A true fan stands by Virginia sports team through thick and through thin, in good times and bad. The problem is, until recently, in Charlottesville it’s been all thin and awful. So we’ve developed emotional armor to protect ourselves from the pain, thinking, “In our hearts we know we’re going to lose.” It’s more than surface protection, it’s organic since we’ve inoculated ourselves with an anti-optimism agent to protect ourselves from what we know is the eventual disappointment. It’s not just “cover your bets,” it’s “save your ass.”
How many times have you heard, or said yourself, “Well, that’s Virginia football,” or “Well, that’s Virginia basketball.” We grin and bear the setbacks, the loss to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. The loss to William and Mary in football a couple years ago or the heartbreaker to Tech last season because we know “That’s Virginia sports for you.” They buoy you up and then drop you down. While out lopsided win in the Belk bowl gave everyone hope about the 2019 season, it was a hope tinged with doubt. As Oscar Wilde once said about second marriages, “It is the triumph of hope over experience.”
So unless you want to be truly bummed out, Virginia fans resign themselves to the fact that no matter how well a team plays, at some point in time, they are destined to bum you out. We get into the NCAA tournament with an astounding 16-win season only to get shellacked in the first game. George Welsh gave us some winning seasons only to have the bottom fall out in his last years. Dom Starsia won us three national championships, then his program collapsed.
It’s in the cards, in our blood, our favorite teams are going to let us down.
But this year we’ve got a problem. What are we supposed to do with this basketball program, this lacrosse program, this football program? Two teams win national championships and one is voted as the top team in the Coastal. We can rejoice in the incredible victories but we’ve been so burned over the years, shouldn’t we own up to the fact that they might just be one-offs, that they are certain to self-destruct as they always have.
I remember being a fierce Chicago Bears fan, going through season after season with terrible records. Then we get Refrigerator Perry and a great quarterback, go to the Super Bowl and whip the living daylights out of the Pats. But then we dived back into the ditch and only recently had a playoff opportunity.
But then some fans start thinking that maybe if we win two national championships in basketball and lacrosse that will attract talented athletes who previously wouldn’t have considered UVa. Is that what’s happening with football? Could it happen across the board and make Virginia an athletic champion? Make Virginia a nationally ranked and recognized sports powerhouse?
Then the anti-optimism inoculation kicks in and you think, “C’mon, stop that crazy thinking, after all, this is UVa. This is just a passing phase. Another disaster is just around the corner.”
So we’re in football season and every fan is on the edge of their emotional seats. Not sure to go all-in and think that like Columbus, we’ve found the New World or if we’re heading back to the bad-old-times and are going to fall off the edge of the earth.
I see people walking around with “UVA National Champions” T-shirts on and I begin to wonder, should I buy one also or should I just wait for the bottom to fall out and pick one up for cheap at Goodwill?