The last game I threw my heart into was played on February 5, 2006. Guests clad in blue and green jerseys spilled into my parents' house, their cars packed in the driveway under the "Seahawks fans only" parking sign. I clutched a scrapbook of every newspaper headline leading up to the championship game. We gorged ourselves on homemade guacamole and my mom's secret "football chili," huddled around the television, and prayed for a win.
Three hours later, I was sobbing on the floor of the living room. My mom took the tape out of our VCR and put it on a shelf that was expressly used for collecting dust. The broadcast kept running while the partygoers made hasty goodbyes. I couldn't tear my eyes from the red and blue confetti littering the field, the grin of the coach when his wife flung her arms around his neck, oblivious to the sea of microphones before them, the bright silver trophy hoisted by the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Seahawks slunk back to the locker room. It was my first real heartbreak as a sports fan -- and, with tears streaking my face, I decided it would be the last.
In the years that followed, the residue from the lost Super Bowl stuck in the back of my mind whenever I watched one of my teams play. It didn’t matter if they had better players, more luck, or more favorable odds. I remained confident that the competition could, at any moment, find it in themselves to rally, recover the lead, and claim the victory they deserved. It was the only way that I could watch sports without that paralyzing fear of losing everything.
During the fall of 2012, I spent every night in October holed up in a cozy dive bar on Capitol Hill. The San Francisco Giants were making a push for their second World Series championship since arriving to the Bay Area in 1958. Then a long-distance Giants fan, I was eager to watch my team repeat the dominant playoff performance they had demonstrated back in 2010. Anticipation quickly turned to despair as San Francisco pushed every qualifying round to its breaking point, eking out last-minute wins in Game 5 of the NLDS and Game 7 of the NLCS. It was, as Bay Area fans are fond of saying, torture to watch, but it was also the most spectacular comeback I had ever seen.
By the time the World Series came around, my nerves were at an all-time high (no thanks to the 27 oz. of Red Bull that coursed through my veins). The Giants dispensed with their underdog mentality and became the twenty-first MLB team to take the Series with four consecutive wins. Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in three at-bats. Justin Verlander collapsed. Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong (and a stellar bullpen) pitched back-to-back shutouts. Sergio Romo struck out the side to clinch the championship. It was the perfect ending to an emotionally-fraught postseason – yet, as the Giants doused each other with champagne and the lone Tigers fan crept out of the bar, I felt nothing close to happiness. I had been so determined to safeguard myself against disappointment that I'd lost the ability to revel in my team’s success.
As I write this, there are three games left to play in the 2014 regular season. The Mariners, by talent, fortune, and the Oakland A’s, have not been mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth. Although it doesn’t feel like it, anything could happen this weekend.
By next week, we’ll know the end of the Mariners’ story. Either they will face a long, dull offseason or they’ll be clawing their way into the first round of the playoffs. Should the former happen, I promise you that we’ll spend the next six months picking apart this team's collapse. We’ll rehash every painful moment and dig into the statistics of every underperformer. We'll reevaluate "The Plan." We’ll suss out the improvements to be made and maybe even venture a guess as to the M’s chances of finishing above .500 for a second consecutive season.
Right now, it’s tempting to sit back, remove ourselves from the intensified emotions that the next few days will bring, and say, "Well, maybe next year." That would be the easy way out, the exit that allows us to look for solace in football, knitting, or some other offseason distraction.
It would also be discarding what the Mariners have worked hard to achieve this season. We know that the odds, as always, are stacked against them. Over the last month, their performances have given us little to put our faith in, if anything. Despite this, they still have a chance to come out of this weekend with a spot in the playoffs. That's not insignificant.
Personally speaking, I don’t want to waste this opportunity by bracing myself for an inevitable defeat. I want to remember what it’s like to be that sports fan who throws herself headfirst into a game, no matter the outcome. If, by some miracle, everything falls in the Mariners’ favor, I want to be able to experience the euphoria that will accompany their first playoff appearance in 13 years.
The Mariners have given us the chance to hope for something big this year, and we’d be crazy not to take it. This series, this game tonight is all that matters.
If we go down this weekend, let’s go down swinging.