Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't Let Me Down

Watching the Cincinnati Bengals' last-minute loss to the Oakland Raiders hurt. Not just in the way that I had the Bengals to cover the spread against an Oakland team that has managed to score a league lowest 10.8 pts/game, but it was the feeling of crushed hopes I had put in a Cincinnati team that few choose to believe in. The Bengals, now 7-3, are a team that no one expected to be leading the AFC North at this point in the season. Pittsburgh were the returning champs, and Baltimore looked ready to return to the playoffs under the helm of Joe Flacco. But the Bengals surprised everyone and with the chance of moving to 8-2 and pretty much securing themselves a spot in the playoffs on a day where the Steelers lost to the Chiefs and the Ravens lost to the Colts. But they blew it, and that got me thinking about other teams that have let me down over the course of the years. I'm not talking about my favorite teams, they always seem to let me down, but every now and then there's an upstart team that catches everyone's attention and has everyone hoping for them. Here are a few examples from recent memory:

1. Michigan State Spartans (2008/09, NCAA Basketball)

Sure they were ranked 14th in the nation and it was hardly a surprise to see them go deep into March Madness, but who wasn't excited when they upset no. 10 Louisville, beat Connecticut in the semi-finals, and went on to face no. 2 ranked North Carolina in the finals, ALL ON HOME TURF! The crowd in a city that had just seen their lowly Detroit Lions finish the season 0-16, the first winless season ever in NFL history, wanted it more than any UNC fan could imagine. So what happened? In classic anti-climatic fashion, they were demolished by a final score of 89-72. Not quite what anyone had in mind for the Spartans...

2. New York Mets (2007, MLB)

It looked possible that the Mets, a constant joke in major league baseball, might finally have their season. They had been first in their division since the month of May and with two weeks left in the season held a 7.5 game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies. They looked like a team that might actually win a World Series, their first since 1986, and it had people excited; then they collapsed. The Mets finished the season by losing 12 of 17, including all four of a four-game series against the Phillies at home, and plummeted out of the playoffs in one of the worst breakdowns of all time. It's hard not to like the Mets, New York's "other" team, and it's even more difficult to put hopes in them only to have them completely crumble. The Phillies exited the playoffs early, swept in three by the Rockies, and everyone kinda felt indifferent thinking, "it should have been the Mets."

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (2007, NBA)

With all the talk of "the next Jordan" surrounding Lebron James, he had yet to do something that Jordan was all to familiar with, win a championship. After leading the Cavs to the NBA finals against the San Antonio Spurs, people were starting to take notice of King Lebron and his team of misfits who were set to face the perennial playoff force lead by Tim Duncan. People were hyped. The 22 year old James had a chance to prove himself to the world; instead the Cavs were swept in four and everyone felt kinda let down. Cleveland followed the performance up with a less-than-stellar regular season performance in 2008 and an early playoff exit at the hands of the Boston Celtics, and it felt almost like Lebron had lost his chance to live up to the comparisons that had garnished his early career.

4. Calgary Flames (2003-04, NHL)

The Flames didn't only have the hopes of an entire city or province behind them, but an entire nation. The Flames, lead by an almost unknown Jarome Iginla, began the playoffs seeded sixth in the Western Conference only to upset the third, first, and second seeds in succession to become the first Canadian team to make the Stanley Cup Finals in ten years. They met the top-seeded Eastern Conference team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, for the title. The series see-sawed back and forth but Game 6 saw the Flames up 3-2 in the series with a chance to win the cup. They lost the game in double overtime and then lost the final game 2-1 to give Tampa Bay the cup. Unfortunately it would be the last Stanley Cup awarded for two years as a labor dispute canceled the 2004-05 season, and the sport as a whole suffered a major blow.

5. Tom Watson (2009, PGA)

Tom Watson came so close this year to becoming the oldest player in PGA history to win a Major. The 59 year old headed into the final round with a one stroke lead, but was usurped by the much younger Stewart Cink. He was actually one 8-foot putt away from winning, but failed to make a par putt on the 18th, leading to a four hole playoff round. He was dominated by Cink through the playoffs and was seen wiping tears from his eyes as he teed off from the 18th for a final time. A crowd eagerly anticipating history was left disappointed and Stewart Cink had to accept his win with just a tinge of bitter-sweetness.

Honorable mention: The 2006-07 Chicago Bears might have made the list, but they lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl and both teams entered with long droughts. Each had their own following so it's hard to decide whether this was a disappointing season for Bears' fans or a redemption year for Colts' fans. I still wanted the Bears to win this one though, and was especially upset after they went up 14-6 in the first quarter. Them's the breaks!

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