So here’s Week 8 in a nutshell. With his two pick-sixes, New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith scored more points for the Bengals than for his own team. With the world’s ugliest two-game win streak, the now 2 – 6 Giants are just two games out of first in the ongoing joke known as the NFC East. The first place Cowboys (4 – 4) wouldn’t be higher than second in any other division in football. Speaking of the Cowboys, they found another new, surprising and absolutely hilarious way to lose a game. And what can you say about the Washington Redskins? After leading the Denver Broncos 21 to 7 in the third quarter, they somehow managed to lose 45 to 21, allowing 38 unanswered points in the process. Those are all Loser of the Week worthy performances but I’ve got something more pressing on my mind.
Reader’s note–This is going to be a little longer, a little more personal and a whole lot different than my normal weekly blog posts. Please bear with me.
I’ve been battling a serious affliction for more than thirty years. It’s a rare disorder with a totally unpronounceable name. Most refer to it simply as purple blood. It can be incredibly painful and debilitating. There are no visible signs of this malady. The damage is all internal.
The Minnesota Vikings have been tearing out little pieces of my soul for as long as I remember caring about football. They’re last Super Bowl appearance came in the 70’s. I was born in ’69. It was sometime in the 80’s when I really became a fan. I don’t know how or why. Doctors think it was a virus I picked up, probably in a gas station men’s room somewhere. The thing is the Vikings have almost always been pretty good. But, for a variety of reasons, they’ve never quite made it over the hump. Around 1990, they were on the losing end of what’s widely considered the worst trade in NFL history. They didn’t fully recover until Randy Moss joined the team in 1998. The Vikings made it all the way to the NFC Championship game that year, and lost. Their next title game appearance came a little over a decade later. They lost again. Both losses occurred in devastating, heartbreaking, utterly predictable ways. When the Vikings need a chip shot field goal to win, when their kicker hasn’t missed a field goal or an extra point in almost two years, what the hell do you think is going to happen? That debacle sent my wife into labor… and she’s not even a fan.
My wife isn’t in labor anymore. Our son was born a week before the Vikings should have faced the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. A year and a half later, I started watching baseball. I’d never been a baseball fan before. But, I was a stay-at-home dad and my wife was working the evening shift. She usually got home at around eleven thirty. Our son was typically in bed by eight thirty. That left me with three hours of nothing to do. I’m not into reality television, medical dramas or what used to be called situation comedies. I like sports and, that time of year, baseball was about the only option. I had my choice between the Yankees and Mets. Call it a character flaw but I’ve always pulled for the underdog. The Mets certainly fit the bill. Except, in 2000, they were pretty darn good. In fact, they made it all the way to the World Series, played the Yankees… and were dumped in five games. That should have told me something, but I kept watching, wishing and hoping. And each year the Mets would, as Weird Al Yankovic sings, “Rip my heart right out of my rib cage with my bare hands and then throw it on the floor and stomp on it ’til I die.” The song is called One More Minute. Check it out; it’s good stuff. The point is, through long years of suffering, I’ve grown accustomed to disappointment. I thought I’d even come up with a way to benefit from it.
I’ve got this friend. I don’t know how he’d feel about me using his real name so we’ll call him Rex Grossman. An Illinois native, Rex is a fan of nearly everything Chicago: Cubs, Bulls, Bears, etc. And, although the Bears have enjoyed a bit more success than the Vikings, they did win a Super Bowl in 1985, our teams have spent decades on similar paths of despair. The Cubs were dreadful in 2012, winning just 61 games. The Mets were only marginally better and, for the past three seasons, have been very busy trimming their payroll. They used to be up around two hundred million. They’re now closer to a tenth of that. I bet Rex that, in 2013, the Mets would actually be worse than the Cubs. The way I saw it, I couldn’t lose. If the Mets were somehow good, I could revel in their surprising success. If, however, they were bad, which was what I was banking on, I would win the bet. Yes, for me to win, the Mets had to suck even more than the Cubs. These are the types of bets desperate fans make. And what, you might ask, were the terms of our wager? I mentioned it in a previous blog post. The loser of the bet had to say nice things about the winners favorite team in a public forum. So, if the Mets were in fact worse than the Cubs, Rex would have to say a series of nice things about the Vikings. That has not happened. Although the Mets surely did suck in 2013, they didn’t suck quite enough. That’s why, for four weeks in a row, I was forced to glorify the Chicago Bears. I mentioned their fancy single-letter logo, talked up Jay Cutler’s 4th quarter performances, gave Cutler another shout out for being the most sacked quarterback in franchise history, and I went so far as to recognize the Bears as the best pro football team in all of Chicago. That’s high praise, and talking about the Bears in such flattering terms nearly killed me. The fact that they lost three of their last four games did take away a bit of the sting.
And now our wager is over. I have paid up in full. I could, therefore, take this opportunity to tell you what I really think about the Bears. I won’t do that, mainly because I’m the one who deserves to be ridiculed. I’ve been following the Mets and Vikings for far too long. They have more in common than you might think. The Mets are well known for their dramatic late-season collapses. And has there ever been anything more appropriately symbolic than the 2010 collapse of the Metrodome? It wasn’t snow that brought that roof down. It was years of crushing disappointment. That shit gets heavy. I foolishly believed that, at least in some small way, I could somehow capitalize from my misguided team loyalties. I was wrong. The Mets did just well enough to only finish near the bottom of the barrel and the Vikings, despite having perhaps the best running back ever to play the game, are arguably the worst team in the league. I should just give up on them. But, I will continue watching, wishing and hoping. Sadly, there is no cure for purple blood. My only salvation is this oft-used mantra. There’s always next year.