Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Perspectives on Losing

I skipped my usual NFL wrap-up column for this week. Maybe it’s because I’m a Seahawks fan and my team is 1-5. Growing up, that went with the territory. It was a way of life. But not long after Holmgren showed up, the Seahawks won their first playoff game in 21 years. Next thing you know, they had won their division four years in a row. Now, it looks like Mike Holmgren’s final season is going to be a little like Alzheimer’s—a long goodbye. Watching poor old Mike stand helplessly on the sideline in Tampa last night made me think about all the different ways you can lose and how the feeling of losing can change drastically, depending on how you lose and your role, or perspective, in the loss.

Important Note: It’s been suggested in a couple of personal emails to Eddie Utah that I “borrow” things from Bill Simmons. So just to clarify…if I’m quoting or directly referring to something from Mr. Simmons, I use quotation marks and/or a hyperlink. The same goes for any of the other columnists that I admire, like TMQ or DJ Gallo (check out the links to the right of the page). Now, as I am in the beginning stages of developing my own personal style, I naturally lean on the styles of those I aspire to be like. In fact, you may even notice me making the same observations that Simmons or TMQ make. This actually affords me a small token of pride because I have written all of my Tuesday morning columns before TMQ’s column comes out and before the Simmons/Cousin Sal podcast and before Simmons’ Thursday NFL column. It simply tells me that I am noticing and writing about things that I enjoy reading about that successful writers write about.

Back to this column. I will not be attempting to recycle Simmons’ Levels of Losing, but instead focus on how different people in different roles can have such different feelings about the exact same loss.

Let me provide a simple example that most of us can relate to. Think about how you felt when you played your heart out on the football field or the basketball court, but victory narrowly escaped you. Now compare that with a time when you were sitting on the end of the bench watching your teammates lose. Totally different feeling, right? Suppose, even further, that you were cut from your high school sophomore basketball team. Or perhaps, tragically, you were cut TWICE from that very team. (This obviously didn’t happen to me. And if it did, I totally wouldn’t be bitter and writing about it 17 years later.) How do you think it would feel to watch that team lose? You’d probably enjoy it—thinking all along that you could make a difference. Hell, in that scenario, seeing your own team win probably hurts more than watching them lose.

In approximately 37 days, my brother and I will be watching the Seahawks miraculously beat the Cowboys in the last Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium (with the help of my brother, an ardent Cowboys fan, who happens to be a good-luck charm for the Seahawks). With that big game coming up and in the back of my head, I pondered the thoughts and feelings of those involved in the losses on Sunday for both the Cowboys and the Seahawks.

Perspective Number 1: The Backup
This week’s backups were Tony Romo and Matt Hasselbeck. Romo made a valiant effort, putting on his uniform, warming up and even letting team Dr. Jerry Jones diagnose his pinky and clear him to play, but finally deciding that he couldn’t help the team. And was he happy he didn’t play? Or was he disappointed? I’m guessing disappointed, based on Brad Johnson’s three picks. Surely Romo could have done better, even sans pinky. Hasselbeck, on the other hand, didn’t even make the trip to Tampa. He stayed in Seattle doing core exercises to strengthen and protect his back. Maybe he even used one of these highly effective core-strengthening chairs. I think that Hasselbeck could have made a difference last night and I’m guessing he felt the same. Would it have been enough for a Seahawks victory? I doubt it. The majority of that team just has terrible body-language. They look like they’re just going through the motions, surprised when good things don’t happen. They’re not hungry. And teams that are not hungry do not win—they go through the motions and lose.

Romo and Hasselbeck may have had good attitudes about their teams' losses, mostly because they were backups only due to injury. They know they could have made a difference and their teams know it too. So while they may have cared and empathized with yesterday’s losses, true backups may not have cared quite as much.

Perspective Number 2: The Coach
Even though both teams were blown out, their coaches looked remarkable different on the sidelines. I think both were hurt and upset, but in different ways. Wade Philips’ team has high expectations and lots of Pro Bowl talent. His facial expressions seemed to say, “How am I supposed to deal with all this drama? Why can’t we hang on to the football and why is Brad throwing so many interceptions? What’s wrong with our defense? And I am soooo fired…” In other words, he was surprised and shocked and just couldn’t understand why his team looked so bad.

