Parts I and II of the intense conversation between me (die-hard Packer fan) and Mark (@bashdazzle on Twitter and die-hard 49ers fan) prior to the NFC divisional playoff games in January 2012 are here and here respectively.
Part III where I finally put my shock and disappointment in to words and is right below Mark’s polite and succinct commiserations here –
From: Gray, Mark A
Sent: Sunday, January 15, 2012 11:24 PM
To: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?
When your national team is England, long surpassed by other national teams in the sports they originated, you’ll realize that English people long gave up any jingoism around the national teams. That’s probably why I grew up not liking cricket, at least.
If I was asked which QB would have the best performance this weekend, I would have said Rodgers without hesitation. I think we both just assumed the Packers would be hosting the NFC championship game, though I suggested (jokingly, sort of) that the Giants would pull an upset. I’m not sure if Alex Smith put up the best statistics of the bunch, but he probably had the biggest game/performance of maybe this whole post-season.
The Saints-Niners game was a rollercoaster for me: loving the early tone from Whitner, the defense and special teams, disbelieving the early lead, knowing that there was no way it was safe, and getting frustrated with the offense throughout the middle of the game. (How could they not run time of the clock and take the ball out of Brees’ hands? They were begging for him to beat them.) That one TD pass to Meachem (sp?) was beautiful and terrible at the same time. When the Saints took the lead in the 4th, it was pretty much expected to happen. The designed run and touchdown by Smith on 3rd-and-7 blew me away, then the Graham TD kicked my ass. And THEN Vernon Davis. Oh man, I love that guy. (I had a hard time picking between his and Willis’ jersey, ultimately choosing the latter, but now I want both. ) His performance was amazing – a culmination of the past few weeks of improvement as he finally took possession of the 49ers offense. It’s like Braylon’s release was notice to VD that he’s gonna be The Man in clutch situations. So glad the Niners went for the TD instead of a tying field goal (maybe Harbaugh learned from the Broncos-Steelers game how that’s not a good choice, especially with the Saints’ ability to score touchdowns), but I’m not as impressed by the winning TD as much as the big VD reception leading up to it. Dude was an absolute monster. Again, if you asked which TE would have the better performance in that game, who wouldn’t say Graham? But then VD gives the best TE post-season performance ever. Amazing.
Funny how easily ppl forget the offensive incompetence for most of that game because of the redemptive performance and win in the final minutes. I’m still not too thrilled about it, though. The Niners definitely did not dominate or have a complete game; with five turnovers created, they really should have. It should not have been that close. But I’ll take the trauma of that game and the win, no doubt.
Hard to be too happy, though, because I really wanted 49ers-Packers for the NFC title, though mostly for selfish reasons (for the 49ers to go there and beat the Packers would be a statement). And it would have been great having our teams go head-to-head in that situation. Giants seriously stole that thunder, but I have no idea what happened since the Niners game on Saturday was my allowed break from husband/father duties and Sunday was not – so I only saw the beginning and end of that game. I need to understand more about what happened there, but it sounds as if the Packers pretty much beat themselves. Rodgers, in particular, didn’t have a typical 2011-2012 game either. Definitely sad it ended up that way; I hope you don’t get too much smack from Niners fans this week since that’s just rubbing salt in your wounds.
That’s my emotional reaction to this weekend; I’ll probably have more logical analysis coming as the week progresses… if you’ll take it.
From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Sunday, January 31, 2012 11:24 PM
To: Gray, Mark A
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?
It has taken me fifteen freaking days to find the strength and words to overcome the pain and disappointment I felt on 1/15/2011. Sport really shouldn’t mean this much or hurt this much. Teams I’ve rooted for have lost a lot of games. Indian cricket in the 1990s choked, collapsed and often convinced me I was masochistic. The Packers had an annual Favre turd delivery to puncture hopes and dreams for much of the 2000s. As a bandwagon Red Sox fan, I even watched the Aaron Boone home run in New York city with Yankee fans! Like most truly devoted sports fans, I watch games with the expectation that things will not break the right way for the individual/team I am rooting for. I reverse jinx with the best of them and the pain has almost always been greater than the joy.
With all that said, I did not visualize the Packers losing to the 9-7 regular season Giants. And definitely not in the way it transpired. I think the news cycle moves so fast these days that the magnitude of the upset has not truly sunk in to most media and fans. Prior to this game the Packers had been the epitome of consistency for not one, not two but nearly three seasons. They were 35 – 7 in the last 42 games started by Rodgers. Every one of these losses was by less than a touchdown and three of the seven were in Overtime. They were healthier than they had been all year. They were coming off two weeks’ rest and a win over a playoff team while resting many starters. The Giants needed a combination of crazy unlikely events, plays and results in the last four weeks to even get to the playoffs. At no point all week prior did any of my masochistic sensors flare up. After your Niners played their best game in a decade (it was also the best NFL game I think I watched ever) to clinch a berth in the Championship game, I was giddy and excited about a weeklong exchange of barbs with everyone I knew, including you.
And then, it happened.
Losing 37-20 hurt. Watching Rodgers struggle all day to find the open man even when protected really well against a fierce pass rush hurt. Watching the ball catchers do all but catch the ball (6 drops) hurt. Watching the coach use his timeouts like they were AT & T rollover minutes hurt. Characteristically bad tackling and uncharacteristically sloppy fumbles and turnovers (as many fumbles lost in one game as in rest of the season) hurt. Giving up seven points on a ‘Hail Mary’ hurt.
I have been thinking about why this loss hurt so bad. After all, fans of most teams would be okay with going 15-2 a season after winning the Super Bowl. Hell, offer me this deal at any time in the last decade and I take it without blinking. But yet this one hurt and caused a few restless if not sleepless nights. I think I finally figured out why and I am gonna list it out below. Tell me what you think?
You and I are Moneyballers. That’s how we even became friends. I remember that being the first topic of our first conversation at work. And the most fundamental principle of any one who subscribes to this school is that past performance based on large sample sizes portends future performance. For nearly a decade now, I have adopted principles based on the same to explain and analyze sports and life. It just made more sense that way. Of course I am aware of standard deviation and margin for error and the odds of specific events transpiring. I’m also aware of this . And yet, rarely have the principles of extracting analysis from large data sets failed me.
And for the first time I can remember, a team that both my heart and head thought would definitely win, lost. I doubt this will be the last and I think it will definitely make think of sports and specific games very differently. But for now I am still extremely bogged down by the NFC championship game and Superbowl that could have been.