Friday, July 16

The Well Worn Practice of Self-Delusion

I’ve been through this before. Lots of times. In your heart of hearts you feel things that don’t make sense. You approach the situation with your brain of brains. You say, “Man, this looks pretty bad, if we win it will be a miracle.” And if the game were to happen right then, you’d stay in your brain of brains and robotically accept the results.

But time passes. You read an optimistic report from a blogger who lives in his heart of hearts all day long, and he punches a small crack in the façade. Once you pry open the door to optimism, the train has left the station and won’t stop until you reach “We’re gonna do it” land. It happened to me again.

Aside from their red-card aided loss to Serbia, Germany had been the clear top dog in this World Cup. Argentina had only played one decent opponent. Still, with Messi, with Tevez, even with Maradona who had appeared to have learned a thing or two about coaching soccer, many were picking them to win the game. It didn’t take much for them to convince me. I already had punched that crack in the façade myself. In soccer, everyone always has a chance. You never really close that door.

Towards the end of my big road trip, I returned to Ann Arbor for The Game against Ohio State. Michigan fans had been enduring an ungainly year, one that began with losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. Yet, despite it all, the team had a chance for the Rose Bowl if they could just beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes had lost to Illinois; they weren’t an unstoppable force. But Hart and Henne were both playing hurt, and there was no reasonable way to believe that Michigan would come through.

But as the week progressed, I started to believe. More than anything, after driving 14,181 miles I felt like I deserved it. How illogical is that? Of course I was dead wrong. It was one of the most boring football games I’ve ever seen, a 17-3 punt-fest in which Michigan never remotely threatened to win. I deserved nothing, despite my self-convincing.

When you’re winning, a soccer match takes an eternity. When you’re losing, they fly by. Argentina's 4-0 defeat was done in a flash. People here could accept defeat, but 4-0. 4-0!?! It ripped the heart out of the country. When the game ended, the city was dead quiet. Even the birds and the breeze were in hiding.

That’s what sucks about self-delusion. It always comes to an end, but there’s no way to know ahead of time. I really don’t know squat about soccer, and still managed to convince myself that victory would be ours. What is wrong with me? Nothing that's not wrong with everyone who wants his team to win I suppose. SI's Joe Posnanski did the same thing while hoping for a compassionate LeBron.

As night fell, Buenos Aires began to shake off the stink of failure. People left their homes to have a coffee, talking meekly of things other than futbol. I found myself in a taxi with a driver who was not so shy. "That was an embarrassment! Argentina should never have lost that game!" I told him that was 4-0, and Germany has been the best team so far. "No. Argentina is better, and should have won!" I must say I admired the man for the willful optimism even after such a stark result. Maybe self-delusion can be used to obscure reality instead of making it sting. But in the face of such a strong reaction, I had nothing much to say. I was as silent as the birds during the afternoon.

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