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Friday, April 16, 2021

Reflecting on a life spent cheering for the losers of sports

Last Sunday's improbable New York Jets victory over the New England Patriots gave me, and fellow Jets fans, plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

The signing of former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez already had me ecstatic about the future, and the hiring of head coach Rex Ryan gave the team not only an impressive defensive mentality, but also a refreshing new locker-room environment.

Before the season, expectations were modest with a rookie quarterback and a first-year head coach. But with their win over the Pats, it's clear that this team could be headed for bigger things.

However, despite the Jets' efficient offense and a defense that hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown through two games, I will maintain a cautiously positive stance. After all, my favorite teams have not won a championship in my lifetime, and I will never feel  fulfilled until this curse is lifted.

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Since early childhood, the Knicks, Mets and Jets have held a special place in my life.

For me, being a fan takes time and plenty of effort. I don't really care to speculate how many hours I've devoted to my teams—not just watching games, but reading reports, keeping up with stats and ranting about how they need to improve. Several events, particularly some over the last decade, have made me question why I continue to put myself through this.

Let's start with the Knicks, a storied franchise without a title since 1973. Center Patrick Ewing was drafted in 1985, which began a thrilling run including 14 straight playoff appearances and two trips to the NBA Finals. These teams were a pleasure to watch and hard not to love with their passion and intensity brought not only by Ewing, but by  other figures like John Starks and Charles Oakley as well.

But alas, the Knicks also had the misfortune of playing in the same era as Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and the Knick assassin, Reggie Miller.

Following the trade of Ewing and the acquisition of Stephon Marbury (a transaction that the Knicks are still paying for dearly), a decade of misery followed.

Surprisingly, the Knicks' losing record in every season since 2001 while maintaining the league's highest payroll isn't the worst part. It's the team's off-court issues involving scandals and mismanagement that have been even more embarrassing.

The Mets won their last World Series in 1986, a year before I was born, just in time to begin a new streak of ups and downs. They've made the playoffs just four times in my lifetime, but it's more the fashion of these losses that has made things unbearable.

As a young middle-schooler, I had to suffer through four World Series titles by the crosstown rival Yankees. While most of my friends experienced the joys of October, I was the subject of countless taunts and other forms of torture.

Sure, the 1999, 2000 and 2006 seasons were very exciting with two NLCS appearances and a World Series appearance (predictably a loss to the Yankees). But the Mets' expansion of payroll and a rise in expectations in the last few years has only made things worse.

In the previous two seasons, the Mets have managed consecutive September collapses, knocked from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season. As for this year, don't even get me started. The moment Sports Illustrated picked the Mets to win the World Series, I knew this fantasy didn't have the power to override the strange occurrences going on with this franchise.

That leaves the Jets, who have gone 40-plus seasons without a Super Bowl appearance since their infamous 1968 win anchored by quarterback Joe Namath.

They never finished above .500 and had no playoff appearances in the 1970s. In 1996, they finished 1-15—thanks to the 2008 Lions, that's no longer a remarkable statistic. Last season's win over the then-undefeated Tennessee Titans gave the Jets some hope at 8-3, but the team finished an abysmal 1-4 to squash any playoff aspirations.

So needless to say, before I start salivating over the future success of this year's Jets, I'll start by praying they don't screw up their next game. Maybe I've used up most of this column for my own self-pity, but my point is that every fan has their own stories of heartbreak.

So to other readers lacking that special victory, here's to the end of your team's curse—because it's time for people like us to finally experience the taste of championship glory.

 Share your team's stories of futility with Matt at mfox2@wisc.edu.

 

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