For the Love of the Game
By Jonathan Gault, The Dartmouth Senior Staff
Published on Monday, January 14, 2013
One week ago, the University of Alabama beat Notre Dame, 42-14, to win its third BCS National Championship in four years. Perhaps “beat” is too soft of a word. The Crimson Tide (13-1, 7-1 SEC) destroyed the Irish to the point where more fans spent the second half googling Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s girlfriend than actually watching the game.
Watching the BCS title game — 2013’s first championship event —got me thinking about championships in general, and what they mean to the players, coaches and fans involved. Here at Dartmouth, we’ve enjoyed a few championships in recent years, with the men’s soccer team winning the Ivy title in 2011 and the baseball team doing the same in 2010.
But neither of those championships were celebrated as much as they should have been for the same reason — both programs have a history of success. The men’s soccer team won the Ivy title in 2008 and made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2010, while the baseball team also won the Ivy title in 2009. Things would have been different if the football team — a middle-of-the-pack team in the Ivy League since its last title in 1996 — won a championship or if the basketball team — which hasn’t made the tournament since 1959 — somehow made it to March Madness. I know that Dartmouth students don’t care about sports as much as the average student at a major-conference school, but I’m pretty sure that if the Big Green won an Ivy title in football or men’s basketball, all of Hanover would know about it.
And that is not because football and basketball are the NCAA’s most popular sports — it is because we will have waited a while for a championship, making it that much sweeter. With that in mind, I have ranked the top five types of championship seasons — the ones that make the champagne taste that much sweeter after the final victory.
- The Juggernaut — Recent example: 1998 New York Yankees
This is the year when you can tell something special is happening by the end of the season’s first month. Your team finishes with the best record in the regular season, blows through the playoffs and wins the championship with great ease — all while media members try to determine where they rank among history’s greatest-ever teams. Such squads usually feature multiple Hall of Famers with an all-time great coach at the helm, but the championship game/series for one of these teams is usually anticlimactic.
- The Upset — Recent example: 2007 New York Giants
Your team has been written off all season, and in the championship game/series, they face an overwhelming favorite. And suddenly, something shifts — your team catches a break, the favorite suffers an injury or a fatal flaw is uncovered. When the game ends, you experience the double thrill of a championship victory and an awesome surprise rolled into one. As a bonus, you can shove the victory in the face of all the doubters and there’s nothing they can do about it.
- The First Title for a Long-Suffering Athlete — Recent example: 2011 Dallas Mavericks
Player X — in this case Dirk Nowitzki — is near the end of his career, and he’s developed a reputation as “The Guy Who Can’t Win the Big One.” He seems destined to join players like Dan Marino and Charles Barkley as greats without rings. But for one magical playoff run, he reminds you what made him great in the first place, and by the final game, everyone is rooting for him to fulfill his destiny.
- The Return to Glory of an Historic Power — Recent example: 2009 University of Alabama football
I love watching NFL Network’s “America’s Game” series, an hour-long program that tells the story of every Super Bowl champion. Even though I am a New England Patriots fan, my favorite episode is the one on the 1992 Dallas Cowboys, when Dallas wins its first Super Bowl in 15 years. There’s just something special about watching one of the sport’s greatest franchises climb back to the top of the mountain. Slowly watching the losing culture revert back to a winning one after a prolonged dark period makes for a great story, even for a neutral fan.
- The Title for the Long-Suffering Fan Base — Recent example: 2004 Boston Red Sox
This is like No. 3, but much more significant. A great athlete’s career usually lasts around 20 years, but a fan is a fan for life. When you reach 80 and your favorite team still hasn’t won a title, you’ve probably accepted that you will die without witnessing a championship. So when they finally win one, it’s the equivalent of ripping a 1,000-lb gorilla off your back. Not everyone is this invested in his or her favorite team, but for those who are, there is simply nothing sweeter.