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Loss, Losses and Brian's Song

Give me space to write whatever I'm thinking and remove the restrictions on what I'm supposed to be writing about and occasionally you'll get posts like this. It has nothing to do with the Astros, or high school sports, or even Houston in general. It's just something rattling around in my head since last night.

I was winding down my day, trying to put off taking the trash out to the curb, when Brian's Song came on Sony Movie Channel. Not the good Brian's Song, with Jimmy Caan and the immortal Billy Dee Williams, but the remake with that dude from Firefly and the other dude from ER and the Eminem song. There was no reason I should have stayed up to watch that movie, but (spoiler alert), I watched it through the closing credits. In between, I started thinking about why that was, which I'll get into a little more after the break.

See, the thing about this movie is it was pretty terrible. I mean, the story itself of Brian Piccolo is good enough to keep me hooked through the end. But both Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer were woefully underserved in this movie. I've liked them both in other stuff, but here, the dialogue they gave out was forced and the football scenes were an affront to my delicate sensibilities.

So why did I watch the whole damn movie? Why did I smile at the training montage after Sayers blows out his knee? Why did the room get a little dusty when George Halas promised to pay for Brian's medical stuff and take care of his family?

Well, that's just how sports affect fans, I think. In some ways, we're more affected by losses than we are from wins. Most of the great sports movies end in thrilling victories, like Hoosiers and Necessary Roughness and The Mighty Ducks. Wins are great and they're what we always hope for as sports fans. But they're not always what we get.

I think sports fans can find just as much meaning in a loss as anything. Look at both the Red Sox and the Cubs, who made a cottage industry of losing. They didn't just lose and lose and lose, like those woebegotten Devil Rays did. They lost epically, for years. They lost games when the ball went through the first baseman's legs and when a fan wearing headphones took a fly ball away from the left fielder. The losses gave their fans a sense of purpose, a sense of unity. It was only through the losing that they gained such a huge fan base.

In a way, that's why a movie like Brian's Song is so moving. It's about loss, though not a loss on the field. But, sports fans can identify with it just the same. It's a truth they know all too well. Life doesn't end in a championship each season. You put up with the losses year after year, hoping the next will change things. Every fan has to say goodbye to the season in heartbreaking fashion at one time or another...even Yankees fans.

That sadness is entirely artificial, though. Fans didn't play in those games nor do they have any vested interest in the outcome (unless they placed a bet through Fans adopt a team and root for them passionately. Sometimes, it's based on where they were born and raised. Others, it's because of a player who they grew up idolizing. Either way, they are not (usually) related to the team but share a connection that are as strong as any filial bond. They know all about exaggerated pain and ecstasy, simply because they go through it 16, 82 or 162 times every season.

Which is exactly why a movie like Brian's Song resonates so strongly with sports fans. It's just as cheesy as the worst Lifetime movie, but it's a sweet story coming in a setting we're familiar with. It's got a big payoff, some great moving moments and then it makes us feel those pangs of artificial sadness for a relationship we never actually experience and for a man we never really knew.

I thought a little about loss after the credits rolled. For me, I started thinking about my dad, who I just lost last year to a long, debilitating illness. I thought about how I felt when Pujols hit that pitch in the NLCS and how many different Astros fans I've commiserated with about that moment. I thought about loss, and losses, and how unique sports were for bringing me closer to both.

Winning is great, but winning with people who've suffered along with you feels earned. In ever sports fan, there is a little bit of suffering, which is why we seek out shows like Brian's Song at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night. Or not. I might be alone in this. I might also have just been bored and avoiding taking out the trash. But the suffering bit sounds more dignified.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.