I feel absolutely awful for the Michigan Wolverine football fans. Here at SeedSing we talk a whole lot about sports, and our pop culture editor Ty is an unapologetic Michigan fan. His fandom drives much of the great writing on our website. Ty's fanatical support of Michigan, the Green Bay Packers, and the St. Louis Cardinals have afforded him many great sporting triumphs. He has celebrated these triumphs like most die hard sports fans. He has been gleeful, and sometimes a little annoying. Many times I have wanted to see his teams lose, just to bring Ty down a few notches. I am his older brother, and I am therefore legally, and spiritual, obligated to be an asshole to my little brother.
I would never wish on any sports fan the agony of witnessing Michigan's heartbreaking loss in their game to in state rivals the Michigan State Spartans. I have witnessed many sports tragedies / miracles, and nothing comes close to the Wolverines defeat on the night of October 17th, 2015. The games was won, and a routine play by a position given no respect, goes horrible wrong. The Spartans are ecstatic for winning when there was no hope, and the Wolverines are crushed by watching certain victory be replaced by unbelievable defeat. This loss for Michigan fans is as bad as it gets, but they are by no means alone in the world of crushing sports moments. Let me invite all Michigan fans to the RD Kulik gathering of watching your team lose in unbelievably heart wrenching drama.
I was a young pre-teen in 1985 watching my hometown St. Louis Cardinals go for their 2nd World Series victory in 4 years. This time the Cards were playing the cross state Kansas City Royalsin the "I-70 Series" (way cooler than the idiotic Subway Series). Both teams had a lot of legacy on the line. The Royals had baseball heroes like George Brett and Bret Saberhagen. The Cardinals were a mix of veteran superstars like Ozzie Smith and rising stars like NL MVP Willie McGee and stolen base machine Vince Coleman. This Cardinals team is the one all of my gen x St. Louis peers remember as their very own. The series was all going St. Louis's way until the fateful Game 6. Bottom of the ninth, Cards up 1-0, the Royals Jorge Orta hits a weak infield grounder that is fielded by Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark, who then tosses the ball to rookie pitcher Todd Worrell planted at first base. Umpire Don Denkinger was manning the first base side, and he called the Royals Orta safe. Replay clearly showed that Worrell beat Orta to the bag, yet Denkinger's call stood. After a few misfortunes, the Royals scored two runs and won Game 6. The World Series went to a decisive Game 7, and the Cardinals were still pissed about Denkinger's call the previous night. The Royals clinched their first (and only, so far) championship after crushing the Cardinals 11-0. Many St. Louis fans, including me, never got past Denkinger's bad call. That safe call at first broke a young Cardinals fan heart, and 30 years later it still stings. It stings, but I got over it. I am a grownup.
My beloved Missouri Tigers have had two heartbreaking moments over the last 25 years. The lowly Tigers (4-7 in 1990) had the dominate Colorado Buffaloes on the road to defeat. Missouri was leading 31-27 late in the fourth quarter when Colorado started to drive the field. With time running down, the Colorado Buffaloes were close to the goal line. The Colorado quarterback spiked the ball, on second down the Colorado running back was stuffed for no gain, the Buffs offense called a timeout on third down. The running back was stuffed again, and then the Buffs quarterback spiked the ball once again to stop the clock. During the Colorado timeout the umpire crew never switched the down marker from 2nd to 3rd down. Missouri, and myself, believed the game was won after a spike on fourth down. Colorado, and the refs, thought the spike was on 3rd down. On the next play, fifth down, the Buffalo's quarterback took the ball and dived for the end zone. Touchdown. Missouri loses, and Colorado goes on the share the 1990 NCAA College Football Championship with Georgia Tech. That play sucked, but I got over it. I am an adult.
In 1997 the Missouri Tigers were once again on the raw end of call concerning a team who would go on to share the National Championship. The Nebraska Cornhuskers came to Columbia Missouri with a #1 ranking, and a two plus decade winning streak against the Tigers. Missouri was starting to become a respectable football program, and beating #1 Nebraska would be a huge step forward. With Missouri leading 38-31, Nebraska seemingly missed a game winning touchdown as time expired. One of the Cornhusker players illegally kicked a ball in the air so another Nebraska player could catch it. Missouri fans stormed the field when the clock expired. Upstart Sampson had beaten mighty Golaith. Not so fast. The refs decided the kick was not intentional (the Nebraska player himself has said he meant to kick the ball) and awarded the Cornhuskers a game tying touchdown. In overtime Nebraska scored, Missouri did not. Another victory taken away by questionable officiating. Nebraska would end the season sharing the National title with the Michigan Wolverines. That moment sucked, but I got over it. I am a grown up
1997 was the last year the Wolverines have won a National title. The last decade and a half has not been very kind to Ty and other Michigan fans. Hope was starting to spring with the hire of alumni Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverine football team was climbing itself back into football respectability. They had their upstart in state rivals beaten, all they had to do was punt the ball. With that one simple play, everything went wrong. Hearts were broken. Michigan fans will never forget the end of that game. The Wolverine fans thought the name Kordell Stewart was going to cause the most pain, not any more. The game between Michigan and Michigan State on October 17th, 2015 will always sting with Michigan Wolverine fans. It will sting, but you will get over it, if you are a grownup.
Watching our favorite teams lose in heart breaking fashion will never leave our psyche. How we handle this heart break says a lot about us as civilized people. It has been 30 years, and I still shudder when I someone says the name of Don Denkinger. What would I do if I met Mr. Denkinger in real life? Would I spit on him? Punch him? Commit an insane illegal act upon him? No I would not. I may jokingly tell him that he broke a 10 year old's heart, and he would probably give a good natured laugh , and I would be happy to talk baseball with a man who witnessed some of the greatest times in the game I love. That is what a grown up does. Most Michigan fans who get to meet Kordell Stewart would probably give him some good natured grief about beating their team on a miracle throw, after that they would sit back and talk about a memorable game from a man who was there. That is what a grown up does. Our heart break creates bonds over the love of sports, and the love of our teams. No Cardinals fan hates their team because of Denkinger's call, and no Michigan fan hates their team because of a bad punt play. These bad moments make us love our teams even more. We love them for what the could have done. We love them for what we hope they do.
The psychopaths who use social media to threaten and destroy a college kid because of a bad play are not grownups. These animals are not even fans of the teams they are trying to protect. If you love the Michigan Wolverines, you are not someone who would anonymously threaten a NCAA student athlete. The fans of Michigan football will live with the pain, complain about what could have been, and will go on rooting for their beloved team. You jackasses who use the internet to harass a college kid, you are not the fans Michigan wants. Go away and leave the heartbreak for the true fans.
Sports fandom belongs to the idealistic 10 year olds and the hopeful adults. Denkinger, Colorado, and Nebraska will always be times that fill me with despair. These are also the times that remind me what being a fan is all about. I still root for my teams, I will not let any one person or event take away my fandom. The day after, the weeks after, the years after, will always suck. The victories of tomorrow will wash away that suck.
I am sorry for that horrible ending in the Michigan game. One day Ty, and all Michigan fans will have a great victory to wash away the pain. Being a grownup will make one appreciate that victory. Do not let the bullying, non-athletic, assholes tarnish that victory. Sports fandom belongs to the idealistic and hopeful. I am afraid for the Minnesota Golden Gopher fans, Michigan is going to be pissed.
RD is the Head Editor of SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man podcast. He really wants to hear about your heartbreaking sports pain. Tell him all about it by writing for SeedSing.