The Pyschology of Loss


I went to bed mad. I was past disappointed and had moved on to the outright anger stage. That’s not something you should feel around the holidays. But, when you root for a team that has a large following and plays on the holidays with a big national spotlight that happens. What was bothering me was something that shouldn’t damper anyone’s holiday, but as I look back on years past has at times been the catalyst of what ranks a good or bad holiday in the annals of time: whether our sports team wins. Being in Wisconsin, that means the Packers.

The Packers played very poorly on Thanksgiving. It was the Brett Favre we forgive you game. This was the game where Brett finally opened up about playing for one of the Packers’ biggest rivals in the Vikings. That was big for him and it was big for us because I know a lot of us felt like we could finally forgive him for wanting to play a little longer. There was a touching moment at halftime where Bart Starr – one of the all-time great players and human beings to come through the Packers organization – hugged Brett at halftime. Bart Starr for those unfamiliar with what he’s going through is not a well man. He really had to struggle to be there and you could see it, but he’s such a stand-up guy that he found a way to be there for a guy that he admired. That was a big moment.

The Packers play in their game against the Bears though was uninspired. Maybe they shouldn’t have gone back to the locker room during halftime. Maybe they should have all taken a knee on the sideline and watched the festivities like the fans and let themselves get motivated by the lore of Packers history. I think Mike McCarthy’s a good coach, but nothing he could have said in the locker room was going to match up with what was going on out there on the field. The Packers were down 14-10 at halftime. They lost the game 17-13. They scored just three points in the entire second half. The whole game was a punt fest. Both teams were punting the ball like crazy, but something happened in that game that made the difference in the end. Jay Cutler, the Bears quarterback, stopped being scared. That was huge for him because he is a man who always plays scared, especially against the Packers.

Chris Colinsworth pointed it out on a third down play when Dom Capers called a corner blitz off the right side. Two corners moved into the lane blocked out by Clay Matthews and rushed Cutler. Cutler stepped up and through right into that lane as the defensive secondary transitioned to zone coverage. Cutler recognized what the Packers were going to do and rather than simply reacting to it he took advantage of it. That moment was a microcosm for what has ailed the Packers since their bye week. They are not taking advantage of what other teams are doing. They’re not looking for opportunities when the other team makes mistakes. It’s easy to sit at home and diagnose these errors, but you’ve got to wonder why there isn’t someone pointing this out to the coaching staff. We all knew that the momentum shifted in the second quarter when Eddie Lacy fumbled the football. There are two things you can do in that situation. You can take a conservative mindset and say: “well, this changes the gameplan because that player is done” or you can say to that player: “listen, you made a mistake out there. I expect you to make up for it. That’s why you’re staying in the game. Show me I’m not making a mistake in sticking with you.” That last part there is what’s going to motivate a player. Lacy knew he made a mistake. He didn’t need to be benched to understand that. You could see it on his face when he walked off the field.

Mike Lombardi – former GM for the Cleveland Browns – had very smart advice for anyone in any type of competitive situation: “do the thing that the other team doesn’t want you to do.” Boom. Eddie Lacy was bouncing the Bears defense all over the field. He had over one hundred yards rushing despite the fact that he was only in on three series in the second half. He was the only thing that the Bears defense was scared of and McCarthy decided that rather than doing what the other team didn’t want him to do that he’d play it conservatively and bench Lacy. That was what sealed the Packers fate on Thanksgiving. Forget all the talk about Aaron Rodgers, the offensive line, the wide receivers not getting open, whatever. Divisional games in the NFC North are won or lost playing smash mouth football. Your line against our line. Our backs against yours. That’s what wins football games. This is what helped the Packers secure a win against a much better Vikings team that they should have lost to.

So, Thursday night I am mad, not only at our coaching staff for being ridiculously conservative and giving the Bears exactly what they wanted, but because in a way they spoiled my Thanksgiving. Now, our family never has huge epic Thanksgivings, so maybe there wasn’t that much to spoil. The Packers still managed to do it though and I know I was not the only person who was affected by it. I could have told myself: you know what, I’m going to enjoy my day regardless because I get to sit back and eat and enjoy football. Saying that however would have been something that my mind knew to be untrue. Being a sports fan I can’t make these kinds of promises to myself because I know that sports are part of the day. We all have this to some degree in our lives.

Maybe you have an Uncle who was talking up Donald Trump at the Thanksgiving table, which if that was the case, then you know how frustrated I felt when I laid my head down upon my pillow. No one wants to hear about how angry you are with Obama or how you believe the world should pay the price for you messed up world view by electing a sociopath to the White House. There is something to the idea that sometimes we look not to win, but simply not to lose. Why have an argument with the crazy Donald Trump fan? He’s not going to change his views and neither will you. Mike McCarthy isn’t going to change his coaching style by reading this piece. After all, this is a guy who unloaded one of the most conservative gameplans in history against Seattle in the NFC Championship game last year, got demolished in the fourth quarter and who’s only big decision was that the one thing he was good at – playcalling – should be given to someone else.

I’m not doing anyone any favors by pointing any of this out. Plenty of people will have good or bad holidays for good or bad reasons. Three teams were going to be disappointed on Thanksgiving simply by virtue of the fact that six teams were playing and thus three teams had to lose. What I’m unsure of is what to do about it. How should we react? There are people who live their lives with a loss aversion mentality – that is living their lives not to lose instead of finding ways to win – and one of those people happens to be the Head Coach of my beloved football team. It pains me to see it every week because his team is capable of great things, but I understand it. I understand it because I lived much of my life that way. I’m one of those people who everyone says never lived up to their potential. I don’t know what that potential is and neither does anyone else, but like me writing this article, not knowing the solution to a problem will not stop people from speculating about it.

I can empathize with how McCarthy and the Packers feel. They don’t want to change anything because they know what they’re capable of and believe they can get to where they want to go by staying the course. I hold this same view with respect to my own work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s true. Indeed one of the great issues that I’ve wrestled with over the last six months is what to do next with my life. Do I go on to graduate school? Do I dedicate myself to my business? What do I do? These are terrible questions to be confronted with especially if you’re an indecisive person like myself. I’d like to believe that I can simply stay the course and the ship will right itself eventually, but my mind knows what my heart does not want to accept and that is in order to change your outcomes you need to change your circumstances. In life as in football the hardest changes to accept are always the ones that fly in the face of what you’d like to believe to be true and that is that with just a little more discipline your future will become brighter without you having to take on any more hardship. If that were true people would not become greater people they would simply stay the great people that they always were and as we know from the millions of personal stories of successful people that this is simply not the case.

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