Driven to tears
Our worst nightmares stalk our most hopeful dreams
Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2007 3:01PM; Updated: Tuesday October 9, 2007 5:41PM
Q. What do Billy Graham and the Mets have in common?
A. Both make 50,000 people stand up and shout, "Jesus Christ!"
That little ho-ho, one of several heard on the Cooper & Tobin morning show on WPDH-FM out of grand old Poughkeepsie, New York, is just a smidgen of the bitter, burning fallout that's drifting down upon the heads of Mets fans. Like their cross-town brethren/rivals in the Bronx, they have experienced their worst nightmare -- a collapse so epic, so total, so shocking that it left little children in tears, adults in a quivering stupor, comedians cracking wise and haters everywhere dancing with glee.
Now, nothing cheers a sports fan quite like the misery of someone who roots for another team -- especially a New York team. The hatred out there for Big Apple squads and their loyalists is deep and blowtorch-hot and it never ceases to amaze me how my freely-admitted hometown partisanship (this is an opinion column, after all) will draw a fiery fusillade of hoary oaths that often equate me with a feminine hygiene product. About the only time old New Amsterdam got any sympathy for anything was in the wake of 9/11, but I'm willing to bet my Chicken Stanley wine decanter that only Yankees fans lost sleep over their team losing the World Series almost two months later.
But that one -- on a dramatic, two-run, Game 7 rally by the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth off Mariano Rivera -- was a quick dagger, like the one felt by Buffalo Bills fans during the Tennessee Titans' playoff-ending Music City Miracle or by Titans fans when the Rams' Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson on the one-yard line at time ran out in Super Bowl XXXIV. Shock and awwwww, to be sure, but I suspect that a belly-up like the one the Mets just pulled had to stir a shudder deep in the souls of sports fans everywhere. Call it a "There but for the grace of the Big Kahuna go we" deal.
Sports are especially cruel when your boisterous hope is raised and then decisively crushed in nightmarish slow motion -- in this case by the Mets' seeming to stem their 2-1/2 week slide bt romping 13-0 on Saturday only to have the Marlins' take a 7-0 lead first-inning lead on Sunday. The insult compounded by Carlos Delgado's broken hand in the bottom of the frame, and It left 54,453 in slack-jawed silence that grew as the innings passed, the inevitable loomed and Shea Stadium gradually emptied. Yankee fans had their own dark edition in the 2004 ALCS, where a 3-0 series lead was steadily bled away by the Red Sox and finally buried by Johnny Damon's second-inning grand slam at Yankee Stadium off Javier Vazquez in relief of Kevin Brown, whose outing rivaled Tom Glavine's for sheer wretchedness in the clutch.
If this kind of grand guignol hasn't happened to your favorite team or athlete, give thanks, but give it time. Whistle past the graveyard or pray all you want, the grim reaper finds everyone. Herewith, a few of the many similar nightmares that must have stirred even the most calcified of souls: (If you have your own tale of grief, feel free to send it in and I'll run it in a future column. MIsery loves company, you know.)
The Bartman Game: Eternally starcrossed Cubbies up 3-1 and five outs from their first World Series in 58 years. Fly ball down the leftfield line. Devoted Cubs fan reaches out... After the Marlins' eight-run rally, the sight of a woman weeping in the Wrigley Field stands was plenty poignant. Then came Game 7 and the Cubs' 5-3 lead in the fifth inning.
The Buckner Game: Enough said. Boston also had a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning of Game 7. The only blessing for Sox fans was that neither was in Fenway.
The Palmer Game. The Bengals' first playoff appearance in 15 years, the house is rockin' and Super Bowl talk is in the air. On Cincy's second offensive play, Pro Bowl QB Carson Palmer shreds his knee while completing a 66-yard pass to Chris Henry, who also leaves the game injured four plays later. Backup Jon Kitna takes over, the Bengals battle gamely, taking leads of 10-0 and 17-7, but the black cloud fully descends in the second half. Bengals fall, 31-17.
The 1996 Masters: Greg Norman enters Augusta's final day with a six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo and shoots a 78. Faldo fires a 67. Do the math. It equals every golfer's worst fever dream.
Barbaro: This one was much more than just a loss, it was a real tragedy. Pimlico Race Course is packed to see the dominant winner of the Kentucky Derby's assault on the second leg of the Triple Crown. Fifteen seconds after the start, the place grows silent and many are soon in tears. Unlike the great filly Ruffian, who broke down in her match race with Foolish Pleasure in 1975, the game Barbaro survived his ghastly leg injuries, but only for eight months.
Not pleasant stuff by any means, but it is a fact of life in any game you care to embrace. It's also something that sports have in common with Billy Graham. Both give you religion.