A Loss That Hurts

Doug Hennes, an administrator and diehard Tommie sports fan who bleeds a fair amount of purple, contributed this blog to The Scroll.

Twenty-one months ago, when the 30-0 St. Thomas men’s basketball team lost to Washington University in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals after leading by eight points at halftime, I had an empty feeling for days. “This hurts, no question,” Coach Steve Fritz told his No. 1-rated team in the locker room after the loss.

That same feeling was back three days ago, when the 12-0 St. Thomas football team lost to Bethel in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals after leading by a point at halftime, and Coach Glenn Caruso’s comments sound eerily familiar. “I told the team this hurts, it should hurt and it will hurt for awhile,” Caruso said.

So why does it hurt? Why do fans, as well as players, feel empty?

Caruso talked with sincerity about the brotherhood and love on his team and how it had become a family, and he saluted his 13 seniors for their leadership. Ditto Fritz, who had praised four seniors for leaving an “unbelievable” basketball legacy and serving as “our heart and soul.”

It can be difficult to determine the significance of those intangibles, but one thing is obvious with a team whose spirit first resonates with and then rubs off on fans: they become a part of the team. They ride those highs and lows with the players, and their faith and confidence become so unconditional and so unshakeable that they just don’t think their team – especially their undefeated team – will lose. When they do, as Caruso and Fritz know all too well, it hurts.

John Tauer, a psychology professor and assistant coach on the men’s basketball team, believes it hurts more when your first – and only – loss comes in the playoffs. “The expectations are so much higher,” he says, “and a loss is so much more abrupt.” That said, he doesn’t buy the line that teams are better off losing a game during the regular season. “I want to win them all.”

Fritz had the best caveat I have heard from a coach. After admitting, “This hurts, no question,” he added, “But it’s a part of sports.”

Then, most importantly, he thanked his players for a great season, just as Caruso did Saturday. I detected a tremor in Caruso’s voice as he talked about what this team meant to him, and I was proud of him for showing a little emotion.

I did find a tonic for the loss. I drove to Bethel, where I caught the end of the women’s basketball game (Tommies won 61-38) and the men’s game (Tommies won 93-65).

“I feel better,” I told my wife as we left the arena. “Not a lot better, but better.”

And I felt even better Monday, when I read Gene McGivern’s wise blog on tommiesports.com and remembered the 12-1 Tommies finished 2-8 three years ago.

“Admit it, Tommie football fans,” he writes. “That winning thing was pretty fun.”