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Bill Simmons and his 16 Levels of Losing: Cal Style!

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He will score three more times while you read this post.

In 2002, ESPN Page 2 columnist Bill Simmons published a column called "The 13 Levels of Losing." That column categorized 13 different types of losses, from the not-so-painful at level 13 to the excruciating, shoot-me-now painful at number 1. Then, in 2007, inspired by the New York Mets' infamous September collapse, Simmons reprised the "Levels of Losing" column, adding three levels to come up with the 16 levels of the agony of defeat. He called it "Levels of Losing 2.0."

Last October, when the Texas Rangers collapsed not once, but twice, in Game 6 of the World Series, eventually losing the game and series to the St. Louis Cardinals, CGB's own norcalnick recalled Simmons' "13 Levels." That recollection turned into this: we thought it would be fun to match each "level" of losing with Cal sports losses that fit Simmons' descriptions. Not only that, we thought it would be a real hoot if we matched Cal losses to not only the "13 Levels," but also to Simmons' updated "16 Levels." Yeah -- doesn't that sound fun? It was so much fun, we couldn't do it all in one installment. We had to do this in two parts! This is part one, where we walk you through the first eight levels, starting with (theoretically) the least excruciating category of losses.

(Okay, maybe "fun" is not the correct word for this project.)

So here we go. Take a self-loathing walk down memory lane after the jump! You know you can't resist doing it.

Level XVI: The Princeton Principle

Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the '89 NCAAs) ... this one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes ... also works for boxing, especially in situations like Balboa-Creed I ("He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight!") ... the moment that always sucks you in: in college hoops, when they show shots of the bench scrubs leaping up and down and hugging each other during the "These guys won't go away!" portion of the game, before the collapse at the end.

Cal losses that fit: 2001 Big Game at Stanfurd (35-28, had a chance with a Hail Mary pass at the end); 1991 loss at home to eventual national champion Washington. A number of recent women’s basketball losses in recent years qualify, most memorably UConn over Cal in the 2009 women’s NCAA Tournament. The Cal baseball team's 13-inning opening game loss to top-seeded Miami in the 1991 College World Series is also a glove that fits.

TwistNHook: I remember turning to one of my friends at the 2001 Big Game and asking him what we would do if we actually won the game, i.e. beat Stanford for the first time since the mid 90s. He said "Well, hit restart on the Playstation, I presume." It was so preposterous that a 0-9 (at that time) team would come close to beating even a mediocre Stanford squad. It was so preposterous, especially after 2000’s emotional defeat, that we could come even close.

So, with every last Kyle Boller heave down the field, it seemed like maybe, just maybe, we could win. But that’s just like Cal. Push us right to the bridge of DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES and then a quick and dirty return to the sad reality that is our lives.

Ohio Bear: The 1991 Washington game -- the "Showdown at Memorial" as it was called -- was one of these kind of losses. Looking back on it, maybe it doesn’t appear that way: Cal was ranked 7th at the time and UW was ranked 3rd, so one could say that it wouldn’t have been that remarkable for Cal to pull that one off at home. The 1991 Bears were a really good team. But the 1991 Washington Huskies were a REALLY good team. That team was loaded with NFL talent and went on to win the national championship. They were bigger than we were. They were faster than we were. They had beaten Cal 46-10 the year before. UW had beaten Cal every time the schools had played since 1976. As good as Cal was that year, it still would have been a monumental upset to have beaten UW that day.

norcalnick: I don’t think anybody expected Cal (or any other women’s basketball team) to compete with UConn that year. But then Ashley Walker comes out hot and suddenly the Huskies are facing their biggest deficit of the season. It didn’t last long, but it certainly made Cal’s eventual loss more painful.

Level XV: The Achilles Heel

Definition: This defeat transcends the actual game, because it revealed something larger about your team, a fatal flaw exposed for everyone to see ... flare guns are fired, red flags are raised, doubt seeps into your team ... usually the beginning of the end (you don't fully comprehend this until you're reflecting back on it).

Cal loss that fits: Football at UCLA in 2007, which really marks the beginning of the different Nate Longshore. Basketball’s defeat to Missouri in the early part of the 2011-12 season might perhaps fit a different category below ("Full Fledged Butt Kicking"), but it goes here because it inspired a radical revision of how the 2011-12 Bears were viewed.

TwistNHook: We just kept thinking "So, this is when Cal pulls away, right? This is when we finally take over and win the game." But quixotic chance after disastrous play after stunning reality always seems to set in right when its time for Cal to win. Whether its missing a thousand field goals in 2003, letting MJD play like he’s Moses and Cal is the Red Sea in 2005, DeSean running the wrong route in 2007, or letting Kevin Prince play like he’s MJD and its 2005 in 2011, Cal always seem to embarrass itself down in LA.

