I write this morning in an attempt to lift my own spirits and in the hope that in some small way I might also help to lift yours. Am I as mad as anyone about this loss? You bet your ass I am. Does it hurt? Yeah, it hurts. In my head, where ruinous dehydration compounds the anguish of my mental toil. And a little bit in my stomach, where the harsh aftermath of much beer and bourbon reverberates upsettingly. But most of all in that place where I nurtured the hope and optimism which were again betrayed by the heartbreak of another late collapse. The part of me that shares in the vicarious agony of defeat.
I showed up positive after a tough loss last week. Nervous, not confident, per se, in our coaching or game planning but hyped and jittery at the possibilities of a young season and a new opportunity to emerge victorious. In my lucky socks and Cam Newton shoes, with my black Cam jersey on. And even though I felt it at the break, that sinking inevitability which now seems so inseparable from every one-score half time lead. I still let myself be buoyed by great defensive showings on consecutive drives as a precarious third quarter lead stretched into the forth. Even as I felt the looming certainty of it when we settled for that last field goal, I did not numb my hope. I let myself believe, as I watched with rapt investment, that we might hold on to stop that final drive.
Did I stick it out to the bitter end? I'm ashamed to say I did not. There were still two seconds on the clock when I rent my jersey in disgust for Steve Johnson, alone, deep in the end zone clutching what would prove to be the game winning ball. That was my failure this week as a fan. But this not a rant. It isn't to pile on or to mete out blame or lament what could have been. This is an appeal, not to reason, but to fandom.
I, like so many of you, experienced the pain and disappointment that so often come from allowing yourself to be invested in something you can't control. Not to mention the corollary regrets that accompany a failure to maintain disciplined liquor intake. But that's okay, I've already ordered my next jersey and it should be here in time for next Sunday. When I will be tuned in once again with my heart exposed. And here's why you should too.
If you believe that this organization has given up on you, I don't know what consolation to offer. I have my opinions but I don't have the answers to turn this team around. I'll leave the breakdowns to people who are better qualified to analyze the tape. This is what I do know. Things can always change. Our team is young and not as bad as they've played to start this year. There are no easy games in this league and that cuts both ways. I believe that our players and our coaches want to win. And I believe that we have played close enough in recent contests that the solution does not demand wholesale reconstruction. We have talent on this roster and in the long run I believe we will win our fair share of games.
My appeal is thus: Don't be too cool to care. Don't give in to apathy. However easy it is to tell yourself "I won't get my hopes up only to be let down again." Or to tell the team "You can call me when you're serious about winning." Don't succumb to the temptation to quit on your team. Because those statements are a fiction. This is your team in only one meaningful way. We don't play and we don't coach. But that doesn't mean we don't participate. This is an appeal not to confuse the nature of your participation. There are no shortage of opinions on what it is to be a true fan. Here's mine. Being a fan is not about what you own, where you sit, who you know or when you joined. It's not about making accurate predictions or knowing all the history. It's about how you feel. All you have to do to be a true fan is care. And all you have to do to abandon that status is stop caring.
Make no mistake, you cannot substitute any amount of knowledge or swag for honest commitment. No 'I told you so' breakdown or boisterous high-fiving touchdown celebration will ever compete with the thrill of a victory which you truly let yourself care about. When you give in to apathy and allow yourself to become numb to disappointment, you must also numb the excitement and anticipation of winning. You must abandon the very reason that we are fans at all. Just as the players cannot win without taking the field and risking defeat. There is no way to hide from yourself that our only victory comes from exposing ourselves both to the hope and to the fear of a possible loss. Those guarded, fair-weather fans, they only rob themselves. They may look happy when we win, but they can never really know what it's like for us.
Yes, it will hurt again. Yes, it may get worse before it gets any better. But when, not if, this team turns their fortunes around, there is only one way you can know in your heart that each glorious triumph brings you the full measure of joy that a fan can achieve.
That's why I'll be back next week with a new jersey and new optimism. Tuned in again, hopeful, excited and (emotionally) exposed. Do yourself this favor. Keep the faith. Keep up hope. Keep Pounding!