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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Unbridled Optimism

Our survival as humans depends on resilience, and resilience requires optimism.  Sometimes the only thing that keeps us from careening into an abyss after a bad day, month or year is the conviction that something better awaits nearby.

That same positive outlook can cause us to make sweeping predictions of future greatness, often with no regard for history or reality.

My alma mater, UVA, brought this kind of optimism into its football season this year, and also into its merchandise.  In late September, I went to Charlottesville to watch UVA take on Louisiana Tech.  Going into this game, my Cavaliers’ record stood at 2-2. Midway through the second quarter, UVA was up 24-10.  

With this kind of lead I felt comfortable going to the snack bar.  I returned  with a Diet Coke that came in a commemorative plastic cup.  The cup showed a photo of the head coach, fists pumping, with the caption: “Uncompromised Excellence.”  According to a line of text near the rim, it’s the first cup in a four-cup series. A collector's item of sorts. 

The lead had narrowed to 24-20 by halftime. In the third quarter, Louisiana Tech pulled ahead. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Cavs trailed, 38-44, but they were about to get the ball back with plenty of time to score. 

They were so excited to have a chance to win that they forgot How to count and sent an extra guy onto the field.  The resulting penalty gave the ball back to Louisiana Tech, along with the win. I started to wonder whether the “one of four” text on the cup referred to UVA’s typical win/loss ratio.   

Many subsequent UVA games followed the same arc as the Louisiana Tech loss. With one game left to play, the Cavs are 4-7.  

Unless my math is worse than I thought, somewhere along the way the excellence compromised like Napoleon at Waterloo.

Today, the Cavs take the field against arch-rival Virginia Tech. The two teams go head-to-head every year to close out the season. Going into this year's contest, the Cavs have dropped eight in a row to the Hokies. (We do, however, beat them every year in the Dignified Name Derby.)

It’s a little late now for UVA to fulfill the greatness prophesied on the cup, but it sure would be nice if the excellence didn’t just roll over today. 

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