Medline: Beauty and the Underdog
October 10, 2012
Watching the London Olympics as a proud Canadian was something of an ordeal.
Canada won a single gold medal – in women's trampoline – and reinforced the generally incorrect notion that my home country is only good at hockey.
Laugh all you want, but we embraced it. Near the end of the Games, a Canadian television network invited a Jamaican commentator to its night show. The anchors had one request: They pulled up the iconic clip of Sidney Crosby winning hockey gold in Vancouver 2010 and asked their guest to give his best attempt at a play-by-play of the goal. It was about the equivalent of, say, if Dick Vitale called the Kirk Gibson homer in the 1988 World Series.
So, in the wake of a disastrous Olympics performance by every standard, the attitude remained light. Sure, Canada poured money into Own the Podium, designed to actually bring in medals. And yes, the women's soccer semifinal happened. I'm still irate. I dare you to find me a worse set of officials without including Sam Holbrook, he of recent infield fly rule infamy.
But it's just Canada. It's okay. We may never win the 100 meters again. We will never have the best athletes. In 2016 – as was true in 2012 and all preceding Summer Olympics – Canada will be among the underdogs. And I love it. It's part of the appeal.
I remember Feb. 29, one of my saddest days as a Northwestern student. Men's basketball mounted a rousing comeback against top-10 Ohio State, before losing on a layup by Jared Sullinger. I watch the video of Alex Marcotullio hitting the game-tying three every day – primarily to hear Gus Johnson yell – but I wish the outcome had been different.
Leaving Welsh-Ryan Arena, everything snapped into perspective. Imagine being an Ohio State fan that night, expecting a straightforward victory. You would be angry, let out a deep exhale after the final whistle and complain throughout the drive home about first-tier sports school problems. The Cats never had any business competing in that game, even with John Shurna. Other conference teams, steeped in tradition, draw from boatloads of talent on their way to routine NCAA Tournament appearances. Meanwhile, NU big men are usually more famous in dining halls than they are in NBA inner circles.
At age 13, I usually threw things when my beloved Toronto Raptors lost. My coping mechanisms gradually improved, to the point at which I felt comfortable blaming everything that happened to the franchise on Vince Carter. And the Ohio State game left me with a sense of sports fan maturation: It was okay to be the loser; it was great to be the underdog. When this team finally breaks through and goes dancing, it will be so sweet.
The same is true on the football field. Cue the Penn State game this past weekend. NU, with all of its offensive talent and defensive playmakers, headed to Happy Valley a spotless 5-0. The Cats entered the fourth quarter up 28-17, and somehow, it all slipped away. Their best quarterback never attempted a pass. The defense let the irritating Matt McGloin – Duke point guard in another life – lead an inspired rally. From undefeated to an unimpressive 5-1. Back on the outside looking in, as a Big Ten Championship appearance seems unlikely.
And just like that, everything was back to order. I prefer the uphill battle.
Assistant sports editor Nick Medline is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at email@example.com.