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Examining the Sports Narrative, Part 3: Pathos

By Matt Meier · December 6, 2011

In my smaller classes at USC, when we’d go around and introduce ourselves on the first day, I never said, “I’m Matt, and I’m from Philadelphia,” but rather, “I’m Matt, and I’m a proud Philadelphian.”  Because my hometown is not just another incidental personal fact like my mixed Irish, German, Polish, and Czech heritage: it is the foundation of my identity, and one that I would never exchange for any other.

When I first sat down to write this article a few days following the Eagles’ embarrassing loss to the New England Patriots, in addition to my bitterness, I was naturally feeling rather defensive of my city as various blogs and sports articles all but celebrated the ostensible death of my team’s prematurely augmented post-season aspirations.  I talked about my fleeting sympathy for the Miami Heat as the league’s most prematurely hyped and subsequently hated team, about the incessant banal headlines of “nightmares” and “rude awakenings” that have haunted my “dream team” throughout this heart-wrenching season.  I talked about the swollen and unceasing stigma of being the city that threw snowballs at Santa on that fateful wintry afternoon in 1968, and about defending a city that I’ve frequently heard described as “classless” and “trashy” and various other terms that would make even the foulest sailor cringe.

But all that changed last night as I watched the final minutes of the Eagles’ 31-14 loss to the wholly mediocre Seattle Seahawks.  Down ten points and entering Seattle’s red zone with under five minutes to go, quarterback Vince Young forced a short throw to LeSean McCoy that linebacker David Hawthorne intercepted and ran back for a touchdown, effectively handing the Seahawks the win and putting the final nail in the coffin of an Eagles’ season that had all but died weeks ago.  Following the pick, commentator Mike Mayock stated of Hawthorne:  “This is a kid that four years ago was un-drafted out of TCU; he’s turned himself into one of the better inside linebackers in football—you can’t be happier than this kid right here.”

Hawthorne’s interception was certainly an important milestone in his underdog story, but that wasn’t the narrative that caught my attention that night.  No, I was focused on Vince Young, the former Heisman nominee and two-time Rose Bowl MVP at Texas who was drafted third overall in 2006 draft by the Titans; the man who won Offensive Rookie of the Year and went to two Pro Bowls in his first two seasons; the man who lost his starting job to Kerry Collins following a knee injury in 2008, who fought admirably to win it back mid-way through 2009, and who was released following his unraveling in 2010.  I was focused on the man who signed with the Eagles, whom he notoriously dubbed the “dream team” in preseason, with the hopes of reviving his career backing up the often awe-inspiring but injury-prone Michael Vick.  I was focused on the man who, in his third start of the season, was fighting not just for the Eagles' last gasping dream at a possible playoff berth, but for a chance to prove he can still start in this league, that his five-year career is far from over.

And after Young threw that comeback-killing third interception of the game, I watched him fall to one knee on the sideline and burry his head in his hands and hold back tears and experience the true meaning of rock-bottom; and in that moment, all my anger and frustration and bitterness over the death of my team’s season instantly melted away, and I felt nothing but the overwhelming sting of sympathy for the once promising young player who watched his own dreams die that night, the continued derailment of a once auspicious career.

That’s the thing about the pathos of a narrative.  The most compelling and/or sympathetic characters aren’t always the underdogs, or the one’s who overcome great adversity to reach their goals.  Sometimes it’s as simple as the man who has everything to lose…and loses it.

For more on Examining the Sports Narrative, check out Part 1: Perspective and Part 2: Obstacles.

Next Week: Examining the Sports Narrative, Part 4: The Anti-Hero.