Saturday night’s 45-17 loss at Penn State was a rough one. Not that most Gopher fans were expecting a win, but sometimes the nature of how they lost, along with losses piling up over the last month can make things feel worse.
I’m here to tell you, it is OK to feel. It is OK to have feelings about this team and the results.
It is a broad generalization that the primary audience reading this article is going to be sport-loving men. And as I further generalize, sports-loving men are not typically associated with being in touch with their feelings. Not typically very good at expressing those feelings in a healthy way. And we really don’t like to talk about our feelings.
Today, we are going to talk about these feelings and how to deal with them.
When sports are going well, we are pretty good at expressing feelings of joy, elation, happiness. Leading up to really big games, feelings of excitement, anxiety and nervousness are common. All of these are easy and acceptable to express. And frankly, these moments are what makes sports elite. When it is fun, when it brings you joy...this is why we are here. Many reading this were storming the field for the Penn State win in 2019 or the Wisconsin win last season. Or the Twins winning the World Series. Or the Minneapolis Miracle. All were elite sports moments, all of which lifted our spirits and keep us coming back for more. Even if we have moments like Gary Anderson missing a FG or Tyler Johnson dropping a pass at Iowa in 2019.
So what about those moments when your team is struggling? What about when expectations are not met (we’ve talked about expectations here before, several times). What about when mistakes are made by players or coaches that lead to unwanted results?
I’m here to talk about 2 primary responses to the season thus far. Two emotional responses to what is occurring on the field and with the program.
I’ll start with anger.
Again, it is OK to feel your feels. Just promise me that you aren’t kicking puppies or punching holes in your walls. Don’t make me have to ask your spouse to blink twice if she doesn’t feel safe.
We see this reaction frequently among sports fans. Mid-game Twitter rants, message boards calling for people to be fired (or worse), viral videos of grown men destroying their TVs after a loss, fights occuring between fans of opposing teams, copious amounts of alcohol consumed to numb the pain. It is anger that has manifested itself in an ugly way.
First and foremost, maybe this is when we should learn to just sit with our feelings. Experience the feelings without reacting. Maybe giving it 30 seconds might save you from having to buy a new TV. Take some time to just live in it and let the anger subside as you process. Typically beneath the surface this is more about embarrassment, sadness, hurt and betrayal. You need to get to the core of these feelings without reacting in a dangerous or harmful way.
Which leads me to grief. Dealing with the sadness of the loss and perhaps the unmet expectations of the season. Maybe part of this is also a little betrayal, after thinking that this team might have some specialness to it.
I was all in on this team and there is a level of feeling let down at this point. Betrayal. I was looking up flights to LA over New Years. And even if that wasn’t quite going to come to fruition, watching the Gophers play in the Big Ten Championship game would be awfully fun. But now, like the rest of you, I’m grieving what I feel I’ve lost this season.
But there are 5 stages of grief. They are not necessarily linear, they may rear their ugly head at unexpected times. But we should address them, so we know how to handle them as they hit us.
We have probably moved through this stage already. Losing to Purdue was one thing. That was a blip on the radar. We have had bad losses before and the season still turned out just fine. I present to you a textbook example of Gopher football denial. It happens to the best of us.
We still have Illinois next, we can get that win, give Penn State a good game and then the back half of the schedule really shapes up nicely.
Clearly after losing at Illinois and then getting pummelled by Penn State, there is no room for denial any longer.
This is one that will pop up often and really not that unexpected. This will happen on an incomplete pass, a three-and-out with a questionable playcall...you know this. This is easy to recognize at the individual play level. This a simple diagnosis during any single game.
The real danger here is to let the anger seep too deep. A disappointing season does not ruin a program. Be careful here because the more you let this one fester then we move into the next stage.
For college football fans, this is when we start to look out across the landscape of available coaches. This is when we begin rationalizing why the current staff has plateaued or why they’ll never be able to get to the next level. Maybe if we cut bait now, we can get the next guy who clearly is capable of taking that next step.
Do not fall into this trap. I want you to go lay in a dark room, close your eyes and mediate on one thing...Tim Brewster.
This one might be my fault for mentioning Tremendous Tim.
It is OK to grieve the lost expectations for this season. But all hope is not lost. Do not let this take hold of you. Remember all of the good things you still have in your life.
Saturday and Sunday this past weekend were absolutely gorgeous out. I hope you got to take care of your necessary yardwork, enjoy watching football on Saturday afternoon with friends or spend time with your kids.
Find the things that bring you joy and realize that Gopher football is not the most important thing in life.
Finally, with a fresh perspective, accept this season for what it is and enjoy the remaining 5 games. There are still things to play for and there may still be some moments with remembering from this season.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a special talent and we should enjoy every moment we get with him.
Iowa and Wisconsin are both not very good this year and the program could capture both The Axe and Floyd in the same season. It is not unrealistic. We could lose them both as well and the cycle will persist. But let’s enjoy the rest of this season.
Cause the only thing worse than a disappointing season is when the season is over and we have to go about 8 months without Gopher football. As bad as this may feel in the moment, we have suffered through far worse, Gopher fans. Far, far worse. Enjoy this season.