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My closet is lined with blue student section t-shirts from bygone years of 6 – 6 teams. They just hang there, mocking me, whispering cruel things to each other like, “Remember that preseason AP ranking?” Or, “What if LeSean McCoy stayed for his senior season?” They keep me up at night, muttering about irrelevant bowl games and half full stadiums. I slam the door shut, but I still hear them in my dreams. My nightmares. It’s haunting, especially for someone like me, who hails from a hometown accustomed to winning.
There’s our professional football team. Management styles their hair in the reflection of six Lombardis every morning before taking a glorious no-wipe shit in a Patriots helmet. Barring a couple yearly inexplicable losses to some NFL-doormat teams, fans like me expect greatness. I expect to black back in around dinner time and see a trouncing in the box score. Even during the worst years (the 9 – 7, 8 – 8 years), I still take solace in the fact that Mike Tomlin would make a great police chief in an ’80s cop flick and our franchise QB looks like a down syndrome-stricken Shrek who can still make it rain touchdowns.
Then there’s my high school alma mater’s football team, perpetually in the Pennsylvania interscholastic athletic basement. Even though their last state title came when gas was $0.20 per gallon and doctors considered smoking around your baby a good way to strengthen its lungs, the games are still entertaining and worth the gate price. Admission to games costs less than an order of nachos, and it’s entertaining to go watch some future community college drop-outs drop passes and get curb stomped by a city team to the tune of 85 – 0. And by entertaining, I mean it’s like watching a head-on collision between a freight train driven by a coked-out pyromaniac and a Prius full of fireworks. So really entertaining.
While I’m accustomed to an L on Friday and a sweet, sweet W on Sunday, my Saturday team – the University of Pittsburgh Panthers – is erratic. They do have national championships dated this century, but they’re infuriatingly mediocre. They’ve been to one major bowl game in the last 30 years (where they got pummeled by an Urban Meyer-led team), yet have only posted two losing seasons since the turn of the millennium (for a point of reference, Texas and Notre Dame both have more). To make matters worse, they pull in respectable recruiting classes and have plenty of talent playing on Sundays now, but their record is never better than the sum of its parts. With every passing season of cautious excitement giving way to cynicism and then indifference, I’ve been able to categorize my football emotions into six stages.
Stage 1: Hype
The athletic director just announced a new head coach – the fourth one in as many years. Still, we inked a few four-star recruits who can definitely make an impact right away. One of them set the state record for high school girls impregnated. And this new coach was one of the best assistants on some powerhouse team’s staff. He knows how to win. And with the season kicking off against some cupcake team like Akron or Penn State, who knows – we might even sniff the AP Top 25 by October. I’m getting up at 7:00 a.m. just to tailgate this opening game. The student lot is going to be lit, fam.
Stage 2: Creeping Doubt
I don’t like how we came out kind of flat against these guys. I know they’re Akron, but I hate that we let them return the opening kickoff. Their quarterback looks sharp and they’re starting to move the ball on our defense. Why is his name Kate? Why is our secondary leakier than Whitney Houston’s nose? I have a bad feeling about this game.
Stage 3: Shock and Disgust
We’re down 35 – 7. To fucking Akron. What the actual fuck? Who even is their quarterback? Where did they even find her? Why can’t we just have nice things? If we can’t turn this around, I’m leaving at the end of the first quarter.
Stage 4: Denial
3…2…1 and game. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe I bought season tickets to this. This can’t be happening. I don’t think Akron’s beaten a power 5 team since Bill Clinton was getting regularly fellated by a Lane Bryant customer. Sorry, that wasn’t specific enough. I meant while he was in the oval office. Speaking of things that blow, at least I got another free t-shirt out of it.
Stage 5: Rationalization And Hope
So we lost. They do this to me every year. They have to drop a stinker now and then. It’s a rite of passage. Last year it was to an intramural team, this year a MAC team. At least there’s some improvement, right? And, at least we got it out of the way early. So, we’re 0 – 1 on the season. We can still go 9 – 3 or even 10 – 2. Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Louisville are so overrated. Clemson’s going to have a let down year after the high of playing for the Natty. FSU’s offense is totally dependent on the strength of booster bribes to Tallahassee police. Miami? Get ready for another weak ass ten win season from a Mark Richt team. And Louisville may as well accept that they’ll have to fire both Petrino and Petino after their fanbase is enraged upon discovering that they carpool to Planned Parenthood together. We’ll go 3 – 1 against them at worst. We can save the season by going on a eight or nine game winning streak. I’m buying tickets to the Orange Bowl now before the price goes up.
Stage 6: Acceptance and Disengagement
They fired the coach and half of our freshman class transferred to West Virginia. We’re gonna go 6 – 6 again. If you need me, I’ll be in the attic. Cut me down in time for dinner..