The Billy Cundiff Syndrome (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Keep Losing)
Maybe it’s from having divorced parents, but over the years I’ve realized I have an innate ability to absorb the cruelest of disappointments with little more than a bemused shrug, which usually comes at the conclusion of the sports season for my beloved teams. For my baseball (Orioles) and basketball (Knicks) clubs, that usually comes mercifully early; about a month or two into the season, either one of those two are either burning off the last fumes of optimism carried over from the pre-season, or already stumbling around in a drunken haze hoping that they can crawl into a hole and just go away until the hurt is over. Being a fan of those two teams requires unique characteristics, the main one being a high tolerance for pain and trash talk, and a bizarre kind of bargaining with one’s self to accept that every victory is an overachievement and every loss just maintains the status quo. Trust me kids, it’s no way to go through life, but I can’t change it now.
But until around 6:30 PM yesterday afternoon, my football team was supposed to make all that go away.
In case you were occupying something with Chris Faraone while everyone else watched, Billy Cundiff, who’s last name will surely become a verb for failure by the end of the day, shanked a 32-yard field goal against the Patriots that would have sent an exciting, extremely balanced game up to that point into New Overtime (TM), where anything can happen. With that one shitty kick, Pats fans around New England were refueled on the same gas they’ve been running on all season: the idea that this team is truly an elite squad capable of winning a Super Bowl. I won’t get on my Skip Bayliss shit here, but let’s be for real: this was the first time all season the Pats beat a winning team (Broncos don’t count, let’s be honest about the AFC West please), and they needed a missed kick to do it. They had control of the game in the final minutes and let the Ravens get off the floor to take one last should-have-been-KO shot. I’ll let Sleezy Trees do the NY Giants cheerleading on this one, but going into the Super Bowl the Giants have won three straight playoff games, beating the top two NFC seeds (Green Bay at 15-1 and San Fran at 13-3) on the road. You can guess who I’ll be (begrudgingly) supporting in Indianapolis.
But I’m not worried about me. There is some kid in the Baltimore suburbs who hasn’t experienced a massive sports loss in his life just yet. If he makes it through this week, Billy Cundiff’s kick will be a major reference point in his life. He and his friends will remember where they were and who they were with when they felt their heart ripped out by a 31-year old kicker from California. Some of these kids will never recover, and maybe others will be like me and learn to take life’s repeated kicks to the nuts with a gleeful masochistic smile. I’m here to tell these kids something: it may not get better. This could be the closest the Ravens get to the Super Bowl for the next decade. But supporting a team means withstanding all the bullshit and failure and missed kicks (32 yards…THIRTY-TWO YARDS) and punk ass kids and pink hat wearing bitches and everything that comes with the struggle, absorbing the blows and still talking shit no matter what. I know it seems hard, but ask a kid of divorced parents how he feels at Christmas (we get two of em, suckas) and take heart.
A brief journey through my greatest personal sports disappointments:
Knicks vs. Rockets
1994 NBA Finals Game 7
John Starks, the reason I became a Knicks fan and my favorite player of all time, missed a potential championship-winning 3-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 6, allowing the Rockets to force Game 7. He proceeds to go 2-18 shooting the next night (0-10 in the fourth quarter) as the best Knicks team of the past 30 years falls.
Orioles vs. Yankees
1996 American League Championship Series, Game 1
12 year-old scumbag fuck face Jeffrey Maier reaches over the warning track and catches a deep fly ball from Derek Jeter over the waiting glove of Tony Tarasco, allowing the Yankees to tie the game, which they went on to win and eventually took the series 4 games to 1. Probably the most scarring sports event ever; I was ten years old and had dreams of taking a hatchet to Maier’s neck, as did everyone I knew.
Argentina vs. Germany
2006 World Cup Quarter Finals
After cruising through the group stages of the competition and dispatching Mexico in the round of 16, a talented and highly favored Argentina comes up against host nation Germany in the quarter finals. After taking a 1-0 lead in the second half, coach Jose Pekerman leaves 19-year old phenom Lionel Messi on the bench as the Germans equalize and eventually win a penalty shootout. Pekerman resigns immediately and Messi soon becomes recognized as the world’s greatest player.
Ravens vs. Patriots
2012 AFC Championship Game
After Joe Flacco leads the Ravens down the field in the final minutes of regulation…fuck it you know what happens.