Jul 04, 2020

The pain of losing

Opinion Editor Tony Petersen
Collegian File Photo

The funny thing about sports is that losses always pain more than wins gratify.

I was reminded of this thought (or, rather, bludgeoned in the head with it) after my beloved Green Bay Packers were eliminated from the NFL playoffs by the New York Giants this past weekend.

One would think that, after last season, I would have no room to complain about anything concerning the green-and-gold. Last season, the Packers snuck into the playoffs as a 6-seed, and proceeded to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears en route to a Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the meantime, Charles Woodson won the championship that had eluded him in his productive career, Clay Mathews earned the moniker “Claymaker” for his penchant for making fantastic defensive plays and wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and Aaron Rodgers proved he was one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

As the championship game ended, I sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. I excused myself from the celebrations going on inside my house, went outside and screamed like a giddy ten-year-old who had just received a Wii for Christmas. It was glorious.

And then it ended.

All those weeks spent agonizing over the Packers play, arguing with friends about their playoff chances and collecting every magazine and newspaper article about the team were over. It was as if the world didn’t notice.

On Sunday, however, it was different. As soon as it became apparent that the Packers would likely lose, the texts came flying in from all over.

“Uh oh!”


“Time to put the Packer gear away for awhile!”

Funny, I don’t remember congratulatory texts when the Packers won the Super Bowl.

And the pain won’t just stop — the season continues. There are games next weekend, which I will have to watch knowing that my team is no longer playing. And then the Super Bowl! The agony! Am I supposed to wear my Packer jacket commemorating past championship victories to the obligatory Super Bowl party with a straight face?

And then there is a whole offseason reminding me how the Packers fell short. Replays on ESPN of the completed Hail Mary at the end of the first half that put the Pack in a 10-point hole going into halftime will air whenever the subject of the football team in Green Bay comes up. Analysts will argue about whether or not the Packers can improve. And I will continue to suffer.

Why does sport garner such a reaction? Why do losses bring more pain than wins bring gratification?

There is a funny YouTube clip where two fans of opposing soccer teams are stuck in a room watching a game together. In the video, when one team scores a game-winning goal, the fan of the winning team celebrates by taking the distraught fan’s head and putting it inside his shirt.

It is always worse to be the guy with his head up another guy’s shirt than it is better to be the guy putting someone else’s head inside your shirt. Winning is not lasting.

There is a reason perennial winners such as Michael Jordan and Brett Favre have such a hard time letting go of the sports they love: They need the satisfaction that comes from winning, only it doesn’t last, so they need to continue to keep trying to win. Winning is like the ring in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” — it dominates the will of the person who wears it.

Losing is not quite the same. It does last. The reason revenge is such an attractive pull to humans is because we, as a race, cannot stand losing.

Of course, football is just a game. I will get over the Packers’ loss. Indeed, they will probably contend for a title next season, so my misery may be short-lived.

But the next time they win, I doubt I will be as happy.


Tony Petersen is the opinion editor of The Collegian. Follow him on Twitter @tonypetersen4.

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