Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That Game

Then I remembered something. Sports is a metaphor for life. Everything is black and white on the surface. You win, you lose, you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you boo, and most of all, you care. Lurking underneath that surface, that's where all the good stuff is — the memories, the connections, the love, the fans, the layers that make sports what they are. It's not about watching your team win the Cup as much as that moment when you wake up thinking, In 12 hours, I might watch my team win the Cup. It's about sitting in the same chair for Game 5 because that chair worked for you in Game 3 and Game 4, and somehow, this has to mean something. It's about using a urinal between periods, realizing that you're peeing on a Devils card, then eventually realizing that some evil genius placed Devils cards in every single urinal. It's about leaning out of a window to yell at people wearing the same jersey as you, and it's about noticing an airport security guy staring at your Celtics jersey and knowing he'll say, "You think they win tonight?" before he does. It's about being an NBA fan but avoiding this year's Western Conference finals because you still can't believe they ripped your team away, and it's about crying after that same series because you can't believe your little unassuming city might win the title. It's about posing for pictures before a Stanley Cup clincher, then regretting after the fact that you did. It's about two strangers watching you cry at a stoplight. It's black and white, but it's not.

- Bill Simmons, "The Consequences of Caring" (June 8, 2012)

I'm numb. I just don't know what to think or what to do. I haven't felt this way since the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup thanks to the 13th man, but I think this might actually be worse. I find myself just sitting, staring blankly at times, almost on the verge of crying. And I know it's going to just be there over the next few days. Forget that. This loss - the Leafs' 5-4 OT loss last night, in case for some reason you didn't know what I was talking about - will sit with me for the rest of my life. This is my '86 World Series, my 1993 Kerry Fraser missed call, my 2009 Grey Cup 13th Man; this is now the benchmark against which all future heart-breaking sports moments will be measured.
Bill Simmons provides one of the best levels for evaluating these kinds of moments with his "Levels of Losing 2.0". It's one of the myriad invaluable contributions that Simmons has made to the way I look at sports. I'm trying to place this loss on the spectrum. It has elements of the Broken Axle (Level VI), but it has elements of The Guillotine (Level IV) and the Stomach Punch (Level III). The only thing keeping it from being "That Game" (Level I) for me is the fact that the Leafs were not favoured to win, and that this was a young team that made some silly mistakes. But it's close.
My wife is actually having difficulty with me through this process. She understands that I am having to grieve this, even though I know she doesn't quite get it. To be honest, I'm not sure I entirely get it either. I went for almost a decade without the Leafs really meaning anything, but then something changed and now this just hits me hard. I am actually experiencing the stages of grief, sometimes simultaneously. I have friends and family who are legitimately sending me condolences and well wishes, just as I had messages of support leading up to Game 7. Even now, I'm starting to get misty-eyed as I think about this entire experience and what it means. This one's going to take awhile to work through.

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