This particular game was the first day of the rest of our lives. Before that game, Tedford was untouchable, unassailable, a God amongst insects. But with the injury to Longshore against Oregon that year, everything changed. Now, a few years later, Tedford gets savaged with prejudice.

It was the end of the Honeymoon.

Ohio Bear: I was someone who was not totally sold on the prowess of the 2007 team. Through the first four games of the season, I saw us as a flawed team, but with hopes that we would improve. When we went to 5-0 with the epic win at Oregon, I started to convince myself that maybe -- maybe -- we weren’t what I thought we were. Then came the next two games, especially this one.

Level XIV: The Alpha Dog

Definition: It might have been a devastating loss, but at least you could take solace that a superior player made the difference in the end ... unfortunately, he wasn't playing for your team ... you feel more helpless here than anything ... for further reference, see any of MJ's games in the Finals against Utah ('97 and '98).

Cal loss that fits: The Eddie House game at Haas Pavilion in 2000 when he scored 61 points to lead ASU to a double overtime win in an epic game. A football loss that might fit is the 2010 loss to Colin Kaepernick or the 2005 loss to Maurice Jones-Drew. Another football loss that fits this category (and oh, so many others) is the infamous 45-31 loss to Texas Tech in the 2004 Holiday Bowl: TTU quarterback Sonny Cumbie shredded Cal like no one else had done all season. Any women's basketball game in which Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike hits multiple three pointers qualifies. Cal’s World Series defeat to Danny Hultzen and Virginia also comes to mind.


Sometimes even The Sheriff can't stop someone from going 61.

Twist: Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to them. And if you don’t have a cap to tip, you should go out and purchase caps. It’s not like there is a worldwide cap shortage or anything. And your hair isn’t THAT good, yknow? I mean let’s be honest here.

Kaep just sliced Cal up in 2010. Not having the Prophet wasn’t great, but independent of that, the Nevada team perfectly executed its game plan. Our D player would always tackle the empty handed running back as Kaep glided past them like the ostrich that he is.

Ohio Bear: I watched every excruciating minute of the Eddie House game on TV. I wished I was in Haas that day. It was such a great game and a once-in-a-lifetime performance by House.

Level XIII: The Rabbit's Foot

Definition: Now we're starting to get into "Outright Painful" territory ... this applies to those frustrating games and/or series where every single break seemingly goes against your team ... unbelievably frustrating ... you know that sinking, "Oh, God, I've been here before" feeling when something unfortunate happens, when your guard immediately goes shooting up? ... yeah ... I'm wincing just writing about it.

Cal loss that fits: The 24-23 loss to Washington at Memorial Stadium in 1993. Cal led 23-3 in the 3rd quarter and led 23-10 late in the game with Doug Brien trying a makeable FG to perhaps put the game on ice. UW catches a break: he misses. Then UW scores. Then UW gets a fortuitous bounce on an onside kick, recovers, it, and scores again. We had a little bit of time left, but, to top it off, Cal’s starting QB (Dave Barr) suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the second half, so Cal basically had no shot at the end.

The basketball loss that jumps to mind is when Cal lost in overtime because a bad UCLA pass was deflected straight into the hands of Michael Roll, who just happened to be UCLA’s only competent scorer that year. Of course he hit the game-winning shot. (At least Cal shook that one off to win the Pac-10 regular season championship that year.)

Norcalnick: Actually, any close loss to UCLA in basketball fits here.

Ohio Bear: The Rabbit’s Foot is kind of like a "doom" category. You watch the game unfold and expect doom to come our way. The 1993 Washington football game was just like that in the fourth quarter. The simultaneous happening of the wheels coming off for us and Washington having things break their way was excruciating.

Level XII: The Sudden Death

Definition: Is there another fan experience quite like overtime hockey, when every slap shot, breakaway and centering pass might spell doom, and losing feels 10 times worse than winning feels good (if that makes sense)? ... there's only one mitigating factor: when OT periods start piling up and you lose the capacity to care anymore; invariably you start rooting for the game to just end, just so you don't suffer a heart attack ... bonus points because one of these happened last night: Colorado's game-winning OT goal against Detroit.

Cal loss that fits: Not exactly "sudden" death, but the overtime loss to Oregon in 2005 is a close analog. Another one that might fit the description is the 1996 football loss at Washington State. With Cal driving in for the game-winning TD, we fumbled at the one yard line. It felt like a sudden death.

