This here is an anecdotal aside, but there’s an author in this story, which is why I’m telling you about it. So we’re in the thick of March Madness right now, as I’m SURE you’re aware. In the interest of this theme, I was listening to an older Radiolab broadcast called Games the other morning – the subject being “why we get so invested in something so trivial (as sports & games.) What is it about games that make them feel so pivotal?” Good question. I, for one, am generally not a very nice person to be around when the Connecticut Huskies lose in the NCAA Tournament. More on that in a second.
The middle section of the Radiolab piece focused on the underdog – and why 4 out of 5 people will always root for the team that no one thinks has a chance to win. Hosts Jad & Robert talked to Malcolm Gladwell – author of The Tipping Point, Blink, David & Goliath, etc – and he had this shocking thing to say:
Oh I never, ever cheer for the underdog. I’m distressed by the injustice of the person who should win not winning. Losing – for the favorite – that’s the most exquisitely painful situation to be in.
“This is as twisted & tortured a logic as I’ve ever heard,” host Robert Krulwich replied, with a laugh. And it’s pretty much true. Gladwell claimed to have a distinct “distrust of luck” as far as sports are concerned, since they are carefully planned out events with rules and regulations, therefore he finds it upsetting when the favorite loses. He gave the example of the 1985 Villanova Wildcats basketball team beating the Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA tournament – arguably one of the greatest upsets in the history of modern sport. Not so for Mr. Gladwell. He found this win to be so distressing, so improbable (“It outraged me!”) that he thought were they given one hundred thousand chances, Villanova would still only win that one time. He wasn’t a Georgetown fan, per se, it was that fact of the improbability of Villanova’s win that so outraged him.
The crazy thing is, I can see his logic – even though it takes much of the fun out of sport. Normally – I’d say 99.9% of the time in my sports-watching life – I will root for the underdog. Especially if I have no stake in the game. But in that rare instance where “my” team is considered the favorite, I’m right there with them. And when it goes wrong for that favorite… oh, ho, my friend. You do not want to be near me. My best/worst example of this was in 2008 – the UConn Huskies were the favored #4 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament (a round they had never lost in under coach Jim Calhoun) and they lost to the #13 underdogs from the lowly University of San Diego in overtime. With 1.2 seconds left in overtime. It was a goddamn nightmare, let me tell you, especially here in San Diego.
But I was on the side of the favorite. For everyone else, it was a huge, happy upset. I, however, wanted to kill somebody. Oh, the duality of man.
Anyway, sports are great – you shouldn’t read so much.