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The Agony of Defeat

By Alex Norman

“Losing feels worse than winning feels good.” – Vin Scully

As I watched the end to the final (thank you baby Jesus) BCS National Championship game, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for fans of the Auburn Tigers.

Their team had a 21-3 advantage late in the first half, gave that up to Florida State, and then re-took the lead with 1:19 to go.  But the Seminoles drove down the field and scored a game winning touchdown with only 13 seconds left.

Florida State 34, Auburn 31.

A wonderful season of unexpected success for the Tigers, a season with two (at least in the sports definition of the word) miracle plays that gave them victories over Georgia and Alabama, fell 13 seconds short of a National Championship.

And as the years go on, those plays will warm the hearts of folks down on The Plains.

And as the years go on, they will still wonder… what might have been.

The future looks bright for Auburn.  They have an innovative coach in Gus Malzahn, will return a ton of talent in 2014, and welcome a top ten recruiting class this summer.

You’d figure that the Tigers will have some more opportunities to play for the national title in the years to come, especially with the expanded playoff system starting next season.

But there are no guarantees.

Just ask Tennessee fans…

In January 1999, the Vols beat Florida State 23-16 for BCS National Championship.  It was their first consensus national title since 1951.

You would have been hard pressed to find a Tennessee fan that night in Tempe that believed 15 years later the Vols would still be looking for their next SEC or national championship.

Over the past decade and a half there have been highs for the Vols, such as the victory at Florida in 2001, wins over Georgia and Florida in 2004, three SEC East titles, and most recently a last second win over a South Carolina team that would finish the season ranked 4th in the nation.

But the losses… oh the losses…

The Kiffin era (if you can call it that) had a blocked field goal that would have given Tennessee the win at top ranked Alabama. The Dooley era had too many to list here, but defeats in 2010 at LSU and in the Music City Bowl against North Carolina are historic in the way they went down (13 men on the field and a now defunct clock rule respectively). The first loss to Kentucky in 26 years still stings.

However, no Tennessee defeat over the past 15 years hurts more than the 2001 SEC championship loss to LSU.  If the Vols win they play Miami for the BCS National Title at the Rose Bowl.  The Vols had a second half lead and they knocked the Tigers starting quarterback and running back out of the game.

But it was not to be. LSU upset Tennessee 31-20.

The Vols haven’t been close to the national title game since.

In Tennessee men’s basketball it is a blowing a 20 point lead to Ohio State in 2007 in the Sweet 16 or a one point defeat to Michigan State in the Elite 8 in 2010.

For the Lady Vols softball team it is failing to hold a three run lead in extra innings against Washington in Game One of the WCWS Finals.

For the Tennessee men’s tennis team it is a championship loss to Southern Cal a few years ago.

The list goes on and on… you know why?

Because in sports you have winners and you have losers.  This is why we love sports and why we give so much of our time and money and psychological well-being to watching sports.

The contract we willingly enter with our favorite sports teams is one that opens you to the dreaded gut punch loss.

Unless you are a bandwagon jumper (the lowest form of human existence by the way) you will experience the pain of brutal defeat.  Pro sports fans in Cleveland and Buffalo have enough of these to last multiple lifetimes.

Ever listen to Alabama coach Nick Saban talk about “The Process?”  He never sounds like he is enjoying his success, and he’s a guy that won four national championships.

He’ll remember the missed opportunity in losing to Auburn in November, a defeat that knocked them out of national title consideration.

These are only games… and there are many more important things in life than who put more points on the scoreboard on a patch of turf.

But they do matter.

Our emotions and our memories tell us that.

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