Thank you, Houston Oilers, for conditioning me to shrug off defeats

Sports + Rec



I spent last Saturday afternoon watching my undergrad alma mater, North Central College, blow a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to Wabash College, losing 29-28 in the second round of the Division III football playoffs. Wabash secured the win in the game’s final minute on a flukey two-point conversion pass that deflected off the outstretched hands of a Little Giant into the arms of a teammate who stood an inch or two inbounds in the corner of the end zone.

It was a disappointing defeat, as well as a stunning one. North Central’s defense had surrendered a mere 34 points through seven conference games and had held Wabash scoreless through 30 minutes of play. I couldn’t fathom that same defense surrendering 22 points in a single quarter — particularly to a team that was playing with its second-string quarterback.

As a longtime fan of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, I’ve endured countless disappointing and stunning defeats. Most memorably, there’s “The Comeback” game of January 1993 in which the Oilers pummeled the Buffalo Bills through two-plus quarters of play, taking a seemingly insurmountable lead of 35-3 after safety Bubba McDowell intercepted a Frank Reich pass and took it to the house. I remember calling my brother after that pick six, both of us gleeful, confident that the our team would prevail, even talking about meeting up in Pittsburgh the following weekend for the Oilers’ next playoff game.

Of course, it wasn’t to be. Houston fell apart on both sides of the ball, losing 41-38 in overtime to a Buffalo team that, like Wabash, was led by its backup quarterback. Point-wise, it marked the largest blown loss in NFL history.

There is a silver lining to the debacle in Buffalo. When your favored football team blows a 32-point lead in a playoff game, all future losses pale in comparison. It’s like I’ve been immunized against crushing sports heartbreak. Sure, I’m often disappointed by the outcomes of games, but they all pale in comparison to the Oilers’ historic collapse. Thanks to the Oilers, I’ve been conditioned to shrug off defeats.

I took photos at the North Central-Wabash game and have posted them on Flickr. The images are a bit grainy, as I was seated far from the field of play in the top row of the bleachers. Also, photo-unfriendly clouds loomed low in the sky, casting a gray pall across the field — particularly in the fourth quarter.

Sidenote I: Pete Metzelaars, a star tight end for the Buffalo Bills from 1985 to 1994, graduated from (drumroll, please…) Wabash.

Sidenote II: In 2001 Wabash defeated DePauw University — then coached by my father-in-law, Nick Mourouzis — on a Hail Mary pass that bounced off the helmet of a Little Giant into the hands of a teammate.