by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I am empty. I am broken-hearted. All around me, college football fans are gearing up for the weekend. They wave Michigan banners. They wave Iowa banners. They talk of how Miami will beat Notre Dame, or how Notre Dame will beat Miami. They stock up on pretzels and hot chocolate.

I sit by the window.

“What’s wrong?” asks a voice.

“Alone,” I say, sadly, waving a blue and white pom-pon. “All revved up and nowhere to go.”

I am the man without a country, the lonely soldier on a college football battlefield. I have no team. Not anymore. I used to have a team. My team made me proud. It was not a great team. Not a good team. Some say my team did not deserve to wear cleats.

But my team had a specialty. My team did one thing better than any other team in the country.

My team lost.

Over and over. Without interruption. By six touchdowns. Sometimes seven. To schools you never heard of. You gave us the lead, we gave it back. You punted our way, we fumbled yours. My team, my alma mater, was the Columbia Lions, the school with the longest college football losing streak in the country.

Until last week. Last week Columbia won. After 44 straight losses.

My weekends are ruined.

“Don’t they know this spoils everything?” I ask, peeling the Columbia posters off the wall. “We had something unique going. We were leading the nation. We way out in front . . . “

“You were the worst,” says the voice.

“Exactly,” I answer. A raindrop of reality

Better to be the worst than the next-to-worst. Nobody remembers the next-to-worst. It is as bad as being next-to- best. With the nation’s longest losing streak, we were at the forefront of the news.

“Columbia lose again?” someone would ask.

“Yep,” someone would answer.

People loved us. We were a raindrop of reality. A reminder that all in sports was not gravy and glory. You would watch UCLA nip USC, or Michigan squeak by Ohio State, and then you’d see, aha, look at that, Columbia got blown out by Colgate, a toothpaste. And all was well.

We had the perfect record. Winless. When our band played “We’re BAD!” they meant it. That is, when we had a band. Usually, they were studying. Which is OK. As long as we were losing I was sure my school was concentrating on academics. In fact, the way we played, I figured our quarterback was writing his physics paper in the huddle.

But now what? Now I must wonder if our speedy little tailback is skipping classes to hit the weight room. Now I must wonder if our our linemen are passing up Intro to 19th Century Literature in favor of Gatorade fights.

“Steroids,” I say, packing away my blue and white ski cap. “I bet we have to worry about steroids now, too.”

“Aren’t you overreacting?” asks the voice.

“I think not,” I say. I open the newspaper. “Did you see this? It’s a picture after last week’s 16-13 win over Princeton. Look. Our fans tore down the goalposts. Can you believe that? We never tear down the goalposts. We can’t even kick a ball through the goalposts.”

“Well . . . ” says the voice.

Well nothing. I can see it now. Our star players will soon be living in condominiums on 96th street. Our coach will be driving a Corvette. Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom, the sleazeball agents, will be booking a trip to the Upper West Side.

“And what about the stadium?” I ask, packing away the miniature Columbia footballs. “We always played in a stadium that was so far uptown, you had to take the subway through Harlem to get there. Now what? I bet they build a new one, smack dead center of campus, next to the library.”

“Oh, come on,” says the voice,

“Probably have a dome on it,” I mumble. Searching for a new team

This is my dilemma. This is my problem. How can I root for my team anymore? It is pointless to root for them to lose. I mean, 44 games is five years worth of losing. That was a special effort, even for us.

It is also pointless to root for them to win. After all, we beat Princeton, not Penn State. Sooner or later, we will return to our old ways. What’s the fun in losing to Lehigh if it isn’t historic?

So I must find a new team. I suppose I could root for Princeton; they must be awfully bad. But do they have another 43 losses in them? Then again, I could go the other route, and hop on the Michigan bandwagon. Or Miami’s. Or Notre Dame’s. But where’s the fun in that? You can’t get a ticket. You can’t find parking. And every December, you have to fly someplace for a bowl game.

“In the good old days,” I say, folding my raccoon coat, “you didn’t have to go anywhere. You just looked out your dorm window, saw the eight fans staggering across campus, yelled ‘DID WE LOSE?’ and waited for the thumbs-up sign.”

“You call that fandom?” asks the voice.

“Beats wearing earmuffs,” I say.

I sigh. Once we had identity. Once you could find us on the college football map — right at the bottom. Once we had a team. A beautiful team. They just couldn’t leave bad enough alone.

“Come on,” says the voice, “cheer up. Maybe they’ll start another streak.”

I lift the megaphone. I close my eyes. I try to envision the good old days, two weeks ago, when we still led the nation in something.

“Boolah, boolah,” I say, but I do not mean it.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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