Praying For A Winner by William Klein

People are desperate for winners. There is something about your team winning that sets everything right with the world – for a time.

I say that because Super Bowl LVII (57) is upon us. Although both teams Kansas City and Philadelphia have won a Super Bowl within the last 10 years, invariably there will be someone from both sides saying the inevitable. They want this one for the relative who just passed away. “I hope grandma or grandpa has a say (to God) in us winning.”

There’s a lot of prayers storming heaven for winners, especially since they’ve legalized gambling in this state and there’s more money to be won. People have been praying for winners since the beginning of time. There were plenty of prayers for wins when Christians faced off against lions, and that didn’t turn out too well most of the time.

I have two words on the issue, “Free Will.” God isn’t going to favor one over the other because that’s not how the system works. You can’t just bargain with God and say, “God, if you win one for Auntie Birdie or Uncle Duckie, I will never be an A-hole again….” Or, “I promise I’ll go to church and never have another drink” or whatever the vice or sin of choice may be in the bargain. You can’t pray for a win. Sorry.

My friend noted, “Praying for victory against a big market team is hopeless. More shmucks in bigger markets who have died want it just as bad as the shmucks in smaller markets, so with that kind of thinking the number of “shmucks” asking God for victories is greater in those larger cities, so you’d think the victory would go to them.” Interesting logic. Don’t put money on it, though.

There are people who have gone their whole lives in large markets without seeing a winner. Boston Red Sox fans and Chicago Cub fans know this all too well. Boston won their first since 1918 in 2004, kicking their 86 year drought, and Chicago kicked their 108 year drought against my Indians in 2016. In Cleveland, our baseball team hasn’t won a series since ‘48, so we are joining the ranks of those teams who have lost during entire lifetimes.

My father was a diehard Buffalo Bills fan. He was 85 when he died and never saw a winner in a Super Bowl. My brother tells the story of when he was present at the loss of a Bills Championship game in the early 70s. Jimmy was beside himself with sadness over the loss. My father pulled young Jimmy aside and said, “I’ve been a Bills fan since ’61 when the league started. Get used to it, kid, you’re gonna shed a lotta tears with this team.” My brother Jimmy still cheers for the Bills as he carries the banner my dad carried. My family is still licking its wounds thinking this was the year when dad would see a winner – albeit from heaven.

The Bills came close a few times in the 90s. When they lost my father took a walk and thought about jumping from a bridge to the water, but the water was frozen, too. He said, he “couldn’t win for losing.”

That’s the way life is, but it is in the losing that we learn how to lose. I’ve discovered in life that there is a whole community to share your sadness with. You’re not alone. You get up the next morning, get ready for work and hope for next year. You commiserate with others about what went wrong and attend to the business of the day.

Losses are part of the equation in life and when you learn how to recover from the hangover, you’ve achieved something. There are die hard sports fans who live for victory but find it in small ways. They learn to appreciate the simple things in life like a birth of a child, a graduation or wedding, or a personal milestone or anniversary. Small victories reap rich blessings for moving forward.

I experienced one real championship in my lifetime when the Cleveland Cavaliers won in 2016. I remember the last seconds when the team was up by four and we had one stop to make and seconds to go before we won. I looked to my brother who thought the same thing. We both had that look in our eyes, “How can this team lose? Rather than how sweet the victory will be.” When the game ended, and we came out on top the whole house erupted with joy. Years of pent-up disappointment and despair was released in one glorious experience of victory. My brother and I looked at each other in shock saying “They did it!  They actually won.”

That memory will be with me for a long time. The parade, the cars honking horns all over the city, the fireworks, and euphoria of the town, and how for one brief shining moment a team I loved won it outright through hard work, planning, sweat, hours of preparation and teamwork.

A few years have passed and the memories of the losses all seem to run together. Disappointment is easier when you don’t expect to win. But for a time that one victory showed me more possibility and satisfaction in being a part of something bigger that could be shared and loved by a whole community – something attained, though fleeting. On to the next team and on to more possibilities and hope – yes and losses, too.

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