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Bill Simmons' 16 Levels of Losing: Cal Style, Part Deux!

The white helmets weren't the only thing ugly about one of the losses on this list.
The white helmets weren't the only thing ugly about one of the losses on this list.

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."

In Part One of this series, we went through the first eight levels defined by Simmons. Some you liked it. Some of you hated it. (fiat lux wanted to punch me in the groin, I think, for even thinking about doing this post.) Enough of you hated it that I thought about forgetting about part two. I mean, why put you all through that pain and misery? WHY?!?

Because. Because I wanted to share the misery of having to think of all these losses. And because I am too obsessive to have done the work on part deux and not actually post it. So here you go. Below are the remaining eight levels of losing, matched up with Cal losses past that fit each level. Enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Okay, maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word. It gets pretty painful at the end. Please don't hurt me.

Level VIII: The "This Can't Be Happening" Game

Definition: Sibling of the Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking ... you're supposed to win, you expect to win, the game is a mere formality ... suddenly your team falls behind, your opponents are fired up, the clock is ticking and it dawns on you for the first time, "Oh my God, this can't be happening."

Cal loss that fits: Can any Cal game fit this? When do we "expect" to win? But if we must pick one, the 2011 football loss to UCLA is a perfect fit. Perfect fit might be an understatement. Also fitting nicely is the first-round basketball loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the 1994 NCAA Tournament (when the Bears had Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray).

TwistNHook: The 2011 UCLA game is a perfect encapsulation of this. At no time before the game did I think we were going to lose. Half of the UCLA offense was suspended. The other half was being coached by Rick Neuheisel. Jerry Rice Jr. beat us! Jerry Rice Jr! I bet Jerry Rice could have beaten us that day.

And all they did was run the same play over and over again. Kevin Prince hands off to somebody and then runs straight forward. And keeps going. And going. And going. I would make an Energizer bunny reference here if it was at any time before, say, 2001. But it isn’t. So, I won’t.

norcalnick: Hell, even during the game when we were down by a few touchdowns I still expected to win. It was too absurd. Surely Can wouldn’t keep throwing the ball straight to a deep safety. Surely the least athletic option quarterback ever to run the pistol isn’t going to keep gashing the defense. But sure enough it did keep happening.

Ohio Bear: While you were reading TwistNHook's and norcalnick's thoughts, Tevin McDonald intercepted another pass.

Level VII: The Drive-By Shooting

Definition: A first cousin of The "This Can't Be Happening" Game, we created this one four weeks ago [Sept. 2007] to describe any college football upset in which a 30-point underdog shocks a top-5 team in front of 108,000 of its fans and kills its title hopes before Labor Day. [Read: Appalachian State beats Michigan]

Cal loss that fits: We weren’t a 30-point favorite or anything close to that, but the butt kicking Tennessee gave Cal in the 2006 season opener, when Cal had the lofty #9 preseason ranking and Lee Corso picking the Bears to make the BCS national championship game, has "drive-by" written all over it. Sigh. At least it wasn’t losing at home to Appalachian State.

TwistNHook: Of course, I think that that national embarrassment actually fueled Cal to greatness that year. 2006 was one of Cal’s greatest seasons of all time with easily its best bowl win in the modern era. Yes, the Cal-Tennessee game was like a gay marriage where you marry your own brother. It was like medical Skoal. It was like poisoning the very trees you are occupying! It verified every Pac10-SEC stereotype there is. But, in the long run, the Drive-By Shooting game might have been exactly what the doctor ordered.

Norcalnick: It’s unfortunate that Cal has rarely been high enough in the polls to be at risk of a drive-by shooting type of loss. This was certainly the closest equivalent and easily the biggest swing in national perception ever suffered by a Cal team.

Avinash: That Tennessee game hurt, but winning eight in a row (and then beating UT the year after that) sort of dulls the pain.

Level VI: The Broken Axle

Definition: When the wheels come flying off in a big game, leading to a complete collapse down the stretch ... this one works best for basketball, like Game 3 of the Celtics-Nets series this year, or Game 7 of the Blazers-Lakers series in 2000 ... you know when it's happening because A) the home crowd pushes their team to another level, and B) the team that's collapsing becomes afflicted with Deer-In-The-Headlitis ... it's always fascinating to see how teams bounce back from the Broken Axle Game ... by the way, nobody has been involved in more Broken Axle games than Rick Adelman.

Cal loss that fits: That basketball game against UCLA at Haas Pavilion when we had a 20-point first half lead and blew all of it – and then some. A football loss that fits this description is the 2004 Holiday Bowl. (You know, if you really wanted to, you could make the 2004 Holiday Bowl fit a lot of categories here.) And speaking of losses that fit in multiple categories, the devastating 1993 football loss to Washington could also qualify for this level.

Ohio Bear: Ah, yes. The 2004 Holiday Bowl. As if the BCS debacle wasn’t enough of a buzzkill, we had the inevitable "team that got screwed out of a BCS Bowl has letdown in non-BCS bowl" performance. It didn’t look like it would be that way early when we had a 14-10 lead and were driving almost effortlessly for another score. But Robert Jordan forgot to catch the ball, Texas Tech got a momentum-seizing interception that led to a go-ahead TD, Sonny Cumbie got hotter than Lubbock in summer time, and … well … the wheels came flying off.

