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The Agony of Defeat and Thrill of Victory

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Our family was gathered around the TV at my grandparents watching The Game. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins — the full family. My only vision is of the Buckeye quarterback failing to pitch it to a running back on a 4th and 1, followed by my mother screaming a blood-curling “fuck you” at the TV. 

I couldn’t have been older than five. That was the first time I remember hearing my mother upset or swear. It is one of my first memories as a child. 

Experiences, good or bad, can last a lifetime. And sometimes our worst experiences twist their way through our minds to manifest as influential markers in life that we can point at to explain a part of who we are.

I’m a Buckeye fan. I’m a sports fanatic. And like many of us, many of my greatest joys derive from experiences. 

Earlier this year, I made the trip from Atlanta to South Bend to watch Ohio State play Notre Dame. Seeing a game there was on my bucket list. I had taken a summer class in college at Notre Dame and have been drawn to the religious mystique that I felt deep in my bones while there.

The buddy I attended the game with is also a lifelong Ohio State fan. He grew up with season tickets in a home a stone's throw away from campus. Like my family, his immediate and extended family bled Buckeye. Our childhood memories were never together, we had not met yet, but they felt the same. 

I woke up early Saturday to a text message from my friend. Tragedy had struck the night before. His cousin had died. 

His cousin was a loyal Buckeye fan, it was a part of who he was. 

We discussed not attending. I know he struggled with it. However, he knew deep down that his cousin would have wanted him at that game. 

We stood in the crowd outside for Mass and silently kneeled and said our heartfelt prayers at the Grotto.

With the exception of a stray drunk college kid asking us if we ever took a class with Jeffrey Dahmer, the Notre Dame fans went out of their way to be kind.

The ambiance of Notre Dame works through your body like wine at Mass. You feel an uplifting spirit that shapes your thoughts into a more important direction than a game. That is, until kickoff.

We stood in the stands surrounded by two and three-generation families attending together. This game was important to all of us. 

If you’re a Buckeye fan, you know the game details. In summary, we won on a long once-in-a-lifetime drive, at one point converting a 4th and 19 and then scoring a touchdown to win on the last play of the game.

I’ll keep the emotions of what it was like for my friend private. Just know that there’s more to life than a game, but for many of us, it’s a game that connects us in life.

I made the trip this weekend to Ann Arbor with a buddy to attend The Game. It was on the bucket list, and with the change of playoff configuration, it’s the last time we will see two undefeated teams play in The Game that will make or break the chances of making the playoffs. And it was a great excuse to spend time with a friend I’ve missed.

The annual obligatory smack talk with old friends and new from the team up north started the week before the game. It’s in good fun because the only upshot to losing is they feel what I felt for seven years in a row, twice (OSU won from 2004-2010 and 2012-2019)

We planned the day well, starting bright and early at ESPN GameDay. Other than a few college kids, who were very kind by the way, everyone seemed sober. We were surrounded by clever signs fueled by the hate of Ohio State. We had signs, but unfortunately, Xichigan stole them on the way in.

The hate was like a tea kettle just put on the stove, yet to hit its boiling point. 

The feeling between fans ranges from respectful to unbridled hatred. We were told to “fuck off” straight to our faces more times than we can count, and one Wolverine went out of his way to chest bump me while I was carrying two hot coffees. I didn’t take the bait. 

And all of this was before the game even started. 

I don’t want to mislead you, but when I watch the game from the safety of my own home I turn into a swearing lunatic, commenting every play. But I’m not violent.

We were lucky to sit surrounded by the thinking segment of the population in that stadium, the high price of tickets seemed to have marked a territory impenetrable by the mouth droolers. 

We lost. Writing about it is too agonizing right now, but we lost on the final drive. And no excuses, we were just beaten.

The toughest memories we make are somehow seen when looking back at our lives through a positive lens, or suppressing the pain. Maybe this is through the grace of God, but the brain science is clear. Like the sting of a vaccine that most are eventually grateful for, the agony of defeat morphs into an unregretted memory. 

And this is a tough memory. 

This is why I’ll take the financial risk of the big game experience in person.  Win or lose, I’ve never walked away regretting the decision to attend. I cannot say the same for many of the possessions I’ve purchased.  A feeling confirmed by science that is commonly felt among all of us.

Besides, without intention, my mind has been drifting to the latest overtime win against the team up north. 

Much like when I was five years old, my family and some friends were gathered around the TV. This time I was slicing into the memories of my kids, as well as my nieces and nephews, language they were too young to hear, but this time, the game ended in our favor.

As I write this, it’s not the agony of defeat that is driving how I’m feeling, but rather the thrill of victory on that faithful Saturday, celebrating the greatest Ohio State win in my lifetime, hugging my mother one last time before she passed away. But this time she was smiling.


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