After the big game, here's to the losers

Anybody who gets involved in playing sports knows one thing for certain: If you're gonna play, you're gonna lose.

Some 72 hours ago, the Virginia Tech Hokies lost in the national collegiate football championship game in New Orleans. But are they losers? Certainly not.

Frankly, it's time that losing be honored. Losing, like pit bulls, has gotten a bad reputation, but it may not be deserved. There is much to commend about losing, and nowhere is that more evident than in the recent 23 major college football bowl games.

Too many of the losers have been focused too much on the result and not enough on the participation; they relive the "what if" aspects of the game rather than the "what was."

A few examples of the good the losers should take from their losing:

*Virginia Tech, 46-29 losers to Florida State, must - absolutely must - glory in having proved to millions of skeptics that they can compete with the best. The Seminoles are excellent; Tech is only slightly less so. The Hokies erased a 28-7 FSU lead to nudge ahead 29-28 late in the third quarter. A comeback like this is an enormous achievement. Said Michael Vick, star freshman quarterback for the Hokies, "I did everything in my power."

That is victory in itself.

*In the Rose Bowl, Stanford was a huge underdog to Wisconsin, mostly because Wisconsin's offense, fueled by Heisman trophy-winner Ron Dayne, was extraordinary and Stanford's defense was the fifth worst in the nation. Amazingly, the Cardinal lost just 17-9 and had a decent chance of tying near the end.

Among the pluses in the Stanford loss was that its much-maligned defense held Dayne to just 46 yards in the first half; and, ultimately, the 26 total points were the fewest in the Rose Bowl in more than two decades.

*Alabama ended up 35-34 losers in the Orange Bowl to Michigan in overtime when a routine extra point was missed.

But take the broader view. The Tide had an excellent 10-3 season against the hardest schedule in college football, and it played in its 50th bowl game, an NCAA record. Think how many schools would love to have a fraction of that many bowl appearances on their rsums. Too, 'Bama had leads in the game of 14-0 and 28-14. The postgame focus was on blowing the leads. Why not at least acknowledge the remarkable skills that enabled these advantages to be built in the first place against a high-quality opponent?

*Texas was drubbed 27-6 by Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Everyone is pointing to the Longhorns ending up with a minus 27 yards rushing, worst in school history. "It was," concedes Texas boss Mack Brown, "a bad day at the ranch." Sure it was.

But the positive is this: After this humiliation, it's almost certain the Longhorns will run the ball like gangbusters next year because this one stinking day is apt to be the kind of motivational prod that will lead to rushing greatness in the future. It's likely any Texas player involved in this debacle will be an enormously better player going forward because of it.

*Purdue built a 25-0 lead over Georgia in the Outback Bowl, only to succumb to the biggest comeback in bowl history, losing 28-25.

Much of the blame fell on Purdue kicker Travis Dorsch, who missed three field goals and an extra point. Yet, he bravely faced the media afterward and said, "I'll be watching a lot of tape and rededicating myself." This is a classic example of how losing can get one focused on doing better, always a worthy goal.

*Florida lost to Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl, 37-34, on a made field goal as time expired. The disappointment in Gatorland was that this was the first time since 1992 that Florida (9-4) failed to win 10 games in a season.

But to put it another way, Florida has won 10 games every year since 1992 - except once.

Teams like Arizona State, Washington, and Minnesota lost. Boston College and Virginia really lost. But all the losers won because they were good enough to be chosen to play in bowls. Being good enough to get in position to lose a big game is a first-order accomplishment.

Best of all, as the years go by, the bowl losers and their fans will find they won't dwell on the loss but will reminisce fondly about the being-there.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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