The Columbus Blue Jackets had a rough week. We’re not going to talk about the Edmonton game because it’s better all around if we just pretend that didn’t happen and shove our fingers into our ears while singing, “I can’t hear you!” whenever somebody mentions it. The only thing I’ll say about the Vancouver game is that Matty Calvert is finally back, and that brings me more joy than I can possibly express. But after rage quitting the Vancouver game midway through the second period, I got to thinking: why do I care so much? The fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets are having a bad series of games has no direct effect on my life. My paycheck doesn’t depend on their success; there’s no practical consequence of them losing a few games. There would be no practical consequence of them losing all 82 games.
And yet. Even knowing that they’re better than getting shut out in Edmonton (LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU) doesn’t make the loss easier. You forget every win that precedes a loss. I felt so let down, and I couldn’t explain why. I don’t know Jack Johnson or Sergei Bobrovsky or Cam Atkinson personally; they don’t owe me anything, have made me no promises. I’m sure they played what was, in that moment, the best game that they could–even if their best game in that moment, for whatever reason, was terrible.
Here’s the thing about sports: there is no such thing as a “perfect season.” You can’t win every game; the closest anybody has ever come in the NHL is the Detroit Red Wings in the 1995-96 season (with 62). And it doesn’t matter how many your team has won, how many points they’ve collected or how many teams they’ve shut out.
Losing always sucks.
There’s something visceral about it, as a sports fan. Watching your team flame out on the ice is painful. Maybe it’s because we can scream and shout at our TV or from the stands and have no impact on the game whatsoever. Maybe it’s facing the cold reality that we are helpless to do anything but watch things go badly. Maybe it’s because we care about the players, and humans are a fundamentally empathetic species that reacts to the emotions of the people they feel connected to. Maybe it’s because as fans we have identified with and tied ourselves to something, and when that something does badly we feel that it reflects badly on us.
Or maybe it’s because we’ve pinned our hearts to something, and losing forces us to see its flaws. After a loss we are, at the root of our fan loyalty, left hanging. We feel connected to players, feel close to them thanks to social media and PR machines, but the hard truth is that we aren’t, and a loss reminds us of that. Our irrational love for a sports team is justified by a win; it’s exposed as one-sided by a loss.
I’m not saying that athletes and front offices aren’t grateful for fans; that they don’t, on some level, feel beholden to them. But athletes and front offices are grateful and beholden to The Fans, en masse, all-capitals. A player may tell reporters that he “feels like he let the fans down,” but he doesn’t feel like he let Mollyhall Seeley down. Of course he doesn’t. How could he? In what absurd world would this hypothetical player care what Mollyhall Seeley thinks of his gameplay? I can barely skate and I’m too cheap to shell out for Game Center.
And yet I don’t feel let down as part of the fraternity of CBJ Fans, I feel let down as Mollyhall Seeley. And that’s why losing sucks: it’s a whisper that, no matter how many nights I spend glued to my TV, we might not all be in this together.
Nights after a loss, the sports fan isn’t sure that he or she is even in it at all.