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October 10, 2003

by Bill Hogan



England's Poet Laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote in his 1850 poem In Memoriam:21 that "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Some would agree with Tennyson's sentiments. Other poor lovelorn mopes would somberly disagree. The point has been debated for 153 years.

By the same token, a relevant sports perplexity would be: is it better to have participated in the postseason and lost than never to have participated at all? From a fan's standpoint, this is a quandary for the ages.


Take the Oakland A's, for instance. They've played well enough in the regular season the past four years to make it to the Division Series. They lost all four first round match ups in classic choke artist fashion. Over that four year stretch, they had nine – that's NINE – chances to put away the other team in series-clinching games and they went Oh-Fer.

That has to take its toll on the Oakland faithful. How bitterly disappointing it must be to have been so close, so many times, and have nothing to show for it. To add insult to injury, all anyone wants to talk about is how the A's gagged on another golden opportunity.

Which comes as a relief to baseball fans in Atlanta where the Braves have long been considered the poster boys for postseason futility. Twelve straight division titles and five World Series appearances since 1991 and only one World Championship. Shame on them.

Imagine, squandering chance after chance to become a dynasty of Yankee-esque proportion. One World Series title - ha. The Marlins have done as much and they've only been in existence since 1993.

A Brave's fan might retort "yea, well, at least we get to the postseason." From a fan's perspective there's a monumental difference between losing in the postseason and not getting to the postseason. At least there should be.

The teams that make it to the postseason year after year put themselves on center stage with a 50/50 chance of failure – in prime time. Should they be mocked if they happen to come out on the short end? Somebody has to.

Fans in Buffalo have been lampooned for years because their beloved Bills lost four straight Super Bowls in the early '90's. Shouldn't they be able to take some satisfaction in the fact that their team won four straight AFC Championships?

Garth Brooks wrote in one of his many country hits "I could have missed the pain, but then I'd have had to miss the dance." For some, they'd rather miss the dance than open themselves up to scorn and ridicule. For others, the reward far exceeds the risk.

One thing is for sure, it's a hellofa lot easier to criticize from the bleachers – or the pressbox – than it is to step on the field and put it all on the line. But it's a lot more fun to watch when it's your team with as good a chance to succeed as to fail.

Cubs fans should forget about 1908, Red Sox fans needn't concern themselves with the "curse of the Bambino." It's October and your teams are still playing. It's the League Championship Series and you have good reason to hang on every pitch, pound on the bar, hug the stranger next to you and order another shot of Yaegermeister. Enjoy it.

If you've got butterflies in your stomach when you wake up, if it's all you can talk about around the water cooler, if your heart is racing like the first time you tried the triple espresso caramel latte at Starbucks. Good, that's the way it should be.

There's a fine line between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Both produce a head spinning adrenaline rush – much like the Yaegermeister. To again quote Tennyson: "Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss."

To have loved and lost is a gut wrenching, heartbreaking feeling (or so I'm told). But it has to be better than sitting at home alone every night eating TV dinners and stroking the cat. Too afraid to step up to the plate and put something on the line – win or lose.

As for that "quandary for the ages" I mentioned, the answer is easy. It all depends on whether or not you're willing to risk having your heart ripped out of your chest, thrown to the floor and stomped on over and over again.


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