The very idea of losing is anathema to the “self-esteemers,” because, you see, no child is a “loser,” and it is of vital importance that they never be branded as such or to be made to feel “less than” because of something as arbitrary and meaningless as not being as good or talented as some other child in, well, whatever. This is all well and good until they show up in a college English class someday, attend maybe half the classes, produce half-assed work that they feel just great about, and then wonder what happened when they receive a failing grade at the end of the term. “Yes, but where is my trophy? What do you mean I have to repeat the class? I want my certificate!”
I tell you, it is tough on those parents who want to teach their children that they are going to lose once in a while, that they are not always going to get a trophy just for trying, and that things are not always going to go their way. Which is why I am grateful to the Carolina Panthers for blowing — I mean falling short in — the Super Bowl on Sunday night.
Don’t get me wrong. I am heartbroken, too. I have been an avid fan of the Panthers since the team’s inception, following everything the team does all through the intervening years. For example, it hasn’t been three days since they lost, and here I am already thinking about the draft and potential free agency coups for next season. Good season or bad, I am there, watching every Sunday, always finding cause for optimism, regardless of how bleak the circumstances might seem.
Over the past couple of seasons, the rest of the family — formerly indifferent to the fortunes of the Panthers — has gradually gained interest in the team. As you probably already know, the team had a remarkable year this season, posting a sterling 15-1 regular season record and then beating, in succession, their arch rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, and the very dangerous Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game to get to the Super Bowl.
It had been a magical season, one that would surely culminate with a sound thrashing of the AFC Champion Denver Broncos, a team with a good defense, but a sketchy offense and a quarterback, Peyton Manning, who, before becoming an NFL quarterback, once charged up San Juan Hill with Theodore Roosevelt. OK, I made that up, but the guy is old, old, old. He is about as mobile as the statue of Theodore Roosevelt, and he throws about as well. He would obviously be a sitting duck for our ferocious defense, and with Cam Newton directing our top-rated offense, we would destroy the Broncos and win the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl.
All week long, the family has been excited about the Super Bowl. We’ve been wearing our Panthers gear, talking excitedly about the game over dinner, finalizing the Super Bowl menu, and counting the days — and then the hours — until game time.
One afternoon a couple of days before the big game, Jack came bounding in from school, his book bag still slung over his shoulder.
“Well, how’d school go?” I said.
“I got in trouble today for dabbing,” he said. “I guess Ms. Honeycutt is a Broncos fan.”
Thanks to Cam Newton, everyone is dabbing now. Fans in the stands are dabbing. The band at our church is dabbing. Betty White is dabbing. And my son is dabbing over scoring an A on a spelling test or something.
The big day finally came and everything was all set for a big celebration. Cam would run, pass, and dab his way to a championship, and he would give about four footballs to those cute little kids in the stands, and he would smile that electric smile of his, and we would jump around in the house like popcorn kernels popping, kernels wearing Luke Kuechly jerseys and Panther hats.
But then a funny thing happened. Denver’s defense was stellar, and the Panthers could not stop making mistakes. Cam fumbled twice, threw an interception, and spent most of the day running for his life and frowning. We watched in stunned silence, the gnawed bones of our hot wings in a sad little pile on a sad little tray. Our miniature dachshund sniffed at them halfheartedly, and then tunneled beneath the covers, unable to bear the sight of Cam rolling around on the ground in agony as the last minutes clicked the season away.
I took a peek over at my son, who had has head buried face down in the pillow. His shoulders were trembling. Welcome to heartbreak city, kid. He’ll dab again someday, but try telling that to him now. He has to learn it the hard way. Unless the self-esteemers burst in with another television, one that is broadcasting a Panther Super Bowl victory in an alternate universe.
I wouldn’t put it past them.