Even though all losses go in the L column, not all are created equal. This year's bowl schedule proved that very neatly. From failed comebacks to totally failed games, this year had some of everything for bowl losers.
The monumental comeback is a staple of sports lore – anyone who pulls one off will be remembered forever for it. But what people don’t remember forever is failure to pull off a monumental comeback. UCLA nearly pulled off an dramatic game-ending comeback drive against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, but the Bruins were stopped by a game-ending blocked field goal. UCLA had that last chance to go for the game-winning points and it didn’t work out; as a result, BYU gets the win and the memory. In short, they get remembered and UCLA doesn’t. It hurts, but in a consolation, at least it’s honorable. The Bruins played hard, but just weren't good enough.
The Gator Bowl's loser was much less respectable. Texas Tech's Alex Trlica capped off a 17-point fourth quarter turnaround with a successful game-clinching field goal. Virginia, the stunned losers, left with a sinking feeling that hit when that ball flew straight and true, up and through for the Red Raiders. That feeling burns, because they had that game – it was all theirs until they collapsed in the face of Texas Tech's magical comeback. They snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory, and there’s nothing honorable about that loss. It’s a head-in-hands-on-the-bench loss, and it makes you feel about 8 inches tall. That’s a terrible way to lose a game.
As a fan or a player, both of those nail-biter scenarios are rough on a nervous system. Either way you lose the game, your pumped-up body goes limp. All that adrenaline that you had built up for the screaming and jumping and hugging and hollering and running out into the street to fall on your knees turns into a monumental empty feeling. The huge sigh that goes up is not the sound of relief – it’s the sound of the wind being kicked out of you, not to return until the next time you and your team have the guts (and the schedule) to go up and try it again. Even if you did have the Heisman Trophy winner on your team.
But the blowout losses – they hurt even more. One of the most frustrating is the bad performance blowout. The ball bounces against you, the calls go against you, the hands go against you in dropped balls and dropped fumbles. That’s bad. There’s nothing you can do but sit back and just scream, because your team “hasn’t played like this all season,” yet for some reason the wheels are coming off the car. It’s a game that’s painful to watch because your team is just doing so badly. It’s merciful when the final seconds tick off, so you can start forgetting it immediately. In fact, I bet Arkansas fans started forgetting the first quarter of the Cotton Bowl in the third quarter and started erasing the second quarter in the fourth. Missouri helped, but Arkansas ensured that their 38-7 Cotton Bowl loss was ugly as sin.
But even worse than the bad performance blowout loss is the “total and complete blowout,” also known as the “your team just got the crap kicked out of it” loss or the “Hawai’I Sugar Bowl 2008” loss. Hawai'I was the underdog, they thought they had moxie, and that dream was destroyed. They and their fans felt that kick in the gut when they sat down in their cars after the game was over or when they snapped the TV off; they realize they’re gonna have to wait till next year for any shot at redemption. They thought they had a fighting chance against Georgia, and they got embarrassed. All the naysayers were right. That sucks, hard – and the Illinois fans know it too. There’s not many feelings worse than that.
But the worst feeling of all is the upset blowout loss. The underdog has a banner day, your team just goes to pieces, and somewhere in the middle of the game, the commentators start consoling fans of the losing team instead of the team they should have been consoling. That's the feeling that OU fans have after the Fiesta Bowl loss. There was no reason for OU to go in there and get humiliated, but somehow, they managed to pull off a fourth straight BCS game loss. It’s embarrassing to the nth degree, because West Virginia not only gets to be the David, they got promoted to Goliath after the win. OU just gets to lick its wounds. It’s not something you live down easily. Columnists write columns trying to figure out what happened, players say things that don't make any sense, fans try to avoid sports for a couple of days – it's just a messy, terrible situation. It's easily the worst way to lose a game, if only because people are really annoying when they say "Pride goes before a fall."
Be ye fan or player, getting upset and blown out in the same game is equivalent to being fired and thrown out of your house on the same day – there’s just nothing good about it. You go home and you sit and you sit some more. Maybe you do something to take your mind off it, but your heart’s just not in it. Your sports-loving soul is an inflatable stabbed with a kitchen knife when you get upended that badly, and that’s not something that heals easily.
The thrill of victory is surrounding 30 teams by now – only two bowl games are left. But don’t remind the fans of the other 30 teams about the thrill of victory. Let us just mope in our agony. That's really the only response that losing a bowl game elicits. No matter how the game is lost, the agony of defeat is mighty.