Today is about upset losses, and with it, upset fans.
Inside 24 hours, teams favored to win have fallen one by one, as if the world was abandoned by logical rhythm and the workings of reason in favor of some dry, unsavory humor.
The Dallas Cowboys lost to underdogs Cleveland Browns in the NFL. In the English Premier League, Manchester United was demolished by Tottenham, while last season’s fourth-worst team in the table in Aston Villa ran roughshod over the defending champions Liverpool. In the NBA, the Miami Heat—still playing without starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo—won Game 3 of the Best-of-Seven against the Los Angeles Lakers.
With all these happenings, it is no wonder fans are upset. But I think it has nothing to do with losing per se. Despite their rabid and fierce belief about how their preferred team is the best among the rest, they too are rational beings who understand the reality and fair nature of winning and losing in sports.
An upset loss makes fans upset only if how the team lost a game is truly lamentable. Fans are angry not because the opposing team is better, but because their favored team came to play sporting its worst version of itself. That’s what just happened in the EPL, NFL, and NBA.
Manchester United was first on the scoreboard courtesy of Bruno Fernandes and fans thought this could be a sign of good things to come. Both players and fans were dead wrong. Instead, the Spurs forced the Red Devils to yield four goals in the first half, reminding the Old Trafford faithful about the last time Manchester United allowed opponents four goals in the first half in the English Premier League: it was in November 1957. And yes, it was against Tottenham, too. In the end, it felt like 2011 again for Manchester United, when they were obliterated by city rivals Manchester City via the same 1-6 spread. Losing is acceptable, but losing the way they did versus the Spurs is hard to swallow.
The only consolation for Manchester United is that defending champion Liverpool chose that same day to play football below par what is expected of a top-flight team, which meant the Red Devils were not alone in the pigsty. Ollie Watkins almost single-handedly destroyed Liverpool. Mohamed Salah came up short in this duel of forwards, and the goals from John McGinn, Ross Barkley, and Jack Grealish served only one purpose: to make sure the Reds aren’t just defeated but are completely embarrassed. Can you imagine the Kopites simply shrugging it off and dismissing it as an acceptable loss? Do they think this was a well-played match? No.
Like EPL’s Manchester United and Liverpool, the Dallas Cowboys is a revered team in the NFL owing to the team’s history of winning, which they hope to rekindle by hiring ex-Greenbay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. Losing to the Cleveland Browns is not a step towards that direction, and at 1-3, it is understandable why Dallas fans are furious. They are not alone.
Many Los Angeles fans are disappointed right now, watching the Lakers return to their bad habits on the court and it is an unbearable sight: poor defense, playing without pace, lethargic with a penchant for piling turnovers, and the most palpable of all is the seeming disinterest to win the game. Many say Anthony Davis is the deserving Finals MVP if the Lakers win the championship, and this is not without its merit, but consider this as well: when they play terrible basketball, Davis, too, should be first to be held accountable. Game 3 is the best example of a bad showing. For a player touted as the most athletic big man with range and dribbling skills playing in the Finals unburdened by the defense of Adebayo, producing a meager 15 points is unacceptable. Jae Crowder is 6’6” and had 8 rebounds. Duncan Robinson is 6’7” and had 5 rebounds. Kelly Olynyk came off the bench and had 17 and 7 in 31 minutes. I am sure LA didn’t trade Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks just to get a 6’10” power forward who, unencumbered by any injury, can only muster 5 rebounds in a Finals game where he started and played 33 minutes in.
If it is any consolation, it is not time to panic—not yet. Not until these teams have buried themselves in a hole too deep they’ve descended to the bottom of the pecking order.
From lyamádo to dehádo, so they say - when these teams lose their status as heavy favorites, then at least there will be no more upset losses to worry about.