Last Saturday, my beloved Redskins survived a torturous fourth quarter to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-10. I watched the game in New York City's unofficial Redskins bar. When the game ended, we went berserk, performing a celebratory Fun Bunch and singing "Hail to the Redskins!"
After a few minutes of revelry, I remembered an oft-overlooked tenet of sportsmanship: It's not enough to celebrate your favorite team's victory in the company of your fellow fans. During times of conquest, I always remember to celebrate the other team's defeat in the company of their fans.
During football season, my consumption of sports media is dictated in large part by the performance of the Redskins. A tough loss will chase me away from the sports pages for an entire week. After a big win, my need for Redskins reportage is insatiable. Daily newspapers, a handful of blogs, the Redskins home page, ESPN, Sports Illustrated—it's still not enough.
When the Redskins humiliated the Cowboys on Monday Night Football earlier this year thanks to two late Santana Moss touchdowns, I went on a reconnaissance mission. The next morning, I ventured into the formerly hostile territory of the Dallas sports pages and savored every harsh word tossed at the hometown losers. "[T]he Cowboys came out on the wrong end, somehow blowing a late 13-point fourth-quarter lead, eventually blowing a game, and maybe even wrecking an entire season," Randy Galloway wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Pathetic and disgraceful is being too kind to the Cowboys." This was fantastic!
With that schadenfreude in mind, I raced back to my apartment a few minutes after the Redskins' first playoff victory in six years. I immediately started surfing through Bucs Web sites and cranked up Tampa sports radio WDAE—the "Sports Animal."
Earlier in the day, I had tuned in to the pregame show on the same station. Until then, I hadn't harbored a strong impression of Bucs fans. As I quickly learned, they are a scurrilous and foul-mouthed bunch with a hearty appetite for good defense and liquor. Several of them predicted a Bucs blowout. One noted that he was going down to the stadium "to harass Redskins fans."
By the post-game show, the Animal had transformed into a delightful dirge. Gone were the fight songs, the barbaric howling, and the idiotic kazoos.
"It's going to take a while to get over this as a fan," moaned a caller who went by Timmy. Don: "The offense sucked." T.J.: "This is a tough one." A woman named, curiously, Aussie D: "We just didn't have enough fire on the barbie."
Much of the bellyaching centered on a controversial play: a pass late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Bucs a chance to tie the game if only the refs hadn't ruled that the ball squirted loose at the last instant.
"There was a little bit of a conspiracy on the NFL side," explained a caller named Jeff. "They didn't want [Bucs Coach Jon] Gruden in the playoffs." Host Scott Ledger agreed: "We got rooked. … How is it that you don't know, when you're an NFL referee, that the ground can't cause a fumble. … Killing me. Killing me."
I knew this kind of pain. Earlier this year, the Bucs beat the Redskins 36-35 on a two-point conversion play in which Mike Alstott was clearly—clearly!—stopped short of the goal line. For days, I sounded just like these woebegone callers—bitter, angry, and calling for an official investigation.
Against my will, I began to identify with the Tampa Bay fans. That just wouldn't do. Before I developed full-blown empathy, I turned off the Sports Animal and switched over to the Bucs' post-game interviews. Quarterback Chris Simms, who threw two interceptions, got sacked three times, and led his team to a measly 10 points, was still grappling with what went wrong. If the two intercepted passes hadn't been tipped, he pointed out, both "were going to be 20-yard completions." Elsewhere, coach Gruden noted that he'd like to go home and stick his head in a pool.
Eventually even this brand of seppuku got a little boring. For one thing, I just can't bring myself to hate the Bucs like I hate the Cowboys. There was also plenty about this game that I couldn't wait to forget. Mark Brunell's fourth-quarter interception. The Redskins' historically inept offensive performance. Derrick Frost shanking a 14-yard punt late in the game. That's the kind of gruesomeness that tends to drive me into media quarantine.
By midweek, I stopped reading the St. Petersburg Times sports page altogether. Now I find my mind drifting back to that early-season win over the Cowboys. When I think back on the 2005 football season, that's the game I'll savor. Thanks to my gloating radar, I know I'm not the only one still thinking about that Monday night.
"You just knew that loss was bad then," Mickey Spagnola wrote on dallascowboys.com on Monday. "You realized that loss was bad at season's end. But after watching what happened this weekend, that bad, bad loss grew even worse. Enough to make you sick."
And enough to keep me coming back for more, dear Cowboys columnist. Keep up the good work!