I've told my Korean friends, "Imagine if Japan played Korea in the finals of the World Cup. And imagine losing to them. That's how this loss felt." I realize that LSU went 13-0 in the regular season, but the bitter taste after that one loss in the championship game made the entire season a failure. I could devote an entire post to this particular loss, and explaining why the season was indeed a failure, but I don't want to do that. After the LSU loss, I said many times though out the week, "Thank God for the Saints."
The New Orleans Saints played the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the NFL playoffs, and lost. That loss stung even more.
The first reason that this loss stung more than the LSU loss is that I woke up at 6:00 in the morning to catch it live. The LSU game started at 10:30 in the morning, Korea time. I watched the Saints game on my computer laying under the covers in my bed while sipping coffee. This play was the first play I saw, upon turning on my computer and allowing it to boot, as I was still almost half asleep. I could feel the intensity of this game all the way across the pacific, and this hit set the tone for the entire game for the 49ers. The most impressive thing about it is that Pierre Thomas is an absolute warrior, and was running "full steam ahead." He can't be faulted for the fumble. It was simply an incredible hit by Donte Whitner.
The second reason this loss stung more than the LSU loss is that for the entire week leading up to the game, I was fully convinced that the Saints were going to win. I didn't completely feel that way going into the LSU game. I tried to convince myself that LSU would beat Alabama, but deep down, I knew that beating them would be extremely difficult. Going into the Saints game, no convincing was required.
During the week of practice, it was reported that Saints coach Sean Payton handed out wooden baseball bats to the players. The wooden bats are a symbol of the fact that the Saints players would have to "bring the wood" for that particular game. He only does that for the biggest of big games. And previously, every time it was reported that the bats were handed out, the Saints did indeed "bring the wood," play physical football, and win the game in convincing fashion. So naturally, when I heard the news, my adrenaline began to flow. It gave me chills. Prior to the 49ers loss, the "bring the wood" baseball bats had the same effect on the Saints that the backwards hat had on Lincoln Hawk in the movie, Over The Top. I thought a win would be automatic, but it didn't happen that way.
The 49ers were the team that "brought the wood." They were the team that was getting the big hits, as they dominated the Saints physically. They were the ones who were taking the ball from the Saints. They were the bullies in that game. The 49ers players simply wanted to win more than the Saints.
The third reason that this loss stung more than the LSU loss is because as bad as the Saints played, they still had a chance to win. The LSU game was over the moment the ball was kicked off to begin the game. Not so with the Saints, despite turning the football over five times. Sean Payton always seems to have the Saints ready to play well in big games, and on the rare occasions when they don't play well, they still seem to always have a chance to win.
It's a testament to the will of Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, one of the best players in the NFL. He willed the Saints in that game. He made one mistake with his interception in the second quarter, but his precision passing and competitiveness kept the Saints in the game. After the fourth turnover in the in the second quarter (correct me if I am wrong on the timing), I thought the game was over. Bobby Hebert threw out this stat in his postgame show: In NFL games, the team that loses the turnover battle with five turnovers, or more, has a combined record of 1-63. Despite that, it seemed as though the Saints were going to win after this play late in the fourth quarter to take the lead. I began jumping on my bed like a little kid after it.
That lead was indeed short lived. And as giddy as I was after that play, I was even more disgusted after the Saints defense allowed the 49ers to take the ball down the field to throw this touchdown pass to win the game. The most painful losses are the ones that suddenly happen when victory seems certain, and that's what happened in this game.
The two losses by LSU and the Saints were both painful, because of the high hopes, and high stakes associated with LSU being in the BCS national championship against archrival, Alabama, and the Saints being in the second round of the playoffs, and losing after certain victory was seemingly at hand. How disappointing. My brother, Ben, who loves football probably more than any other, said after the LSU loss, "I'm taking a break from football. I don't want to read about it, and I don't want to watch it." Being on the losing end of these two games makes me feel the same way. The two games were certainly disappointing.
Upon shaking his hand and speaking to him for the first time at church since the loss to the 49ers, my friend, Joe, who is from San Francisco, sang these words in tune, "I left my heart in San Francisco..." I couldn't help but laugh.
*Thank you to the NFL, and those who posted the videos on Youtube. They really enhanced this particular post.