Way back in ’08, we here at Rumors and Rants proclaimed it the Greatest Year in Sports History.
I know what you are thinking — big deal. So did Sports Illustrated and ESPN and everyone else who makes widespread proclamations. Only we made the call in July. Basically, when something’s up, we’re the first ones with our ears on the ground.
Thus, as I watched Bill Bidwell lift the George S. Halas Trophy with the Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals victory in the NFC Championship Game, it occurred to me that we are now living in the Year of the Loser. After all, what could be more of a victory for losers than a guy holding a trophy that was named after the very man who essentially forced his sorry franchise out of Chicago in 1960?
Now, you might be thinking that it’s a bit premature to call this the Year of the Loser even though the worst franchise in NFL history is in the Super Bowl. (And if you don’t think the Cardinals are the worst franchise ever, please keep in mind that their best-ever quarterback was probably Neil Lomax and they haven’t won a title since 1947. As an aside, Chicago can proudly claim partial ownership of the NFL, MLB and NHL teams that have gone the longest between championships. And it looks like the Bulls are well on their way to joining that elite group.)
However, the Year of the Loser is not part of a calendar year per se. At least not by the Christian standard. Think of it as being more like a Chinese Year. Like the Year of the Rat, or the Ox.
In earnest, the Year of the Loser began when the Tampa Bay Rays clinched the AL East crown for the first time ever after 10 years of complete and total suck. Here’s a look at what else has happened since then:
- The Rays beat the odds and advance to the World Series for the first time. Only to lose to the losingest franchise in baseball history, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils won only their second title, and are the only franchise in North American sports with 10,000 career losses.
- The Rice Owls got their first bowl win since 1954.
- Notre Dame won its first bowl game for the first time since the 1994 Cotton Bowl. Beating Hawaii really should count toward this total, but a win’s a win.
- The Buffalo Bulls won the MAC Championship. The same Buffalo Bulls that were like 10-68 since joining Division I. Teams from Buffalo are fundamentally preconditioned to lose, yet this one made the city proud. Even if they still lost their bowl game. At least they got to keep their coach.
- In what other year but the year of the loser could a guy like Gene Chizik get hired at Auburn after putting together a 5-19 record at Iowa State? Keep in mind, that’s mostly against competition in the Big 12 North. Impressive.
- The San Diego Chargers became the worst division champion to make the NFL Playoffs since the 1985 Browns. And somehow still won a playoff game.
- What could be more befitting of the Year of the Loser than being a perfect loser? The Detroit Lions pulled off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, as well as the first winless season since the legendary ’76 Buccaneers. If you use legendary in a really loose sense.
- Speaking of the Lions, guess whose expert analysis NBC is adding to their Super Bowl pregame show? That’s right, disgraced former Lions GM Matt Millen. After all, who knows more about football than that guy? Here’s hoping MSNBC picks up on this fantastic idea and adds Rod Blagojevich to their political team. (Speaking of, how bad is it when I read Facebook status updates from people who have never even lived in Illinois expressing their joy that he is out of office? A true high point for my home state.)
- After 51 straight defeats, the hapless New Jersey Institute of Technology basketball team finally picked up a win. This victory failed to answer why New Jersey has an Institute of Technology, or why that team is a Division I program, but we’re still happy for them.
In just a few short months — a quarter of a calendar year — we’ve had this litany of loserly deeds. Chances are I’ve forgotten a few as well.
This Sunday, we’ll see if the unlikeliest event of all — a Cardinals world championship — comes to fruition. The way things are going, it may only be paving the way for some true absurdity in future months. Could this be the year a 16 seed wins in the NCAA tournament? A Brit wins Wimbledon? The Pirates have a winning season?
Maybe I’m getting carried away. But in these loser-friendly times, why not believe?