I don't know when it happened, but at some point, as a nation of sports fans, we forgot what being a sports fan meant. We seem to have decided really, really good just wasn't good enough.
Before I get into this, I think the vast majority of people reading it are going to agree with me. But after perusing the Internet over the last few days, I'm not sure as many will agree with me as I would have thought.
Anyway, my point is this: It seems the only measuring stick for a great season now is winning the entire thing. I'm sorry, I just don't agree. And even more, I hate that most people seem to think that way.
The genesis for this column idea was the reaction of Missouri fans after a Cotton Bowl win that ended Missouri's season at 12-and-2 and landed the Tigers fifth in the final polls announced late Monday night. Again, the vast majority of Mizzou fans think this was a great season. They are right. It was great. It was historic. The fact that it was completely and totally unexpected only increases the value.
Now I fully admit that Internet message boards and Twitter aren't the greatest places in the world to gauge the level of rational thought. I know those mediums are dealing with the diehards of the diehards, those that live and die with every down, those that know who the fourth-string linebacker is, those that can project the 2015 depth chart. But still, at some point, we need some level heads to take over, don't we?
If you've gotten this far, you probably think I'm going to spend a few hundred words insulting Missouri fans. That's not my intention. Well, it's not my full intention. Tiger fans still lamenting the SEC Championship Game loss, or those still frustrated that Maty Mauk never took over in the Cotton Bowl, or even those still angry that Mizzou lost to Oklahoma State in 2008 aren't alone. They have company across the country.
For the next few paragraphs, I'm going to list some teams that had great seasons, whose fans should be over-the-top ecstatic about what their teams accomplished. I'm going to tell you why they should be so happy. And then I'm going to cut and paste the title of an outlandish thread from a message board devoted to that team:
Baylor: The Bears had redefined futility in major conference football. They couldn't win a game in the Big 12 for years, much less more than one. This year, they won the conference championship before losing the Fiesta Bowl to Central Florida. By any measure, it's the greatest season in Baylor history (I mean, I think so, I haven't really gone back to make sure, but at least in modern history it's accurate).
Thread Title: "I wish that the QB job would be open in the spring..." (Note: Baylor led the country in scoring and Bryce Petty was in the running for the Heisman Trophy most of the year)
Arizona State: The Sun Devils were 10-4. They hosted the PAC-12 title game. They played in a game that UCLA, USC and Oregon did not play in. Two of their four losses came to Stanford, a top ten team and the PAC-12 champ. They lost the Holiday Bowl to Texas Tech.
Thread title: "This ruined a pretty good season."
Auburn: The Tigers were 0-8 in the SEC last year. They played in the national championship game this year. They were 13 seconds away from winning it. Gus Malzahn was a finalist for every coach of the year award.
Thread title: "sorry Gus, I'm unimpressed."
Kansas: The Jayhawks won a Big 12 game for the first time in more than a thousand days. They came kind of close to winning one or two more.
Thread title: Okay, I admit, I made that one up just to be funny. Don't say I don't know my target audience.
You get the point. I know we're dealing with the crazies and I'm cherry-picking the worst of what they said to make a point. I don't think the people who posted these things are representative of an entire fanbase, or even a very large portion of one.
But these aren't even rational thoughts. I mean, at some point, the journey has to be worth something. If winning the national title is the only thing that matters, more than 120 teams had bad seasons.
To put this in perspective, only 11 teams won even a share of a BCS championship. Only Alabama, Florida, USC, LSU and Florida State won more than one. Those are five of the top programs in the last half century of college football.
Some more perspective: Since the end of World War II (note, that's a LONG time ago), exactly 30 Division One programs have won even a share of one recognized college football national title. That is less than a quarter of the current Division One teams. In 70 years.
Of those 30, 13 of them have one championship (many of them split). That means 67 of a possible 80 national championships have been won by a whopping 17 programs. To go further, let's eliminate the schools that have won two. That leaves us with this list:
Notre Dame 7
Ohio State 6
Florida State 3
That's it. Eleven schools have won 57 of a potential 80 national championships. If you don't want to do the math, that is more than two-thirds of the championships going to less than one-tenth of the schools.
And it's getting harder. Texas has won one national title in the last 50 years. Notre Dame hasn't won one since 1988. Oklahoma has one in the last 28 seasons. Nebraska hasn't done it since 1997. Michigan has the second-best winning percentage in the history of college football...and one national title since 1948.
I know most people already realize most of this. To those who don't, I know what I say here won't matter. But it's not just hard to win the whole thing. It is damned near impossible for 90% of the college football world.
That doesn't mean it can't happen. Hell, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be the goal. My 16-year-old wants to play Major League Baseball and then play in the NFL in the offseason. He probably won't. But I want him to have that goal. My wife probably had dreams of marrying a multi-millionaire who cured cancer the week before being named the Sexiest Man Alive. It would be a nice goal. The fact that she fell well short of that should not be viewed as a complete failure (insert snarky comment here).
Anyway, I had a front row seat for what it can be argued was the greatest season in 134 years of Missouri football. I will remember Henry Josey coming back and L'Damian Washington telling me this team wanted to go down in history and Michael Sam coming out of nowhere to land on every all-American team in the world. I will remember the upset Between the Hedges and a sellout crowd mockingly doing the Gator Chomp and the Tigers coming as close to shutting down Johnny Football as anyone ever did.
And, yes, I will remember Tre Mason running for more than a sixth of a mile and fourth and 15 and the kick banging off the left upright. And I will remember turning on the national championship game and talking with my son about how close we were to being there and watching Missouri play in that grand game. But none of this paragraph will spoil everything in the one that came before it.
Being a sports fan is about the journey. It is about waking up every week and knowing we just might see something we've never seen before. It is about the thrill of the highs and the desperation of the lows.
For a very, very select few, it is about lifting a crystal football above your head on a late January night. Not for most of us. For most of us, it is about seeing things we've never seen before and inching ever closer to that ultimate goal. It is about the memories we will have as our team climbed the mountain, not the rock that tripped them up a couple of steps short. It is about spending the next few months convincing ourselves that next year is the year, not worrying about why last year was not.
Sports has been called the grown man's toy box in life (I can't find any proof it has been, but it should be). They say he who has the most toys wins. Maybe so. But a lot of people have a lot of toys that are fun to play with, even if somebody else is always going to have a few more. I choose to enjoy my toys.
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