For most basketball fans, Northern Iowa's upset of the mighty Kansas Jayhawks was a perfect example of what makes March Madness fun. Who doesn't love to see David slay Goliath? Well, Goliath's millions of adoring fans don't. All winter, while most fans thought only about the NFL, Kansas fans were dreaming of greatness, following their team's every dribble through exhibition games, a non-conference schedule, regular season and conference tournament. When KU lost most people around the country, at worst, ruefully smiled over their busted brackets For Jayhawk fans, it felt like losing in the World Series. To a Triple-A team.
All fans who suffer that kind of bone-crushing, soul-sapping defeat must grieve. Moving through the Kübler-Ross five stages, fans go from denial ("I can't believe we lost....") to anger ("Who's to blame for this?"), to eventually find acceptance ("We had a good season. Wait until next year.") But there are ways to make grieving less painful. Not watching sports is a good start. Last weekend, when Northern Iowa met Michigan State, for instance, was an especially cruel post-loss moment for any Kansas fans. You knew, just knew, that Northern Iowa had no chance. You knew the Panthers would miss half the shots they made against KU. Friends who watched NIU lose, then saw Michigan State make the Final Four, frankly, sounded depressed.
Fans suffering after a big loss are far better off withdrawing, monk-like, from all things sports-related. Don't watch any more games. Avoid highlight shows and sports talk radio. Whatever you do, don't hang out with your equally-depressed bunch of sports-loving friends. There must be a few people in your life that don't care about the local sports teams. Maybe they come from another city. Maybe they like politics, music, ceramics, or underwater basket-weaving. Whatever. Explore those neglected friends. You will find such folks living in an alternate reality, blissfully unaware that a disaster has occurred. Barring that, you can always adopt a dog.
Truly getting beyond a big loss, though, ultimately requires accepting blame for it. As a fan, when your team wins a big game, you run around and make whoop-de-doo noises, celebrating like you personally hit the game-winning shot. It only follows that you must take your fair share of responsibility after a loss. Granted, the more rational among us find it ridiculous when fans talk about their favorite teams in the first-person. As in, "We looked great tonight," or "Our defense was solid." But true fanatics know their team's fate depends almost entirely on fans' sending the maximum amount of happy thoughts, positive energy, hopes and prayers from wherever they may be. Simply nothing makes a free-throw spinning on the rim more likely to fall through the net than the collective power of millions willing it to drop.
Much of a team's positive energy is generated, of course, by the talismans, amulets and charms so many fans hold dear. The importance of wearing lucky shirts, hats, pins, underwear, etc., on game day, for instance, also can't be overstated. Neither can the infinite variety of rituals, like refusing to shave on game day, always eating the same pre-game meal,or the ever-popular switching seats if the team is down at halftime.
Painful as it is to admit, KU's shocking loss clearly means the Jayhawk faithful, myself included, somehow collectively failed our team on that horrific afternoon. Maybe too many of us took the Sweet 16 for granted and didn't watch with enough passion and focus. Maybe some of us wore the wrong hat or, worse, didn't turn it inside-out in time to start the rally. We all have soul-searching to do. Personally, and this is merely an educated guess, my mistake most likely had something to do with a poor choice of socks.