TwistNHook: The 2004 Holiday Bowl was one of the most miserable sporting-related experiences of my life This is not to be confused with the standard-grade miserable experiences of my life, which have generally been far better than anything Cal sporting related. Compared to failing a test or embarrassing yourself in front of a woman (which has become so commonplace at this point, can I even really call it "miserable"), the 2004 Holiday Bowl was horrific. It was the Bataan Death March of football games, a reference I only vaguely understand. The game just kept going and going and going and going and going and, after the first quarter, Cal barely had any positive moments. It was like getting punched in the face repeatedly, a pain any Cal fans knows all too well.

Avinash: Couldn't think of anything else on the field, but seeing Cal's top recruiter defect to UW and seeing their potential top five recruiting class collapse (and losing Shaq Thompson, Ellis McCarthy, Jordan Payton, Arik Armstead to in-conference rivals) caused many of us a week or two of misery.

Level V: The Role Reversal

Definition: Any rivalry in which one team dominated another team for an extended period of time, then the perennial loser improbably turned the tables. ... Like when Beecher fought back against Schillinger in "Oz," knocked him out and even pulled a Najeh Davenport on his face. For the fans of the vanquished team, the most crushing part of the "Role Reversal" isn't the actual defeat as much as the loss of an ongoing edge over the fans from the other team. You lose the jokes, the arrogance and the unwavering confidence that the other team can't beat you. There's almost a karmic shift. You can feel it.

Cal loss that fits: This describes the 2007 Big Game perfectly. The 2002 to 2006 Big Games were all in Cal’s favor and none of them was particularly close, save for maybe the 2006 game through which the Bears seemed to take a sleepwalk. Then the 2007 Big Game taught us that the 2007 season could, in fact, get even worse.

TwistNHook: The worst part of the 2007 Big Game was, if you were in attendance, you got to watch the Stanford fan storm the field as the announcer screamed "THE AXE IS COMING HOME!" When I was at Cal, we were right in the middle of the 7 years of Stanford dominance in the Big Game. I needed Cal to win 7 years straight to make up for that. 2002-2006 was only 5 years in a row, so that is not enough. Now, 2002-2009 was 7 out of 8 years, but it still was not 7 years in a row. I NEED MY 7 YEARS IN A ROW AND I NEED IT NOW! Sadly, Stanford has now won 3 out of the last 5 Big Games, so 2007 was definitely the Role Reversal as they went from pathetic patheticness full of patheticosity to mediocre to BCS loser. We need another role reversal to get the red and white doormat back!

Norcalnick: 2007 seems even worse in retrospect. At the time it seemed like a fluke - a bad Stanford team beat a Cal team that had seemingly given up on the season weeks ago. Little did we know it was a key moment in Stanford’s football rivival.

Level IV: The Guillotine

Definition: This one combines the devastation of the Broken Axle game with sweeping bitterness and hostility ... your team's hanging tough (hell, they might even be winning), but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming, and you keep waiting for the guillotine to drop, and you just know it's coming -- you know it -- and when it finally comes, you're angry that it happened and you're angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma ... these are the games when people end up whipping their remote controls against a wall or breaking their hands while pounding a coffee table ... too many of these and you'll end up in prison.

Cal loss that fits: Cal at USC, 2006. We did have the lead at halftime and went to the fourth quarter tied. Then, BOOM! Another one of recent vintage could be the 2012 men’s basketball season finale at Stanford, where a win could have given Cal its second regular-season conference championship in three years; the Bears fell behind, rallied and hung tough, but...alas...fell painfully short.

Level III: The Stomach Punch

Definition: Now we've moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play, or B) one of your guys failing in the clutch ... usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all ... always haunting, sometimes scarring ... there are degrees to the Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation ... for instance, Sunday's Kings-Lakers game and Monday's Celts-Nets game featured agonizing endings, but they weren't nearly as agonizing as Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl).

Cal loss that fits: Football at USC, 2004. First and goal at the USC 9-yard line with a QB in Aaron Rodgers who had completed 23 in a row earlier in the game. The game was there for the taking, but we didn’t get it done. Stomach punch! Football vs. Oregon State, 2007. Cal makes in improbable late fourth quarter rally to have a chance to win, or at least send the game to overtime. But then comes Kevin Riley’s scramble: stomach punch!

Three women’s basketball games qualify: Ashley Walker’s disallowed buzzer beater against USC in the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament, Deja Mann’s absurd buzzer beater that beat Cal in Tempe in 2011, and the unbelievable OT loss to USC in 2012, where USC responded to Cal’s miracle shot by Lashia Clarendon to tie in regulation with a near buzzer beater of their own to win in OT.

Norcalnick: "Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all." That’s certainly how I remember reacting while watching Cal/USC on TV. Even on 4th down I was sure Rodgers would throw a touchdown. When the last pass fell incomplete, I just sat silently in my chair, staring through the TV blankly. I don’t remember how long it took me to move.

