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New York Blues

These are dark days for fans of New York sports teams.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

I was once a child.  Like all children, I watched movies and read books where the good guys always triumphed in the end, no matter how desperate their situation seemed.  The forces of evil were vanquished, the heroes triumphed, the music swelled, and all was right with the world.  Like most children I assumed this was just the way it was supposed to be.  The good guys always won in the end, and that was that.  As a Jets, Mets, Knicks fan, in my earliest formative years my charmed life in sports reinforced that lesson with a vengeance in 1969-1970.  First came the incredible, amazing, stunning, gigantic upset of the Colts by the underdog Jets in Super Bowl III, January, 1969.  Nobody gave the Jets a chance, but I knew better.  Of course they would win, they were the good guys!  And improbably they did in fact win.  Then came the Miracle Mets World Series victory over the mighty Orioles in October, a victory every bit as improbable as the Jets' triumph nine months earlier.  Even after Tom Seaver and the Mets dropped the first game, the outcome was never in doubt in my childish head.  The Mets were the good guys; they had to win.  Those were the rules!  And so they were, and so they did.  Miracles to the outside world, inevitabilities in my fantasy filled head.  The Knicks triumph in the spring of 1970 was by then a ho hum affair for me.  How could it be any other way?  They were the good guys! Then I grew up.  And my teams of course lost, as all teams do sooner or later.  They lost.  And they lost.  And they lost some more, with only the 1974 Knicks championship and the 1986 Mets championship interrupting their dreary losing ways.  Joe Willie grew old and broken, Tom Seaver and Walt Frazier were traded away, and my childhood illusions were shattered. I learned, as all children eventually do, that there is nothing inevitable in the good guys winning.  I grew up, and my sunny world became a bit darker.

Today, in the real world, where victory is not inevitable, the Jets are a bad team.  No news there.  At 2-8 they are assured of their 4th consecutive year without a winning season.  For this franchise that is not so surprising.  To be a Jets fan is to be intimately familiar with heartbreak and disappointment.  Heartbreak and disappointment; the faithful lovers of Jets fans everywhere.  We wake up to them and we go to sleep with them.  They haunt our dreams.  They are forever faithful, having never cheated on any of us since 1969.  It is a twisted love affair full of passion but never consummated with victory.  We, all of Gang Green Nation, are stuck in a dysfunctional relationship for which counseling has no cure.

There are other teams.  Oh yes, for New York fans there are other teams, even other sports.  We may not be fans of these other teams, but at least some of our New York brethren can savor the sweet sensation of ultimate triumph.  There are the New York Giants, proud owners of multiple championships in multiple decades, co-tenants of MetLife Stadium, and forever darlings of the New York tabloids.  Surely it's good to be a Giants fan, right?  Well, lately, not so much.  The proud Giants franchise will not make the playoffs in 2014.  They did not make the playoffs in 2013.  They did not make the playoffs in 2012.  In 2011 they won the Super Bowl, but they did not make the playoffs in 2010 or 2009.  This year will make five out of six years without post-season action for the Giants, and three straight years without post-season action for New York football fans.  But wait, there are other sports, right?  What about basketball?

I am a Knicks fan.  A Jets, Mets, Knicks fan.  My adult world is full of pain.  It embraces me, surrounds me, infuses my life with structure. It is the one thing I can count on without fail since the '80s: in my adult world, championships do not exist.  The Knicks are a bad team.  In fact, at 2-8 they are an identically bad team with the Jets today.  The Knicks will not make the playoffs this year.  It is very early, but that is already a near certainty.  The Knicks have made the playoffs three times in the last thirteen seasons.  In a league that has more than half its teams make the playoffs every year, that is an almost impossible level of futility for a team that spends as much as any team in basketball year in and year out.  The Knicks have one 50 win season in 15 seasons.  One!  Good gosh, could it get any worse?  Why yes, yes it could.  We only have to take the subway over to Brooklyn to see how much worse it can get.  The Nets have had one 50 win season in their entire NBA history, going all the way back to 1976.  The Knicks haven't won a title since 1973-74.  The Nets have never won an NBA title in their 38 year NBA history.  One 50 win season.  Zero titles.  It just keeps getting darker in New York.

Thankfully there is baseball.  Glorious, warm, sunny, slow but steady baseball.  Impossibly green grass groomed to perfection, blissfully hot summer days, home runs and strikeouts, New York baseball will rescue us, right?  Do you really have to ask?  I am a Mets fan.  Yeah, that baseball team.  Still the all time record holder for worst record in a season.  The team that traded Tom Seaver.  And Nolan Ryan.  The laughable, lovable, losable Mets.  The only team in baseball history to blow a lead as large as 7 games with as few as 17 games remaining in the season.  The Mets have won championships, but none since 1986.  28 long years since victory was ours.  The Mets haven't been to the playoffs since 2006.  Haven't had a winning record in 6 years.  More heartbreak, more disappointment, more losing.

And so we are left with the Yankees. The only team to uphold New York pride, right?  That great franchise that just wins, year after relentless year.  Except lately, not so much.  The most dominant team in baseball, and maybe all of sports history lately has been showing a lot of flaws.  Even the mighty Yankees have caught the New York blues.  For two straight years the Yankees have failed to make the playoffs. For other teams that would be a ho hum, we'll get 'em next year affair. For the Yankees it is catastrophe.  This just doesn't happen, dang it.  The last time this happened Bill Clinton was running for a second term in office.  The last time it happened the Twin Towers still stood and we didn't have to take off our shoes in airports.  For 20 years the Yankees stood proud as the one bastion against the rise of the barbarians outside the New York area.  If no other franchise could be counted on, at least the Yankees manned the parapets against utter chaos and ruin.  Sadly, now even the last line of defense is gone.  The new Rome has fallen; the Empire is no more.

These are dark days to be a New York sports fan.  If you are cursed to be a Jets Mets Knicks fan like me, it is 28 years and counting since we slept in the security of a championship.  Giants and Yankees fans have had it much better, but lately even they have fallen prey to the plague that stalks New York streets.  There will be no playoffs in New York for football fans.  There were no playoffs in New York for baseball fans.  There may well be no playoffs in New York for basketball fans.  Heartbreak and disappointment.  In these darkest of days for New York sports fans, these two sadistic lovers stand by our side, embrace us in sour humility, try our patience, drain our cheer, deny our dreams, provide no comfort in our pain.  These are dark days in New York.  The home team is losing, and there is little hope for a miraculous reversal at the end of this episode.  As the curtain drops and the music swells, we, all of us in New York, realize with horror there will be no saving the day.  Because now, today, we are the bad guys, we are the bad teams, and we are the ones getting vanquished.