I sat there, staring in disbelief at my Twitter feed like thousands of other Chicagoans. The words left me with such an empty feeling that you’d assume we were talking about a friend or loved one: "MRI reveals Bulls PG Derrick Rose has torn ACL. He will miss remainder of season."
And that was that. My mental bags were already packing themselves, because right at that moment everyone knew the Bulls’ season was done-zo. These last few playoffs games have felt like watching the final episodes of a TV show that’s already been cancelled.
And yet, sitting here, I know I’m thinking the same freaking thing as every other Chicago sports fan: "How the heck can this happen again?"
The disbelief, the raw frustration, the ridiculous attempts to talk oneself in believing that, "Hey, maybe this is our Tom Brady Moment," these things already happened. This city already went through this process of grieving, bargaining and acceptance before. Derrick Rose was supposed to be the man that closed the brutal wounds opened by Jay Cutler’s hand.
Instead, Rose’s knee has just re-opened the wounds, as if the sports gods wanted to make sure that we all remembered 2011-2012 as the most brutal, disappointing Chicago sports season ever. That's definitely how I'm going to remember it.
Now, this isn't to say that there weren't highs, like those ridiculous nights when John Lucas III would forget that he had spent years utterly failing to impress anyone in the NBA. But does anyone really care considering how low the lows have been?
I don't know exactly when it happened. Maybe it started when Cutler went down, or when those nasty thoughts started creeping in during the NBA regular season that maybe Rose simply isn't built to play 80+ professional basketball games every year. But by the time Rose was laying nearly lifeless on the ground in Game 1 versus Philly, I had come to realize one thing: Chicago sports stopped being fun for me at that point.
Almost impossibly, I’ve found myself having more fun going to Washington Wizards games at school than following the Bulls recently; when the Wiz win, it’s such a pleasant and often surprising delight. But when the Bulls win, lately, I’ve just felt relieved that my team didn’t drop by just to disappoint me again.
Maybe I’m just being too pessimistic as a fan. Admittedly, I’m not used to rooting for teams with expectations. I grew up with Jim Miller’s Bears, Ron Mercer’s Bulls and Kerry Wood’s Cubs*, so the status quo was mediocrity peppered with sporadic success. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re expecting to win, and I couldn’t really relate to that until I began to experience it.
*Notice how incredibly lame those names are. Like, beyond simply not being especially good. Who the hell was sitting at home in 2002 thinking to themselves, "Man, I'm so lucky that I get to go watch Ron Mercer and Fred Hoiberg ball it up tonight!"
But frankly, this is why I’m so comforted by the prospect of a summer watching Chicago baseball. Finally, the stakes won’t seem so high, the implications of every failure nerving me to no end. In 2014, when the Cubs lose, I’ll be pretty pissed, like I am now about my other teams.
That’s just how I’m wired as a fan, to genuinely care to an occasionally unreasonable level. But for now, I’ll let the Cubs be mediocre, enjoying the classic concoction of defeats at Wrigley and delirious hope abound.
I always thought being a Chicago sports fan was hard because our teams never won anything. I was dead wrong, because there’s honestly something oddly calming about rooting for bad teams. The bad team is like a good friend that’s just not outgoing enough: you know they’re going to be there for you and everything, but things would be that much better if you could go out and have fun together. They’re not exciting, but they’re dependable, and sometimes that’s all you need when every other part of life is chaos.
After what happened to Cutler last year, and then Rose this spring, I don’t think that I’m going to mind rooting for that kind of team. The Cubs might not get my heart churning this season, but I’m pretty sure it needs repair anyways after what’s happened over the past year. A nice day at Wrigley might just be the reminder I need that sports can be more than chest-bumping, rump-thumping competition.
This isn’t to say that I’m done being that other kind of fan. When Cutler and Matt Forte hit the field in the fall, I know precisely what I’ll be doing every single Sunday afternoon. When Rose is back on the court calling the shots, I know I’ll be the one yelling at people to shut up while they’re showing replays of another one of his hyper-athletic jamplosions. I’m crazy about this stuff.
But right now, as a fan, I’m also exhausted. It’s not easy to put so much into it, only to sit there at the end knowing the fight’s over before you even got to throw your best punches. I don’t mean to sound overly emotional, because I know what I’m going through is trivial compared to Derrick or Jay, and it’s especially trivial compared to a whole lot of other stuff in this world we inhabit.
Being a fan, though, this whole "big-expectations-oh-wait-injury-hahahaha" thing is beyond tiring. It’s downright painful, like watching your little sister practice on the piano for hours every day only to break her hand on the day of the big recital. But the Cubs, they’re just hanging out right now, taking whatever wins come their way. Frankly, that’s the kind of attitude I could use a little of this summer.
Satchel Price is a newsdesk contributor for SB Nation Midwest and a feature columnist for SB Nation Chicago. His baseball writing also appears on MLB Daily Dish and Beyond the Box Score. For more of his splendid whimsy in display, follow him on Twitter.