The Agony of Defeat: Our Strange Investment in Fandom

Daniel MuthSenior Analyst IJune 13, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 12: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 2-1 to win Game Seven and the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I gotta tell you I’m pretty bummed out today.

It was my birthday yesterday and I had a good time with friends, but I woke up today feeling a little achy, a little dull, a little empty.  The Red Wings lost the Cup, and I’m feeling a little low.

This makes me contemplative and got me to wondering about how invested we can become with our sports teams, such that a guy like me, who doesn’t really get down about anything, can be so affected by the outcome of a hockey game that is essentially meaningless to the bottom line of his life.

The sports media, of course, has taken the opportunity to dump on Detroit some more, reminding us how we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation, how the population is precipitously declining as people migrate away to find work, how this will inevitably shrink the economy more, how the Lions suck, how the Pistons struggled in their Chaunceyless season, and finally how the Red Wings came up short in what was described as an “emotional stimulus package.”

There seems to be a strange national delight in the demise of Detroit, with little concern for the very real and very good people on the ground that are struggling to improve their lives, a sentiment I find as repugnant as all the reality shows that seem to exploit the embarrassment and misfortune of others. 

This one just happens to exist on a more colossal scale.

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But acknowledging all this is not why I’m a little blue today.  As much as everyone else wants to make this about everything wrong with Detroit, I’m a little blue today because my team lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.

It’s that simple.  Detroit fans are fans like any other, emotionally invested in their team beyond the realities of the world around them and completely apart from them.

We didn’t root for the Wings as an “emotional stimulus” package to feel good about ourselves.  We didn’t root for the Wings to escape “the hellhole” the nation consistently would like to paint Detroit as.  We didn’t root for the Wings because of corrupt unions, disenfranchised executives, government bailouts, or economic turmoil.

We root for the Wings because they’re our team.  Enough said.  That’s how fandom works.

Why it works this way is a curiosity to me.  As an introspective person who is usually quite reasonable in his everyday life, there is no reason for my love of Detroit sports.  Fandom just is and, like all affairs of the heart, achieves sparkling highs and dramatic lows.

And so, yeah, I’m a little bummed.  But I’m proud of our guys, too.

I’m proud because they played hard, played good hockey, and refused to make excuses for themselves, even though they were clearly banged up and slowed by injuries.  No excuses.  That’s the reality of sports and injuries are as much a part of it as anything.  It’s precisely that grind that makes the Cup so difficult to capture.

I’m proud because they cared.  Pavel Datsyuk said, “My body doesn’t feel anything right now.  I feel empty.  It’s too late to talk about injuries.” 

A classic response to an inane media that undoubtedly wanted him to say “we would’ve won if we were healthy” so they could stoke the fires of controversy, so someone could write a “Datsyuk’s a jerk,” article, so someone could write a “Datsyuk’s right,” article, so someone could spout more superfluous opinion as fact.

Datsyuk, a guy with Cups already on his resume, instead said he felt “empty.”  Kind of like I feel.  You telling me he didn’t want it?  Yep, I’m proud our guys give a damn.

If you listen to the news wires, they’ll tell you there’s nothing to be proud about in Detroit today, but they’re dead wrong.

Sure we’re a little bummed, but damn proud, and here’s a promise that we’ll be back.