fourth team? The team with no expectations? Over the past few years I think I am more into Duke Football than any other sport. You can laugh at that, but there is something incredibly exciting about watching a team try to build up from the ground. That near win against Miami two years ago was as excited I have been about a sporting event in quite some time. Now part of this is due to the fact that I get to go to games, part of it is I feel special to be in a small club of loyal supporters, but I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. Four wins is a big success. I watch each team hoping this is the team that finally breaks through. And to watch them have a winning season would bring a lot of joy to this humble fan.

So in conclusion, I have rambled on about probably nothing. And the Sox are now in extra innings, and while this one game is completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I will continue to watch. Stupid sports.

Head Dude said...

It's a great point about the football team. Is there any question all of us would be clamoring for tickets to a bowl game, any bowl game, that Duke reaches? You feel more unique being a fan, because there aren't many of them, and certainly no bandwagoners. Meanwhile, in basketball, the Dude got him and I ticket options for the Final Four to pay off his bet from 10 years ago, and we wouldn't have considered an earlier round.

I think the biggest reason Duke's tournament losses hurt the most, as opposed to say the Mavs losing in the Finals or Cowboys losing to Giants, is that it feels more like our team ... we were students there and part of a small group that can stake a claim as alums. I just feel more connected, because we once were relatively connected to the program, and talked to K, and took classes with some of the players, and we saw the program rise from the mid-90s into the power in '98 that continue until '06. As a result, I still feel the pain more from the losses to Kentucky and UConn and Florida and Indiana and UConn and LSU. And being at the Metrodome in '01 was the highest of highs that you hope wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but recognize may have been.

Granted, watching one of your pro teams rise from laughingstock to near-title like the Mavs was incredible ... and would be even more sweet if the Rangers ever got there, but perhaps the bottom line is that the greatest joy in sports is watching something build towards greatness, and then once you get there, the frustrations always threaten to outweigh the fun of it.

At the same time, when November rolls around next year, will I be any less excited about the season and about having everyone back except Nelson, and getting Eliot Williams, etc.? Of course not!

The Dude said...

Watching a team or an individual rise from nothing to the mountaintop is the best experience. I also agree with Head Dude's point about having our own connection to Duke. I feel the same way about Barack - watching him ascend from our own UChicago professor to the verge of the Presidency is remarkable and as exciting as any sporting event I've been a part of.
I am, however, still amused by Undude's grammatical mishaps - "there fourth title"?. That was a great post though Undude, you are truly on a role.

The Franchise said...

As for me, I'd just like us to win so I don't have to read stuff like that DBR post linked from Head Dude's original rant.

ThadisRad said...

Dude, must all of your comments be about my inability to speak English? Attitudes like that one are keeping me away from the blog and away from Beijing. If you're that obnoxious with your second language, you'll be unbearable in the homeland.