Ohio Bear: Anyone of you olds people remember BAY TV? The 1996 Washington State game was televised on said channel that night. But just as the famous Heidi game in 1968 (Raiders-Jets in the NFL playoffs) was cut off at a certain time to air the movie, "Heidi," the Cal-WSU game was cut off at exactly 11:00 p.m. for regularly scheduled programming. It just happened to be when Cal was driving for what we thought would be the game winning score (and a 6-0 start). We ran to the radio to listen to Starkey. When he described the fumble in the tone of doom that he does so well, we were kinda glad BAY TV cut it off.

Level XI: Dead Man Walking

Definition: Applies to any playoff series when your team remains "alive," but they just suffered a loss so catastrophic and so harrowing that there's no possible way they can bounce back ... especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there's a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change ... so you've given up, but you're still getting hurt, if that makes sense ... just for the record, I thought this would apply to the Nets after their Game 3 collapse (I couldn't have been more wrong).

Cal loss that fits: USC 23, Cal 9 in 2006. Most of our readership probably remembers and rues the Arizona game as the punch to the solar plexus. What some might not remember is that the Bears were still very much alive for the Rose Bowl despite that loss. All we had to do was beat USC the following week! But -- well, you know. The Arizona loss took our mojo and we were not the same.


If I ever get the ability to go through time, I’m not going to go back and give a younger version of me Gray’s Sports Almanac or kill baby Hitler (I mean nobody would really get that, they’d just think I’m a monster who killed a random baby in cold blood). Instead, I’d tell DeSean "Hey, wear a smaller shoe. Just take my word for it."



My kingdom for a smaller toe!

Level X: The Monkey Wrench

Definition: Any situation where either A) the manager/coach of your team made an idiotic game decision, or B) a referee/umpire robbed your team of impending victory ... the Monkey Wrench game gains steam as the days and months roll along ... the Patriots and Raiders deserve special mention here because they played two Monkey Wrench games 26 years apart -- the '76 Playoff Game (where Ben Dreith's dubious "roughing the passer" call on "Sugar Bear" Hamilton gave the Raiders second life), and this January's Snow Game (the Brady fumble/non-fumble) ... funny how life works out.

Cal loss that fits: The 61-minute football game at Corvallis in 1988 is a natural fit. The 1990 Big Game might also fit here: the roughing-the-passer call on John Belli that put Stanfurd into position for the game-winning FG on the game’s final play was a terrible, terrible call that Cal fans who saw it remember to this day. Cal’s basketball loss to UCLA on Josh Shipp’s over the backboard game winner is another one that goes here.

TwistNHook: I believe Mike Greenstein was reffing all of those games, including the 1976 playoff game. I have no evidence proving that Mike Greenstein WASN’T a 16th century conquistador who raped and pillaged half of the New World. I heard that Mike Greenstein is responsible for Dubstep. If you look closely at this painting, Mike Greenstein is doing most of the heavy lifting there:



Level IX: The Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking

Definition: Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn't your team's day ... and that's the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows -- every botched play, every turnover, every instance where someone on your team quits, every "deer in the headlights" look, every time an announcer says, "They can't get anything going," every shot of the opponents celebrating, every time you look at the score and think to yourself, "Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we'll get some momentum," but you know it's not going to happen, because you're already 30 points down ... you just want it to end, and it won't end ... but you can't look away ... it's the sports fan's equivalent to a three-hour torture session.

Cal loss that fits: Oregon 42, Cal 3 in 2009 is the quintessential one. USC 2010 and Big Game 2010 are also appropriate. In men’s basketball, we have the ultimate "avert your eyes" game of all time: Stanford 101, Cal 50 in 2000. The opening round debacle against South Florida in the 2012 NCAA tournament is another one that fits the description -- and is unfortunately still fresh in our minds.

TwistNHook: What was so stunning about that Cal-Oregon game in 2009 was how everybody expected the exact opposite going in. Oregon had lost to BSU and had the whole "I punch you in the face now" thing going on. Cal had beaten an overrated Maryland team (though we didn’t know it at the time) and won against Minnesota on the road. We were feeling great and then the world just fell out. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I’m reasonably certain Mike Greenstein suited up for Cal. CAN NOBODY STOP THAT MENACE?!?!?

Ohio Bear: These are painful. Painful. You're all hyped up for a game, thinking good things, filled with such hope. And then -- BOOM goes the dynamite. The feeling is numbness more than anything else. A friend of mine in college called the feeling "dejuiced."

So there you have it: those are the first eight levels. Did we miss anything in any of the categories? Do you older Blues remember any painful losses that might fit some of these categories? Are you waiting anxiously for Part 2 of this series? Or do you want to punch us in the face for doing this? Tell us in the comments.