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Sports Fans and the Heartbreak Hotel

By Yong-yi Zhu


Heartbreak. Webster defines heartbreak as “crushing grief, anguish, or distress.” I guess that’s a good start, but it’s not enough to fully illustrate the destructive force of the emotion. When is heartbreak felt? The death of a close friend or the loss of a family member are closely linked to heartbreak. In general, losing something we love demolishes the balance of our emotions and wreaks havoc on our well-being. Just think about it, when something that we feel strongly about, something that matters much to us, something we label with the word love leaves us, we can feel as though the whole world has left us.

Sports is something we love.

Whether it be the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Red Wings or the Indianapolis Colts, sports fans root for teams as though their lives depend on it. Often times, they are not even aware that they are watching television; the experience is so real to them. When Shaquille O’Neal slams down a dunk, when Pedro Martinez strikes out a batter, when Steve Yzerman slaps in a one-timer or when Peyton Manning floats one up to Marvin Harrison in the end zone, people jump out of their seats because they are overjoyed; their loved ones have achieved something great. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the losers, you feel like a loser. Down, out, and dead.

I’m sure the Red Sox fans out there know exactly what I’m talking about. When Aaron Boone hit that home run in the bottom of the eleventh at Yankee Stadium in game 7 of the American League Championship Series last year, the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Red Sox fans simply turned to dust. I’m not sure exactly when all the heartbreaks happened, but somewhere in that ten second window between the time when the ball left Tim Wakefield’s right hand, to the time when Boone’s bat made contact with the ball, to the time when the ball finally landed harmlessly in the stands in left field, fair, you almost felt the entire city of Boston falling down on their knees in shock at what had just occurred.

The Red Sox played 162 games in the regular season spanning six months, five hard fought games against the Oakland Athletics from which the Sox came back from a 0-2 deficit, and seven brutal games against the New York Yankees, their archenemies, all to have their season end definitively in a matter of seconds. How devastating can sports be?

Pure heartbreak.

Let me elucidate the matter further with a game a week and a half ago between the Maryland Terrapins and the Syracuse Orangemen (I, being from Maryland, am somewhat of a Maryland fan, especially during the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament). The game began slowly with a lackluster tone. Both teams were not scoring and Maryland in particular was having problems making field goals. But at least the two teams were close. I still had hope for the Terps to continue chugging their way through the tournament.

Then, the second half came and saw Hakim Warrick suddenly pick up his shooting. Maryland, on the other hand, stayed cold for the majority of the half. However, as the game drew to a close, suddenly the Terps came surging back for a chance at a comeback. They started at sixteen down. But slowly, the breaks went Maryland’s way. After all, when was the last time that Gerry McNamara missed a free throw in the closing seconds of a game? His missed shot allowed D.J. Strawberry of Maryland to drive down the court and attempt a last second shot. When the shot went up, it felt as if fate had led Maryland this far. Why would they get all the breaks just to lose in the end? But when it went wide and the follow-up shot did too, I was crushed. I collapsed to the floor confused and in complete disbelief of what had just happened.

Maryland had just been eliminated from the tournament; it was over. My heart pounded as though I had just run a marathon. My body felt soft as though I had just had the wind knocked out of me.

It’s not the first and not the last time that feeling will go through my veins. I am also not the only person who has experienced this (the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV come to mind). But it hurts so much when it does happen. What’s even worse is that we are not granted any time to mourn our loss. But we are sports fans, and we are tough. Even when we lose a loved one, like the Terrapins, like the Red Sox, we can still go on. Toughness comes with being a sports fanatic, and so does heartbreak.