Monday, October 29, 2018

How The 2015 NFL Season May Have Ruined Sports

The factoid flashed across the bottom of the screen: “The last time the Red Sox won the World Series a loaf of bread was 7 cents.” It was a cool fall night in 1986 at my apartment in suburban Perrysburg, Ohio and the Mets were coming to bat in the bottom of the 10th. The Red Sox had scored two in the top of the frame for what appeared to be a comfortable lead. If you’ve read this far, you likely know what happened next, so I won’t dwell on the details. Let’s just say that the price of bread would go up by a few more cents before Boston would win a World Series.

The thing that is often lost in the “Curse of the Bambino” discussion is that Boston did not put many good teams on the field between 1918 and 2004. The Red Sox teams that did manage to make it to the World Series during that period were fluky, not overly talented pennant winners who always seemed to go up against much better teams in the postseason; a Gibson-led Cardinals, the Big Red Machine, and the 108 win Mets. That Boston was able to take those series to seven games was itself a minor miracle that only intensified the feeling that they were ultimately cursed.

The 2018 Red Sox, like the 2013 and 2007 editions, however, were not underdogs putting up the good fight against superior competition. They were, far and away, the better teams in those series, and that creates its own sort of pressure. After winning 108 games in the regular season and cruising through the AL playoffs, there was a sense of inevitability to Boston’s World Series push, but I’ve experienced that feeling before and frankly it may have ruined sports for me forever.  

After a choppy start to the 2015 season, the Carolina Panthers hit their stride and won 15 of 16 games, losing only to the Atlanta Falcons by a touchdown in week 15. In the playoffs, they steamrolled the powerful Seahawks and Cardinals and were prohibitive Super Bowl favorites against a Denver Broncos team that had looked inept on offense for much of the season before riding a strong defensive performance to an AFC Championship game win against the New England Patriots.

The 2015 Panthers had a modus operendi that year of getting out to large first half leads and then nearly blowing them in the second half. While that’s a dangerous recipe for winning, their two losses actually came in hard fought, low-scoring affairs that found them with the ball and a chance to go ahead in the closing minutes.

I thought the bad feelings about Super Bowl 50 would subside after a few months, but they never really did. I thought the excitement of remembering that magical 15-win season and those awesome playoff wins would one day add balance to the disappointing way the season ended, but to date it hasn’t. It’s HARD to make it to a Super Bowl. You need a really good team and a few breaks along the way. That a team, a very good team, could get so close, then fall to a lesser team is depressing. The Panthers also made it to the Super Bowl in 2004, a game against the Patriots in which they were huge underdogs. They played admirably, though and actually led briefly in the 4th quarter. In the end, Tom Brady orchestrated a short drive to get New England into field goal range and Adam Vinatieri, who coincidentally set the NFL total points record on Sunday, pushed through a kick as time expired. That loss, while painful for a few days, felt okay once the confetti settled. The Panthers had put up a good fight against one of the great football dynasties ever. They were, for practical purposes, all those Red Sox teams that somehow managed to keep it close against better players. The 2015 team was more like these Red Sox; anything short of a championship would forever taint their memory.

And that’s why I’m really glad the Red Sox put an end to the Series Sunday night. I’ve come to the point in my sports experience where the agony of defeat is starting to outweigh the thrill of victory. The Panthers are having another good season, winning Sunday afternoon to push their record to 5-2 and keep them firmly in the playoff conversation. I'd love for them to win a Super Bowl one day, but I'm not getting any younger.

 

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