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How To Cope With A Losing Streak In An Online World

As you may have heard, our family has been blessed with a new puppy.  As you probably have not heard, puppies require 7AM walks to do their business, and puppies don't care if you're tired, upset, frustrated, or angry.

At 7AM on Sunday, I exited the house with the dog, and promptly ran into another entirely too happy dog owner walking his dog.

My inner Clark Kent-ish personality jumped to the front, somehow pasting an easygoing smile on my face, packing away all the frustration of Saturday's game as I made smalltalk about being a dog owner, the same smalltalk that dog owners have probably been making about dogs since dogs showed up in our caves thousands of years ago.

It wasn't a bad conversation - I didn't regret having it, even though it was unmemorable.  I was glad to share some goodwill with the neighbors.  But it did demonstrate to me what sports fans have to do in this age when our teams are struggling.  You have to be able to put your fan alter ego away to get through life.

It is surprisingly easy for me to forget that LFN is, in reality, an alter ego of mine.

In the eyes of probably most of the world, I am a guy with a 9-to-5 job, spends time with his family, plays with his kids and the dog in the front yard, shoots some hoops, does yardwork.

Everyone in the neighborhood, the job, the DMV, sees Clark Kent.

They don't see the alter-ego, the one that rises and falls on every twist and turn in a Saturday football game.  Feeling great highs when the team does well - and suffering great lows when they don't.

Reading these tweets and grafting that onto a real persona, you'd probably think I punched a hole in the car on the way home, with a scowl on my face for days.

Or maybe you thought I'd have been playing this on and endless loop for about 48 hours.

Though there are no punchmarks in my car, internally, I truly take the losses hard.  I go over what could have gone differently, what needs to be fixed, or tweaked, to have this Lehigh team have success.  I don't know if it does any good, but it's an exercise I go through regularly.

On a personal level, when you have such an active online persona such as myself, you get online shots from all sides - Lafayette fans reveling in your misery, Bucknell fans who couldn't be happier about the dominance over Lehigh for the first time in fifteen years, fans of SoCon and CAA teams who have heard just a wee bit too much from me over the years how great Lehigh is.

Mostly, though, I feel bad for the kids, especially the seniors.  They deserve better than an 0-5 record their senior years.

Guys like senior LB Isaiah Campbell and senior WR Derek Gaul deserve to have me interview him talking about how he made the game-winning stop, not having me ask questions as to what is wrong with the team and how to fix it.

I was thinking about my life as a Lehigh undergrad, and how it is different from my Lehigh fan persona of today.

When I attended Lehigh, I barely knew anyone from Lafayette.

I literally knew one girl who went there, the sister of one of my friends at high school.  We would say hello to one another before the Lehigh/Lafayette games - in varying states of inebriation - and that was pretty much it.

At no time during our "conversations" - I use the term loosely - did we engage in a shouting match about the relative worth of our schools football teams.  The chats were cordial, buzzed, and they were over after a few minutes.  That was about it.

Lafayette students may have well been from Mars as far as I was concerned.

At Lehigh, I was too concerned with my Lehigh life - getting passing grades, meeting girls, spending time with friends - to worry about other schools or disliking their students.  I suspect the same is true there today - students are worried about their "jobs" of being students.

Unlike many of my classmates, I followed and cared about the football team.  I'd stay up and watch SportsCenter at 2AM to find out whether Lehigh won or lost.  When I got the paper, I'd check out how the team did down at Davidson, or how they did vs. Holy Cross, who was a Top 25 team during a good portion of my undergraduate fan career.

I think people that lament about the lack of student attendance at football games seem to look past that cultural aspect of kids today, where they take their duties as students very seriously, like a job.  I'm not sure if that happens so much at Alabama and Mississippi State, but it definitely does at a place like Lehigh, where the kids have been focused on the jobs they've had as students for almost a decade before they've sent in the tuition check.

I never had to worry about running into a Holy Cross friend that would razz me if Lehigh gave up 50 points to the Crusaders.  Even the big Rival didn't see me have a lot of Lafayette fans giving me grief during the course of the year.  Most of my college career I was in a silo, worrying about a lot of different things, including worrying if my summer job would generate enough spending money to get through the semester, and worrying if my folks could afford the princely tuition.

But as an alumnus, your love of football grows.  Every game is a chance to reconnect to fun days of your youth, and (in my case) a chance to cover a bunch of young men who are going through the same thing.  Having the Rival, too, just makes it even better - a Bowl game and class reunion every year, centered around food, drink, and football.  After all, the longer you're at this, the more opportunities you have to meet and know other Lafayette fans - and hate them for a week.

You start to run into people who went to Lafayette, Holy Cross, Bucknell, and online it's even easier to make connections with those folks who went through the same thing, but at their institutions.  You even like them most of the year - until the week you play them.

The outcomes of the games take on more importance than the silo days when I was actually an undergraduate.  Games against Fordham take on more importance, because I now know Fordham people.  I'd love to be able to say to them this year, "Could wallop Lafayette, but couldn't get past us, eh?"

Today, I'm not worrying about having enough money to get through the semester - I'm worried about a bunch of Fordham fans I haven't met.  That about says it all.

But with an alter ego like mine, much of this happens online.  Much of the joy remains online, and the hurt and disappointment of losses goes online - and inside.

On Saturday night we went out to dinner.  I couldn't talk to our friends, who are not big college football fans, about WR Will Carter torching our defense like a forest fire, or the inability of our offense to convert a red-zone fumble into a touchdown.  All that frustration stayed inside as I smiled through it, talking about dogs, kids, soccer, and other things.

They don't read the Twitter feed, or read this blog, or follow my rantings online at any number of other places.  Online, I'm a Big Lehigh Fan.  To much of the living, outside world, I'm Clark Kent.

That includes to my family.  I try to mask my disappointment to them, though they, and my puppy, see through me, I think.

Lehigh's first 0-5 record since 1966 can make it very difficult to be an online Lehigh person.  People crawl out of the woodwork to let you know that your team is struggling - that Lehigh wasn't really all that good for years, they seem to say, and you're a fool for getting that close to your team.  Similarly, other fellow fans come to you and say, "What now?," when you yourself don't always have the answer.

I can say that I won't walk away after a tough start.

In life there are 10-1 seasons and periods of struggle.  My online persona tells me that I need to keep going with this team, this group of seniors, that concentrating on one game next week, Cornell, and ignoring every other little thing in the world of college football, will help.  That one win this weekend will be enough to build upon to have this Lehigh team be a great team this season.

One thing my alter ego and I have in common is that we don't quit.  Whether the team is 0-11 or 11-0, whether the recaps are easy or hard, whether I can dish out the online punishment or take it, I'll be here, because my life is better because of it.

For I could never be Clark Kent all the time - that's the dirty little secret of my life.  I can happily do Clark Kent things, do Clark Kent duties, and also enjoy a lot of my offline life away from LFN, too - after all, the dog and my family don't give two craps if I'm LFN or not.  But my life is better because of my connections to the Lehigh football program, this weird, crazy online life I have, the often amateurish writing I sometimes feel I write, the connections with other people who, for whatever reason, feel more and experience more than other Clark Kents in the world.

So I will be here, maybe not with an S or LFN on my chest, but I will be here.  I'll care about the games, I'll experience the highs and lows.  When Lehigh plays Cornell, I'll be online, riding the waves with everyone.  I don't know any other way to live.


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