And it’s exactly how I remember the OSU game. One of my most distinct Memorial Stadium Memories was the silence as the clock hit 0:00 that day.



TwistNHook: Stomach Punch? I wish that was a Stomach Punch! This video is more apropos (for several reasons):

In conclusion, the USC marching band should be arrested for murder!

Avinash: There are actually degrees to a Stomach Punch game. Forgot about that.
Degree 1: Cal-Washington 2010. Three game losing streak at home, no bowl, those stupid pups celebrating on our field.
Degree 10: Cal-USC 2004. First and goal at the 9.
Degree 10,000: Cal-Arizona 2006. 10,000, because that's how many chances we had at winning that game.

Ohio Bear: Frankly, we could have gone on and on with this category. What we put down here is just the tip of the iceberg. My stomach has been punched way too many times in my 24 years of Cal fandom. I feel for the older Blues who have endured more years of stomach punches.

Level II: The Goose/Maverick Tailspin

Definition: Cruising happily through the baseball regular season, a potential playoff team suddenly and inexplicably goes into a tailspin, can't bounce out of it and ends up crashing for the season. In "Top Gun," the entire scene lasted for 30 seconds and we immediately moved to a couple of scenes in which Tom Cruise tried to make himself cry on camera but couldn't quite pull it off. In sports, the Goose/Maverick Tailspin could last for two weeks, four weeks, maybe even two months, but as long as it's happening, you feel like your entire world is collapsing. It's like an ongoing Stomach Punch Game. And when it finally ends, you spend the rest of your life reliving it every time a TV network shows a montage of the worst collapses in sports history. Other than that, it's no big deal.

Cal loss that fits: Could this be anything other than the 2007 football season?

TwistNHook: Here are a few photos of Cal fans watching the latter half of the 2007 football season:



I can't look anymore!

Help us!

Not again!

I can't believe this!

My eyes! My eyes!

Ohio Bear: The question asks, "Could this be anything other than the 2007 football season?" Why, yes, of course it can. It can be the 1992 football season, Keith Gilbertson's first as Cal coach. What started out with a preseason ranking and a Heisman Trophy campaign for Russell White turned into an embarrassing early season loss at Purdue, followed by losing five straight to end the year. The 1993 football season might have also fallen under this category (5-0 start, followed by four straight losses), but for that team's remarkable recovery to win four straight to end the season, including a 46-17 destruction of Bill Walsh-coached Stanford in the Big Game and a dominating 37-3 win over Iowa in the 1993 Alamo Bowl.

(Oh my -- did I just inject positive victory memories into this post? Was that allowed?!?)

Avinash: Not sure what happened in 1996, but that could qualify too if that team was highly ranked.

Ohio Bear: The 1996 team wasn't highly ranked, but did break into the top 25 after winning at USC to go to 5-0. But then Cal suffered a loss at WSU that appears at Level XII. We eventually went to 6-2 after the legendary 56-55 quadruple overtime win vs. Arizona, but then lost four in a row to end the season, including a maddeningly uncompetitive Big Game and the Aloha Bowl to Navy. (I think Navy's tight end caught another big gainer while I was writing this.) And then after the season, we unexpectedly lost coach Steve Mariucci to the 49ers. So yeah: the wheels came off and then some that year.

Level I: That Game

Definition: Game 6 of the 1986 World Series ... one of a kind ... given the circumstances and the history involved here, maybe the most catastrophic sports loss of our lifetime.

Cal loss that fits: We lost the BCS voting in 2004. For many Cal fans, the 2007 football loss to Oregon State fits here, too.

Avinash: Cal-OSU 2007. I doubt this one ever gets topped. It still doesn't feel real.

Ohio Bear: Not so fast. I think that game gets topped!



"Rick, if you're ever on the bubble for that thing you guys do in basketball, let me know. I know how to get things like that done."

TwistNHook: Everybody remembers where they were when they heard Kennedy was shot. Also, more importantly, everybody remembers where they were when those yokels on TV said that Texas had the 4 spot in the BCS standings and that Rose Bowl spot.

Now, you might say we are overstating the disastrousness of the 2004 BCS Standings by comparing it to the Kennedy assassination. However, that is simply not true. If anything, we’ve understated it. Here is a list of important events in US History that are not as horrific as the BCS Standings:

1. The Battle Of Antietem
2. Dropping Nuclear Bombs on Japan
3. Every Pee Wee Herman movie ever

Here is a list of global disasters that aren’t as bad as the 2004 BCS Standings situation.

1. Irish Potato Famine
2. Rape Of Nanking
3. Macarena

We could keep going, but that is probably enough for now. Needless to say, they should have a national day of rememberence and erect a memorial for our hopes and dreams of the 2005 Rose Bowl.

Also, don’t forget that giant meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs. It WISHES it sucked as much as the 2004 BCS dealie!

So there you have it. We went through all 16 levels. Did we miss anything? Do you want to physically harm us for going through this exercise? Share your thoughts in the comments.