“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed…the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.” – General George S. Patton Jr.
Surely Patton didn’t have athletic endeavors in mind when he declared America’s proclivity for winning, but his words ring true for sports fans everywhere. Just do a quick Twitter search on “participation trophies” if you don’t believe me.
Given this inclination towards winning, it baffles me that a decent chunk of the American population has shown an unbreakable allegiance to a team that continuously finds a way to let them down. A team that oozes the values of the very Midwestern city they call home. A team that resides in one the cathedrals of the sport. A team that takes as much pride in off the field traditions as they do on the field success.
For the last century, a certain team in Chicago could stake claim to the preceding description, but given recent events I believe there’s an obvious choice for America’s next “Lovable Loser” – the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.
You may be wondering how a team with the second-most wins all-time and five national championships in the last 30 years can be considered anything but a winner, but hear me out.
Believe it or not, the Chicago Cubs were World Series regulars before they booked a 108-year stay at the Heartbreak Hotel. Just like how every title contender had to go through the boys from Lincoln during the mid-90s and early-2000s, the road to a championship went through Chicago in the early 1900s. From 1906-1910, the Cubs appeared in four World Series match-ups, winning two of them. Then for a century, the franchise had no business being as popular as they were, especially considering America’s obsession with backing winners. Up until recently, the Cubs were basically Teddy from ‘Westworld’ – the designated loser for the house to toy with. Time and time again, they’d give their fans hope that they were finally going to break their loop, only to have their Dolores (World Series ring) taken away from them.
Husker Nation has a ways to go to match the Century of Suck Cub fans had to endure, but their journey towards full-blown lovable-loserdom is well on its way. Since their championship tilt against the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 Rose Bowl, Husker fans have had to thump their chest about APRs, graduation rates, sellout streaks, fan and player tributes, “doing things the right way” and being “nice to fans” because they haven’t had much to brag about on the playing field. The Huskers haven’t won a trophy of relevance since their 1999 Big 12 conference championship win and the fanbase has their equivalent of the Cubs’ “Try Not To Suck” standard in their “Winning Nine Games Proves We’re a Great Program Because Tom Osborne Used to Win Nine Games In a Totally Different Era” benchmark.
To be a Lovable Loser you need two things – 1) A tradition fans can latch onto, regardless of on-field success and 2) Lots of heartbreak. The more tragic the better.
The Cubs have Wrigley, the Huskers have Memorial Stadium. Cub fans travel in droves, Husker fans take over even the most hallowed of stadiums. The Cubbies have their famed seventh-inning stretch, while the Huskers are trying their hardest to make clearing their throats a thing.
The Huskers have the tradition requirement covered, but what about the heartbreak? Just ask their fans about the 2009 Big 12 Championship, seemingly every game against Wisconsin, definitely every game against Texas, losing in the most improbable way against Texas Tech in 2005, and every championship opportunity squandered since Tom Osborne forced Frank Solich on us all.
Are there teams with just as much tradition as the Huskers that do a heck of a lot more losing than the Huskers? The Cleveland Browns and New York Knicks come to mind, but do you actually want to “love” either of those teams? I honestly believe those two fanbases enjoy hate-watching games.
Given the team’s unique position of “being the only game in town”, there’s no doubt in my mind the Big Red faithful could endure a century’s long drought of total to moderate futility and still come out relatively unscathed. Would they prefer a different fate? No doubt. But just like Teddy, Dolores and the rest of the Westworld hosts, somebody is going to have to get their mind right in order to prevent a repeat of the last 15 or so years.