Losing sucks. That's not some grand revelation. It can challenge the love and belief of even the most loyal fans. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done more than their share of losing in recent years, culminating in last season's 2-14 horrible season and we're being tested right now, you and me.
For me, being as old as this franchise, I've been through this before. The heartbreak, the feeling of helplessness and yes, the butt of so many jokes by opposing fans. Its not fun, this.
Growing up in the 80's when my friends were rooting for the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins (in the Marino years), I wore tacky orange and followed my Bucs. It was a tough, tough decade of woe. I was to young to remember 1979's "Glory Year". I barely remembered the Bucs being blown out of the playoffs in '82, not to return for nearly two decades.
Every year I would start with, "This is it. This will be the year. We're ready." Only to see it end in disappointment. It's a hard life, fan of a losing franchise.
Yet I still believed in them. The teams of James Wilder, Vinny Testaverde and Robb Thomas. I believed in Keith McCants and "Bad Brod" Broderick Thomas. In Reggie Cobb and Errict Rhett. I had to. It was my duty as a fan and frankly, if I didn't believe in them who would?
Of course it hurt when they failed me. When a promising 5-dash-2 would turn into a 7-dash-9 or worse. It ticked me off, as it would any fan, when I was sold that this team will be better, believe in that and then see 4-12.
Never did I stop believing in them though. Never did I start a season not believing this will be the one, no matter how irrational that belief might be. And finally, thanks to Tony Dungy, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott - my years of believing in them were finally rewarded when the Bucs finally returned back to respectability. I'm man enough to admit I cried a little sitting in the old Sombrero on that frigid December evening watching the Bucs, my Bucs, the team I almost lost to Baltimore, the team that went by the moniker the Yucs and the Sucks for so long that it was a second nickname, beat the hell out of the Detroit Lions and Barry Sanders to advance to the Divisional round of the playoffs.
I wept again a few years later when Ronde Barber sealed the Bucs trip to the Super Bowl. My loveable losers. My bumbling Yucks. To the Super Bowl.
My point to all this is I've seen a very disturbing trend of late here on Bucs Nation and in messageboards and social media around the Buc-o-sphere. Its a loser mentality that goes against everything I went through in the 80's and most of the 90's.
It's this belief that if you expect nothing from the team, you won't be disappointed when they achieve nothing. It stuns me really that people who call themselves fans of the team can approach a season in this way. Perhaps its not in my DNA to enter a season and not be optimistic. Or maybe its a product of our wussification of society where every kid gets a participation trophy for showing up and we don't keep score because we don't want to hurt kids' feelings.
Or maybe you're to young to remember the 80's and 90's and don't know how to cope with what we've being dealing with the last several years.
I just ask you, my friend, if you don't get behind these guys - if you don't believe in this football team then who will?
Surely not the national pundits. Not opposing fans. You're supposed to be a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You are supposed to be the one person on Earth that says, "No Damn it, I believe in these guys. I don't care what any of you say."
It doesn't matter if you hated the choice of Jameis Winston. He's your quarterback now and if you want to see winning football, you better put your belief in him.
It doesn't matter if you think Lovie and Licht made the wrong moves. Our team is our team. At this point, you have to believe in their plan.
Not because you'll be right or because they'll succeed. Because that's what being a fan is all about.
"I don't expect much from this team so i don't get upset later when they fail."
What kind of namby pamby bull crap is that? How selfish are you to protect your emotions like this?
Well let me ask you this, Mr. Feelings. These guys are putting their health and well being out there on the line every practice, every Sunday to entertain you. Yes, they're compensated well but that's more hazard pay than anything else because when they're done playing for you their mind and bodies will never be the same.
You don't think they hurt when they lose? I guarantee you, its a lot more than you do. You sit on your couch on Sunday drinking a beer and eating cheesy poofs, they trained the entire year, spent countless hours in preparation to get THAT result.
