Devastating Losses


Going into yesterday’s game, I thought the prospect of my beloved Bears losing to the dreaded Packers in the NFC Championship game would be the most demoralizing of all possible scenarios in my entire life.  I mean, the evil Packers, hoisting Papa Bear Halas’ own trophy in our own stadium?  Unthinkable.  Suicide-inducing.

And I’m not gonna lie, the loss hit me like a heavyweight’s body blows.  Every big 3rd down conversion by Aaron Rodgers; every blown opportunity by not one, not two, but three different Bears quarterbacks, they were all like daggers.  Every shitty, second-rate high school play call by the so-called genius Mike Martz; every punt by the Pack downed inside the 10 yard line. (Who the hell is that punter anyway?  I’ve never seen a punter dominate a game so thoroughly.)

But after sitting in my darkened apartment for a couple hours, iPod blaring the angriest music I could find, I realized that this loss really wasn’t as bad as some I’ve experienced in my life.  Not nearly as gut wrenching as some, not by a long shot.

So now, for your reading pleasure, I present the five most devastating losses in my life:

#5- February 14, 1998.  West Lafayette, IN.  College Basketball.  #8 Purdue 75, Illinois 72

 Although the Illini would later back their way into a share of the Big Ten title, at the time this loss seemingly cost them their first conference crown in 14 years.  Worst of all, the loss was caused almost entirely by bad officiating.  Purdue outshot the Illini 37-7 at the foul line (37-9 actually, but I’m not counting the two foul shots on Gene Keady’s technical foul, which he intentionally drew to fire up the home crowd).  And yet the gritty Illini still clawed back from a double digit deficit to tie the game at 70 before finally falling.

And I have a more personal reason for the game causing me such pain.  This was back before I was the veteran alcoholic you see before you.  At that point in my life I might have been drunk twice.  Ever.  And a friend of mine took advantage of my moment of weakness and got me the drunkest I have ever been in my life.  In all honesty, I’m pretty sure I had alcohol poisoning.  Threw up for an entire day and I think I was still drunk 16 hours later.  I had a hangover for about two and half days.  I probably should have died.

#4- June 19, 1999.  NHL Hockey.  Buffalo, NY.  Dallas Stars 2, Buffalo Sabres 1 (3OT)

Yes, I’m a hockey fan.  I won’t apologize.  And a Buffalo Sabres fan.  I know most of you don’t care, but this was one of the greatest robberies in sports history.  With the Stanley Cup on the line, Dallas leading the series 3-2, game 6 was an absolute classic.  It was well into the 3rd overtime, almost six hours of edge-of-your-seat drama, when Brett Hull finally put the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in the back of the net.

But here’s the problem: the goal shouldn’t have counted.  I’ll try to keep this simple for you non-hockey fans, but basically in 1999 it was ILLEGAL for a player to be in the crease (that’s the blue ice around the goal) unless the puck was also already in the blue paint.   As you can see in the picture above, the puck was clearly not in the blue paint.  And Hull’s skate clearly was in the crease.

The NHL reviewed literally every single goal in the 1999 season.  Roughly 1300 games throughout the entire regular season and playoffs.  And yet, with the Stanley Cup on the line, the most important goal of the season was not reviewed and the Dallas Stars were awarded a Stanley Cup they didn’t earn.

#3- September 23, 2000.  Champaign, IL. #10 Michigan 35, #19 Illinois 31

Another game stolen by the officials.  (I think that’s a trend.  Losing fair and square hurts, but you can live with it.  Getting screwed just leaves a sickening feeling inside you that never goes away.)  This was the game that brought instant replay to college football.  The officials blew three fumble calls (all in Michigan’s favor) in the final 6 minutes to hand the game to the Wolverines.  The next year the Big Ten instituted the first instant replay.  Within another year or two it had become the rule all across Division I-A.  Too bad it took the Big Ten blatantly stealing a game from Illinois for it to come to fruition.

#2- April 4, 2005.  St. Louis, MO.  College Basketball.  #2 North Carolina 75, #1 Illinois 70

The National Championship.  The culmination of the greatest season in Illinois sports history.  A team of unbelievable will and character.  Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head, James Augustine, Roger Powell, Jack Ingram.  Even today just their names make me smile.

I could blame this one on the refs too.  James Augustine, who didn’t foul out of a game all year, played just 9 minutes and drew 5 fouls.  But although the officiating was pretty shitty, the reality is the Illini played probably their worst game of the year at the wrong time.  Just 12 of 40 from the 3-point line (and it was a lot worse than that before they made a furious run in the last couple minutes).

I’ll go to my grave believing that if this had been a best-of-7 series like the NBA, Carolina would have been lucky to get to game 6.  The Illini would have run them out of the building on almost any other night.  But unfortunately all that matters is that one night in April.

The worst moment of all came right after the game.  Walking out of the dome in St. Louis, I walked by a warehouse that had, no shit, at least 30,000 “Illinois National Champs” T-shirts ready to sell.  I almost started crying right there.

#1- February 21, 2007.  Champaign, IL.  College Basketball.  Illinois 54, Michigan 42

What, an Illinois victory is the most devastating loss ever?  Well, yes.  Because 2/21/07 will always go down as the last time Chief Illiniwek ever represented the University of Illinois as its honored symbol.

It would take me days to finish my rant on the political correct bullshit that led to the death of the most honored and revered mascot in all of sports.  So I’ll just say this: I cried like a baby during that last dance.  And after the game, I walked out of the Assembly Hall and haven’t been to a university event since.  I didn’t lose a ballgame that day, I lost my alma mater, the school I had cheered for since before I could walk.

I’m fairly fortunate in that I haven’t had a great deal of tragedy in my life, I haven’t had any truly close family or friends die yet.  But I can still say without a doubt that Feb 21st, 2007 was the worst day of my life.

RIP, Chief.

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