Oh, the shame of losing

Published 9:36 am Monday, April 25, 2016

“Second place is just the first loser.” – Dale Earnhardt

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.” – Ricky Bobby, “Talladega Nights”

 I planned to write this column two and a half weeks ago. Some of its dated now, but I still believe in what I want to say.

There are many things in the world crueler than second place. But forgive sports fans in the Carolinas if they can’t think of any this year.

In the past three-plus months: Clemson lost to Alabama in college football’s national championship; Carolina lost to Denver in the Super Bowl; and on April 4 UNC lost to Villanova on a horrifyingly gorgeous (??) three-pointer at the buzzer that trumped Marcus Paige’s double-pump prayer just 4.7 seconds earlier.

If you’re a fan of the Tigers, the Panthers, and the Tar Heels, you wanted somebody to wake you up from these nightmares.

Carolina fans stumbled around the morning of April 5th looking like zombies from “The Walking Dead.” I know because I was one of them. Paige’s shot, which might have eclipsed the one made in 1982 by none other than the great Mr. Michael Jeffrey Jordan himself, would have been remembered as THE greatest in Tar Heel history.

Uhm, that is: had his team won. Instead he became the king trumped by an ace. Checkmate (Oops, wrong game!).

Face it, we’re like that in America. C’mon, we feel like winning is everything. That’s why we get quotes like the two that began this column. Second place is a knife in the back. And falling to second place on a last-second anything hurts worst of all.

In my opinion it kind of takes you off suicide-watch if you lose like the Panthers did – never leading for a single second of Super Bowl 50 – than the way the Tar Heels did.

At least in the Super Bowl, we Panthers fans had a few glum, painful minutes during the game to prepare ourselves for the fact our team was about to lose. UNC, though, led by five points at halftime and came back from 10 down in the final minutes. I was beyond hoping, I was SURE overtime meant a Car-o-lina victory!

The omnipresent “Crying Jordan” face has been dominating social media, lately; and not because of the Hornets’ showing in the NBA playoffs. The real Michael Jordan – considered so legendary because when he got to the final seconds of anything, he won, and won, and won – and his presence in Houston that Monday night seemed to solidify that.

MJ handled it better than I could, and that taught me something. In those precious seconds following the loss, he mouthed the words “good shot”, and nodded in grudging acknowledgment of Jenkins’ game-winner. Afterward, he spoke to the Carolina players in the locker room and told them they had made him proud to be a Tar Heel.

Me, too.

Like the fans of the Panthers and the Tigers, we Tar Heel faithful will eventually lift our heads again and realize there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is just life. As one of my old professors once told me: you do your best, but sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. You win some, you lose some. Either way, you move on.

Second place sucks – that’s what Earnhardt was really saying.

When you finish second, you get left at the altar; sad, broken and still dressed in your nice clothes. You know that life goes on. But for awhile there, you just didn’t know how.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.