Bill Simmons has a great article that categorizes the different levels of losing for the sports fan. He has arranged thirteen different levels of pain in which a fan will feel after a loss. For example, he begins at level XIII which is the least painful: Level XIII is known as the Princeton principle. Simmons describes it as this:
“When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the ’89 NCAAs) … this one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes … also works for boxing, especially in situations like Balboa-Creed I (“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”) … the moment that always sucks you in: in college hoops, when they show shots of the bench scrubs leaping up and down and hugging each other during the “These guys won’t go away!” portion of the game, before the collapse at the end.”
As you go down in levels, the more painful the loss gets. Other examples by Simmons are The “this can’t be happening” game, the guillotine, and the stomach punch. You can read all the levels right here.
Then at the bottom at Level I, he has the most painful loss of them all. It is simply known as “That Game”. It is described as the most catastrophic loss of a lifetime.
Some people may be lucky enough to never have such a moment. I envy those people. For those diehards who haven’t been so lucky, I feel your pain. For the record, I don’t believe anyone who is less than a diehard fan can claim to have a “That Game” moment. This is reserved for the fans who irrationally treat games as life or death. And if you have to try and think of a game that qualifies, then it wasn’t a “That Game”. You don’t have to think for those.
In my experience as a fan, two games have qualified, both of which belonging to Maryland Terrapins basketball. No Redskins game has come close yet. The first was the 2001 Final Four Game against Duke. However, I want to give you the experience of my most catastrophic loss: A year ago last Sunday. Maryland vs Michigan State in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. Before I begin, let me set the stage.
The 2009-2010 Basketball Season was magical up to that point for the Terps. An undefeated home conference record capped off by a win against Duke to tie for the conference title. The team had three very productive seniors in Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne. Vasquez, in particular, was a special player for the University, winning ACC player of the year. He brought a passion that made him loved in College Park, but hated by opposing fanbases. With the leadership of those three, the team had the makings of one who could make a run in March Madness.
Back to the Michigan State game. The Terps had a comfortable first round win against Houston and everyone knew the Sunday matchup against a Tom Izzo squad would be tough. The day before the game, however, the Terps were given a bit of luck. The top seed in their bracket and overall in the tournament, Kansas, suffered an upset loss to Northern Iowa. Terps fans knew that a Michigan State win would mean the Terps having to only go through a lucky Northern Iowa team and an undisciplined Tennessee team to reach the Final Four. Just get through Michigan State.
The game began, and I should have immediately known it wasn’t going to be my day. Michigan State was not known as a three-point shooting team, yet they started of draining threes. By halftime, the lead was in double digits. I was furious, but as a sports fan, I still held out some hope. In the stages of grief, I was in anger/denial mode.
Then MSU point guard went down with an injury late in the first half. I thought that this was the chance. Unfortunately, the lead continued to hover around 10 points for much of the second half. As the time continued to tick off the clock, I began to shift into acceptance mode. With two minutes left in the game the score was 80-71 Michigan State. I was mad but I accepted my fate. I’m going to now describe what the next two minutes felt like.
I’m going to compare the second half to a man slowly losing his vision. As the clock continued to go down and Maryland couldn’t cut into the lead, my vision got worse. I was angry, but there was nothing I could do. Then, with two minutes to go, I was completely blind. It sucked, but I was ready for my life as a blind man. Then something happened.
Maryland began a furious rally led by Vasquez and Hayes. Michigan State began turning the ball over. Slowly, the vision was coming back. It was still blurry though. Vasquez continued making shots. The vision got a little bit better, but still blurry. The lead was cut to one point. Vasquez had the ball with under twenty seconds to play. With just under six seconds to go Vasquez hit a runner to put the Terps up one.
All of a sudden, my vision was back. 20/20. I could see. I was standing on the sidewalk of a busy street. Euphoria had set in. Thoughts of Final Four and National Championships. And then I saw something.
Across the street stood Megan Fox. She was waving me over. I looked around and there was no one near me. I pointed at myself and mouthed “Who me?” at her. She said yes and waved me over.
So, I started walking across the street. I was about two steps away, when I stopped. I looked up. There were still four seconds left and Michigan State was running down the floor. Megan Fox looked at me and said “Come on, hurry up.” I took one step and ……
HIT BY A TRUCK! Korie Luscious hit a three at the buzzer giving Michigan State the win. He was the truck. You may chuckle at the way I described it, but this is what it felt like. There’s an added pain knowing it was the last chance for those seniors. Seeing a special player like Vasquez go down like that still stings. In fact, writing this is in no way therapeutic. I have yet to watch any highlights from this game. I refuse to do so even to this day. If you want to really get the experience, watch the whole end of the game on youtube and you will really get a sense of what I am talking about. I still can’t help but think that the road to a Finals matchup against Duke would have been Northern Iowa, Tennessee, and Butler. It’ll haunt me forever.