13 levels of defeat
That was a familiar sight yesterday: Brett Favre's last pass of the season in the NFC championship going for an interception... and it got me to thinking about the psychology of different kinds of defeats.
ESPN's Bill Simmons wrote a piece a while back called "The 13 Levels of Losing," in which he runs though any number of defeat scenarios by increasing levels of pain. This, of course, needs to be applied to politics. Let's look at a few of his benchmarks; throw your own in the comments.
The Massachusetts scenario best fits Simmons' Level V:, the "This Can't Be Happening" Game:
The sibling of the Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking ... you're supposed to win, you expect to win, the game is a mere formality ... suddenly your team falls behind, your opponents are fired up, the clock is ticking and it dawns on you for the first time, "Oh my God, this can't be happening."
So that's on the high end.
Level XIII: The Princeton Principle. Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the '89 NCAAs) ... this one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes.
A little obscure, but I thought of netroots hero Paul Hackett almost beating Mean Jean Schmidt in the Ohio House special in 2005.
Level IX: The Sudden Death. Definition: Is there another fan experience quite like overtime hockey, when every slap shot, breakaway and centering pass might spell doom, and losing feels 10 times worse than winning feels good (if that makes sense)? ... there's only one mitigating factor: when OT periods start piling up and you lose the capacity to care anymore; invariably you start rooting for the game to just end, just so you don't suffer a heart attack .
The 2008 Democratic primaries, no question. Everything after Super Tuesday had the psychology of overtime.
Level XI: The Alpha Dog. Definition: It might have been a devastating loss, but at least you could take solace that a superior player made the difference in the end ... unfortunately, he wasn't playing for your team.
Ronald Reagan promising not to use Mondale's youth an inexperience.
Level VIII: Dead Man Walking. Definition: Applies to any playoff series when your team remains "alive," but they just suffered a loss so catastrophic and so harrowing that there's no possible way they can bounce back ... especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there's a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change ... so you've given up, but you're still getting hurt, if that makes sense.
This must be how John McCain felt.
Level VI: The Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking. Definition: Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn't your team's day ... and that's the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows -- every botched play, every turnover, every instance where someone on your team quits, every "deer in the headlights" look, every time an announcer says, "They can't get anything going," every shot of the opponents celebrating, every time you look at the score and think to yourself, "Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we'll get some momentum," but you know it's not going to happen, because you're already 30 points down ... you just want it to end, and it won't end ... but you can't look away ... it's the sports fan's equivalent to a three-hour torture session.
Level I: That Game. Definition: Game 6 of the 1986 World Series ... one of a kind ... given the circumstances and the history involved here, maybe the most catastrophic sports loss of our lifetime.
Two words: hanging chad.