She always sits on the 50 yard line

My family moved to Palo Alto California in 1957.  Growing up on the San Francisco Peninsula in the sixties there were three sports teams that mattered: the Giants, Stanford football and the 49ers.

It goes without saying that I did not enjoy the outcome of Super Bowl XLVII.

Now you don’t have to have been a psych major to be familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grieving.  In case you’ve forgotten, they are as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

So, what are the five stages of sports grief?

1. Anger:  You react to the drop, the call, the foul, the whatever, with explosive cursing and yelling.  You groan, you yell at the flat screen.  Then, and only then do you move to stage 2.

2. Denial: Now is the time for denial, a stage enabled by the technology of replay: “That didn’t really happen. Let’s see it again.”  And again and again.  If it is subject to review, you wait for the guys upstairs to render their judgement.  If not, you have a choice. You can accept the verdict, or go to your grave convinced an injustice was done.

3. Replay: Kubler-Ross was concerned with people who were sick and facing death.  Grieving sports fans are, for the most part, healthy and upset about something that has already happened.  This is neither the time nor the place for bargaining.  Instead you start the questioning and the exploration of alternative universes where the 49ers call another running play or throw the ball to Vernon Davis, or Dusty Baker doesn’t hand the game ball to Russ Ortiz.

4. Exhaustion: After a while you just can’t sustain it.  When people say that “Life goes on,” what they are really saying is that eventually you have to get back on the bus.  You can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely obsessing about a sports team’s poor clock management, because you only have so many timeouts yourself.  The synapses dedicated to sports outrage and frustration just get tuckered out and don’t light up anymore.

5. Acceptance: You move on. BUT, this is not about accepting that “it’s just a game.” Fuck that.  This is about accepting the two-sided coin that gets flipped at the end, not the beginning, of every game.  There can’t be a winner without a loser.  Yeah, I really like it when my team wins the Super Bowl or the World Series, but the flip side of that is every bit as dark and painful as the victory is sweet.  In one city there is a parade, and in the other a bunch of guys on their way to work, thinking to themselves, “Why didn’t……?”

But ultimately it comes down to this: despair always gives way to hope, because it’s not that “it’s only a game.”  The salvation is that there is always another game.  Pitchers and catchers report February 13.  I rest my case.