Northwestern has lost three football games this season. Northwestern has lost all three in preposterous fashion, leading by ten in the second half - twice, in the fourth quarter - and yet collapsing violently, improbably, efficiently, and just in time to seal a loss. Penn State scored 22 straight in the second half, Nebraska scored a touchdown to go up by a single point with two minutes left, allowing Jeff Budzien to kick a 53-yard field goal with the clock expiring that missed wide right by a few feet, and Saturday, Michigan converted on a deflected hail mary to force overtime, then won 38-31 in the extra period.
Last summer, Loretta8 did a three-part series analyzing Pat FItzgerald's incredible tendency to win close games, and concluded that the losses were mainly a result of luck and a small sample size. That conclusion has come home to roost, and in case we didn't want it to, it came with backup and a sawed-off shotgun. When trying to protect late leads this year, Northwestern has found new, improbable ways to lose. I don't blame coaching - they had been great at doing the opposite in the past, and although they could have made better playcalls, they've often made smart decisions that didn't pan out. I don't blame the players - they were responsible for NU getting the lead in the first place, and although they certainly could have played better late, I don't think they're "unclutch" or anything, because I think the notion of "unclutch" is a stupid one. At a certain point, when your team is in a position to win games and doesn't, I think you just have to stare meekly at the gods of odds and luck and football and ask if you can have another.
t's one thing to lose by 35, but the get-your-hopes-up, rip-them-away losses are the worst, and Northwestern is great at them. Close, awful losses hit me in a very specific place. It's a little bit below my chest and it's not painful, but it's definitely a physical sensation. It just kinda sits there for a couple of hours. I walked home from the bar - Google Maps says my walk was 2.9 miles and took 59 minutes - ate a large burrito, and didn't watch any college football for the rest of the day. There's a social obligation to leave your house on a Saturday night if you're a single 22-year-old in New York City, but I totally didn't last night. It was actually a bit refreshing. That close, awful loss feeling sucks at first. But when the twinge disappears, it helps you remember some stuff you normally take for granted when you realize that the thing you're pissed off about is a dumb game with an oblong football and you're a young, healthy, relatively normal guy with family and friends and all that good stuff. Liking a team that always loses in the worst way actually isn't that bad, but you have take it with a grain of salt or 47.
So let's have some fun with this, amirite?
I figured it could be a nice group rehab session if we discussed what, personally, is the worst loss we can remember - the one that just felt the absolute worst afterwards. Let's not get into basketball: literally, off the top of my head, without even looking, I count six overtime or last possession losses from last season alone, so that's a bag of death I don't even feel like peeking into. But I think the game yesterday has to be in my top three losses, or maybe it just feels that way because it happened yesterday.
For me, it's easy: the 2010 Outback Bowl. It was a rollercoaster game, and like every rollercoaster Northwestern gets on, it shot off a loop-de-loop and crashed in a horrific accident that bankrupted Six Flags and everybody who has ever worked there. I flew to Tampa for that game, hoping to see Northwestern's first win in a bowl game since 1949. Obviously, we're still waiting, but the way NU lost was cruel. The past two years NU has gone down big in bowl games and fought valiantly, but that year, Northwestern had the win given, given, given, given, and eventually taken from them in exceedingly improbable fashion every time. Two 14-point comebacks, a fumble giving NU the chance to kick a game-winner in regulation, and eventually the third time Auburn thought they won the game, they actually did, when Northwestern's crazy gadget play came up two yards short of the end zone in overtime. Somebody had to get their heart broken in that game, and it was Northwestern. I remember a pack of us, wandering the streets of Tampa to get back to our hotel. Calling them "streets" is a bit of an overstatement. Tampa is a desolate hellscape plopped in the middle of Florida, but we barely noticed thanks to how little fun everybody was having because of the game. That truly, truly sucked.
So what do y'all got? I expect to hear some 35-point comeback, maybe some Alamo Bowl 2010, maybe some older stuff. Personally, the Michigan State loss in 2010 where NU led by 17 but the Spartans converted on a fake punt and eventually won, well, that was awful. Sharing makes it better, right?