Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aristotle and the agony of defeat

The video below is cheesy and dramatic, of course, but I found it illuminating. The very act of letting your emotions rise and fall on the performances of a sports team is cheesy and dramatic to begin with, so let's check that part of our brain at the door.

TV only shows the winners: winning quarterback and coaches are interviewed, as are those who make plays for the winning team. After conference championships and the Super Bowl, we see the winning teams celebrating, but we never see the losing team sitting around dejected, filing into the locker room and going home. We almost never see dejected fans sitting in the stands, which makes this commercial a fresh image, to me at least.

This weekend, of course, was full of tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, though certainly not the way the term is conventionally used. Aristotle wrote that tragedy is about the reversal of fortunes, when a great person suffers a misfortune. Certainly, Billy Cundiff's field goal is one such reversal of fortune, made more acute by the fact that a 32-yard field goal has about a 90% chance of success.

Kyle Williams had a more dramatic reversal of fortune. It's one thing to miss a field goal, but it's another to fumble a punt, still another to do it twice in the same game, and it's even more crushing to do so in a playoff game. Williams, sadly, received death threats on Twitter, perplexing considering that these are people who willingly spent time watching him on TV and then, like an deranged puppy, turned on their master.

If you are a fan of the 49ers and Ravens, my high-minded appeal to Aristotle and literary philosophy might not do much to salve your wounds, but that's exactly the point. Defeat is every bit a part of sports as victory, but one that seldom gets attention, except perhaps in the cities and countries where it happens. Sports is obsessed with winning and winners, but dramatic, agonizing defeat is every bit the spectacle that is victory, in some ways moreso.

I split this week's games to move my record to 6-4. As much as I hate the Patriots, and as well as I think the Giants are wearing, I think the Patriots are simply more likely to win. I would not be surprised in any way if the Giants won, but this game is just as likely to be a three-touchdown victory for either team (okay, moreso for the Patriots) as it is a tense, close game.

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