By Joshua Swanson
Losing sucks. That’s the unvarnished truth, plain and simple There are probably more eloquent ways to say it, but it doesn’t cut to the point with the bluntness it deserves. So let’s be blunt. Losing absolutely sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a football game, league night at bowling, a motion pending before a court, or a word jumble. Okay, you can drop the occasional word jumble, but outside of that, there’s nothing pleasant about losing. Ever.
I challenge you to find one successful person willing to tell you losing doesn’t grate at them like nails on a chalkboard. They might tactfully dance around the subject and talk about the important lessons to be gleaned from losing. I agree. There are valuable lessons to be learned from losing. Take New Coke for example. Or, more appropriately, don’t take New Coke. The lesson? Don’t drastically reinvent a proven formula for success without a compelling reason. You won’t find one board member who recalls New Coke with a fondness reserved for fishing trips on a long-ago, sunny afternoon. “Yeah, New Coke, I remember that like the colonoscopy I had without being sedated.”
True, Coke learned an important lesson and the backfire propelled it to even greater success. But that doesn’t mean Coke was thrilled at the backlash that followed New Coke or with losing millions of dollars on a product that was a loser of such epic proportions it found its way into this column as an example of learning from losing 27 years after the fact. Why? Competitors want to win! Every time, without exception. This is especially true if you’re the top-ranked defending national championship football team fresh off a 41-point drubbing of the then-no. 3 nationally ranked team in the country. Not to mention thundering from the gates to a 5 – 0 start that had everyone chirping, this writer included, about a return trip to Frisco. A start that left fans gobbling up tickets to Texas in January faster than post presidential debate spin on Twitter.
You don’t need me to tell you what happened the following week after the Youngstown State victory coronation. Indiana State knocked us off our pedestal and brought the party to a screeching halt. Wait, let me rephrase that, temporarily brought the party to a screeching halt. This party isn’t stopping until Texas in early January, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Our coaching staff, win or lose, often talks about our guys being a “mature football team.” These guys aren’t rattled easy. They’ve clearly taken on the personality of their head coach – not too high after a win, not too low after a loss. Call them even-keel or methodical. Our guys have an uncanny poise and composure reserved for, well, champions. And rightfully so, we’re battle tested, team-oriented, and have a singular focus on the task at hand. While they might hit a bump or two along the way, they know and believe where this road leads.
After a recent mid-October evening in South Dakota, the same can be said for the North Dakota State fan base. We have a “mature fan base.” As a whole, we’ve taken on the personality of our football team. Passionate, unbelievably competitive, but steady as she goes. We don’t enjoy or accept losing, but the sky no longer falls after a single loss. The week following an Indiana State game that, for many schools and their fans would’ve been an excuse to stay home, the Herd turned out in record numbers in Sioux Falls.
We literally invaded Howard Wood Stadium and the surrounding parking lots in a tour de force that only one school in the entire Football Championship Subdivision could orchestrate. Think about that. Nobody else does that! We outnumbered and embarrassed the “home” team in what was supposed to be a marque showcase in their own backyard! That was a living, breathing testament to “the strength of the Herd.” The University of South Dakota learned the hard way that we’ll roam wherever the heck we want, notwithstanding cute billboards up-and-down I-29. It was a de facto Bison home game.
The reason? Like our team, we know and believe where this road leads. Which brings me full circle. I’m writing this column from deep in the heart of Texas. Houston to be precise. Ironically, perhaps, I’m at a conference where everyone wants to talk about our unbelievable natural resources in North Dakota. Come early January, a lot of folks in Texas will be talking again, this time about another tour de force from North Dakota that has lots of folks turning their heads. Our march remains undeterred, our road leads to a single destination. Everyone up for the kickoff, the march is on!