So goes a song by one of my favorite bands of all time.
Being good or even dominating during the regular season means nothing when it comes to taking the big prize home. What's worse is being told over and over again, "You'll do it this year," after having been unsuccessful the previous one, and after failing, "Next year it'll be yours."
I know. I've been there. And I, for one, got sick of the set up.
People who engage in a sport are, by nature, competitive as hell. That's half the reason to participate, to work out that competitive nature. My sport is autocross, a time trial involving driving a temporary course as fast as I can, without knocking over the course markers. Cars are classed based on modifications and perceived handling/horsepower advantages.
For many years, I ran that green Camaro Z28 in FS at the National Championships, which were held in Topeka, Kansas until this past September. I started off running ladies class, with tons of expectations to win, and when I didn't even earn a trophy those first two years at Nationals, I started running open class, against the guys. Seems odd, yeah, but my mentality was that I'd push myself even harder, and wouldn't choke at Nationals as I'd done my first two attempts. Plus, to me, it would mean more to earn an open class trophy than to win a ladies-only championship.
From 1999 to 2002, I improved steadily each and every year, coming closer to my goal of an open class National Championships trophy. In 2002, I even finally managed to earn some trophies during the season in open class, starting with the Ft. Myers ProSolo where I snagged the final trophy in FS, driving my trusty green Z28. I held that medal the entire fifteen hour ride home to Maryland. I also earned a trophy driving a stock-classed Corvette in a street-prepared class, pissing off a fellow competitor along the way when he told me that I "couldn't" drive a stock car in a street prepared class (which you can) and I responded, "Do you have a problem getting beat by a stock car or by a girl?"
Finally, in 2003, after a solid year in ProSolo and at a few National Tours, I found myself within the trophies after the first day of the National Championships. Alas, I fell to two out on the second day, finishing 0.149 behind the final trophy spot. My friends told me, "Next year, you'll do it," and I believed them.
Come 2004, after another solid year of competition, I again was in the trophies after the first day, though this time, I was running someone else's Camaro Z28 1LE. However, after staying out a bit too late, and not really getting a chance to walk the north course as well as I should have, I again fell out of the trophies -- a heartbreaking 0.068 out of trophies, to finish 8th in F Stock. "You will do it next year," everyone told me. I sucked it up, and nodded.
The rain of 2005 made a bad situation worse. I'd allegedly coned my first run, then it started to rain. This wasn't the first time this had happened to me during the 2005 season, and it hurt like hell to have it happen again. The only reason I even showed up for the second day of competition is because I had a codriver and he was in the trophies. He finished in the final trophy spot, while I languished in the bottom third that year. However, I did beat him over four events to win the 2005 Southeast Division championship. Did it ease the pain? No.
I didn't consciously realize it, but 2006 would be my final attempt at an open class trophy in F Stock. The 2005 Mustang was thought to be a dominant chassis to the established third and fourth generation Camaros, and an even better version -- the Shelby GT -- was coming for 2007. The 2006 Solo National Championships would be the final hurrah for my 1996 Camaro Z28 1LE that was my darling, my baby, my little green terror. As had been the case for two of the past three years, I was right there heading into the second day of competition. On my last run on the second day, I distinctly remember getting the time slip from the course worker at the end of the course, and her saying, "Awesome run!! 52s?!" And I just stared at the 52.9 that I'd just run, realized it wasn't enough for a trophy, and burst into tears.
I drove back to my grid spot, and sat in the car, crying. Everyone knew why. No one dared approach me until I'd let it all come out. Did I drive my best? I thought so at the time. Did I do everything I could? Again, I thought so at the time. We'd put my front sway bar on Jerry's car and did back-to-back testing. His car was set up exactly like my green one, and we codrove for maximum tire warmth, since Heartland Park was a terrible site for cold tires. But I just didn't drive fast enough.
Why do I bring this pain up? Because I'm tired of seeing so many people who have no competitive background whatsoever rag on the Washington Capitals for their first round playoff loss. If anyone thinks that those guys aren't being their own harshest critics, that they aren't feeling like they've let down themselves as well as their fans, then those people don't know the meaning of the word "competitive".
Did the players play their hardest? They thought so. There was cases where it didn't exactly look like much effort was being put forth, yes. Where a player wasn't making his presence exactly known, yes. But, as an amateur athlete, even I know that my best may not actually be the best I could have done, and I am damned sure that those professional athletes have done that kind of self-reflection on what happened during those seven games and don't need a ton of couch-jockeys telling them what they allegedly did wrong.