Holmgren’s body language was a little different. He seemed to be saying, “What more can I do? Our franchise quarterback is in Seattle. We’ve injured eight different receivers and when the guys playing actually run the right routes, half the time they drop the ball. Our defense is on the field too much and the players don’t seem to care. And I’ll be coaching the 49ers next year anyways.”

The different reactions could also be attributed to the varying expectations. The Seahawks hoped to be competitive and maybe get lucky and come away with a win while the Cowboys expected to blowout the Rams.

Perspective Number 3: The Star
I haven’t read anything that T.O. said after the game, but I’m guessing whatever he did say had something to do with Brad Johnson’s inability to get him the ball. Marion Barber had an ok game, rushing for 100 yards and scoring a touchdown. If I’m him, I really can’t be too disappointed. What more could he have done? Yeah, there’s always something more you could do. But his performance definitely doesn’t make the top five reasons why the Cowboys lost. Not so for all the Pro Bowlers on the Cowboys defense. They should be pointing their fingers right back at themselves. If I’m on that defense, I’m definitely wondering how we let the Rams patchwork offensive line assist Steven Jackson in rushing for 160 yards and scoring three touchdowns.

Do the Seahawks have any offensive stars besides Hasselbeck? Walter Jones, I suppose. So how does he feel when he performs in his usual steady way and his team loses the way it did last night? My guess is that he felt a lot like Coach Holmgren. What else can he do? He can protect the quarterback and open up holes for the running backs, but he can’t block on the right side of the line and the left side. He can’t throw, run or kick the ball. He’s got to feel a little helpless and frustrated, knowing that he needs to be a leader and inspire his mediocre teammates.

I wish I knew how the Pro Bowlers on defense felt. They are really the ones I’m talking about when I say that they’re just going through the motions. I see no enthusiasm from that group; no excitement, no passion. And I don’t think they get it. Someone needs to light a fire in that locker room and get them excited about playing football again. (I’m looking at you, Lofa Tatupu and Patrick Kerney.)

Perspective Number 4: The Fan
A true fan is the eternal optimist—always believing their team to be better than it is, always expecting, or at least hoping for, miraculous plays, always cheering them on, even in 2-14 and 1-15 seasons. True fans identify themselves a little too much with their teams. A victory will make their day, a loss can ruin their week or even year, if their team happens to get screwed out of what may be their only chance for a Super Bowl victory in their lifetime.

I know exactly how my brother felt yesterday and today…and how he’ll probably feel tomorrow and the rest of the week—basically until his team turns things around and starts winning again. It’s frustrating. The media has high expectations for the Cowboys—and the fans’ expectations are always higher. Yeah, we fans try to temper them sometimes to protect ourselves from the disappointment that inevitably comes, absent a Lombardi Trophy, but deep down, we are always hopeful. Yet, in spite of my hopes, if I’m a Cowboys fan, I’m worried—worried about a certain little pinky, worried about T.O. losing touches to the Roy Williams without a broken forearm, worried about the Roy Williams with a broken forearm, worried about the play-calling that should center around a strong running attack, and worried about the whereabouts of Adam Jones. Yesterday’s loss just brings so much uncertainty. The Cowboys have the talent to be a great team, but will they become one?

With the Seahawks at 1-5, even my hopes are sinking fast. Realistically, I’m already looking forward to the draft and hoping the Seahawks can find another Lofa Tatupu or two. Preferably great big ones that play defensive tackle and offensive guard. They ought to be looking for a quarterback to groom as Hasselbeck’s replacement too. But I still want to see them win. I’d like to see reasons for optimism heading into the offseason. And I don’t want the Seahawks to have a high draft pick. A top-five draft pick is a curse these days. Last year’s number one pick, offensive tackle Jake Long, makes more money than any offensive tackle in the whole league. It’s crippling to your team’s salary cap to pay so much money to an unproven rookie. Holmgren is leaving and he appears to be taking the golden age of the Seahawks with him.