How would you like it if you put all that effort in preparing to compete only to learn your own fans don't believe in you? What would be your motivation? You're getting paid. Why give that extra effort if your own fans think you suck and don't expect much from you?
And then there's the acceptance of losing. If you're at a point where your expectations are so low that you're not upset when they do fail, what is the motivation for the organization to try to get better?
And make no mistake, if the feeling of low expectations comes from the stands, it trickles down to the field.
I know some of you like to call yourselves "realists". You're not a realist. You have no idea what's going to happen, just like I don't. The Bucs could shock the world or be a large steaming pile of crap. None of us know until they start playing the games. And don't give me the "well, they've sucked for years so obviously they'll suck again." This is a different football team from last year, from the year before that and the year before that. There are different components. None of us know how they will mesh together.
Being a "realist" is just another excuse for having little faith.
So then, what do you do?
Well, I'm not saying we walk through life with Pewter Colored glasses, waving pom-poms and singing la-dee-da. When they perform like they did Saturday night, they deserve to be put on full blast. Be pissed off about it. Criticize. But believe they are better than this.
My approach is this (and no, I'm not saying this is the only way to do it - you're your own fan, you can do it whatever way you want) - believe in the plan and in the possibility of the playoffs until they are no longer a possibility. Even as terrible as last season was, thanks to the suckitude of the NFC South, I didn't give up my playoff hopes until Week 10. Crazy, I know. But it was still possible and until that's gone, you believe that this week, this half, this quarter, THIS PLAY, is where the turnaround to our season begins. Because you never know when its going to happen. There were several teams during the Dungy years that started slowly and were playoff teams by the end of it.
If the worst comes and the Bucs are not in contention, then yes - you get pissed off and you let them know about it. You tell them this is unacceptable. You call your talk shows. You tweet or facebook or instagram or whatever it is that you do that you need to see improvement.
Then you look for it. While overall team success may be a failure, look for those Lavonte Davids - the bright spots in an otherwise god awful season. Even last year, I enjoyed seeing the season Mike Evans put on display. It was an amazing achievement for a rookie.
That's how you handle losing times, folks. You wouldn't quit on the team because you wouldn't wan them to quit on you. You don't stop believing in them because you wouldn't want them to stop believing in themselves.
Expecting Failure NEVER leads to success. We may not have a direct impact on what happens between the lines, but belief is a strong motivator. So's disappointment. If you remove those elements, there's a huge void. If you don't believe, you aren't disappointed when they lose then you don't care. Its the losing culture so many pundits talk about.
Do you know why Seattle has such an amazing homefield advantage? Its not because they're winning. Its because their fans decided to go ALL IN, to believe in their team, show up and cheer their heads off. A winning, positive vibe that transcended the organization. Sure, drafting Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom certainly helped, but the fans were there before Russell. When that team was going 5-11 and 7-9 and there wasn't much reason to believe they'd be much more than that.
So what kind of fan are you? I'm not asking you to believe in unicorns and fairy dust. That a man can cure the blind, walk on water or turn water into wine. Just in Jameis Winston. In Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. In the leadership of Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins. In the coaching of Dirk Koetter and Love Smith. In the scouting department and the wisdom of Jason Licht.
Believe until they give you a reason not to believe. Its week 1 of the pre-season. We're not there yet. If this team starts 1-3, we're still not there yet, because there's a lot more games to be played. And if the worst happens, then believe that better days are ahead because they most assuredly are. It doesn't take a lot of effort to just find something, someone in this team to believe in and hold on to that. Yes, by all means question them, wonder why they're doing certain things - challenge them. But never let it lose your belief that this team is headed for better times.
I'm not telling you how to root for your team. Ultimately, that's your decision. You do what you want. I'm just saying in my humble opinion if you don't believe in the team you say you support then you're doing a disservice to this team. I'm not saying you're any less of a fan. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care about the Bucs. But I do believe you're failing them, not the other way around.
If you don't believe in the Bucs who will?