The first time my father apologized for forcing me to follow his fandom was Sept. 30, 2007.
The New York Mets had entered the day tied for first place in the National League East with one game to play, and my playoff hopes lasted as long as Tom Glavine — who allowed seven runs in 0.1 innings of the Mets’ 8-1 loss.
Almost simultaneously, New York’s other forlorn franchise — the Jets — lost a snoozer to the Buffalo Bills, falling to 1-3 and leaving no doubt that Jets fans like my father and I faced yet another long autumn.
As we sat on the couch and watched not one but two seasons flushed away in real time, my dad turned to me and earnestly apologized for putting me through this ordeal. He knew it wouldn’t be my last.
This pain was nothing new to him. He’d seen the Jets blow playoff leads to the Browns (the Browns!) in the 1980s, fumble away a lead in the 1999 AFC Championship Game and too many Mets bullpen implosions to count.
Since 2007, I’ve witnessed the Jets blow a halftime lead in the 2009 AFC Championship Game, the Mets lose the 2015 World Series despite holding late leads in three of their losses and I was present for Mark Sanchez's fabled Butt Fumble on Thanksgiving in 2012.
I know what you’re thinking: “The Mets and Jets stink, get over it. You signed up for this, so stop whining.”
But here’s my unpopular opinion: This suffering and pain is what makes sports worth it. It bonds you to your fellow sufferers in a way that’s hard to describe. It makes the moments of triumph all the more beautiful.
My first year at UNC was 2015-16. I had no connection to the Tar Heels before coming to UNC, aside from a hatred of Duke basketball that I assume is inherent in any decent human being.
I quickly latched onto Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and company and bought more Carolina blue clothes than I knew what to do with. Of course, I was thrilled as UNC cruised to a No.1 seed and, eventually, the Final Four.
But something about it seemed hollow.
After the Tar Heels dispatched Notre Dame to make the Final Four, I called my dad to catch up and talk about UNC’s chances in Houston. But I also confessed something deeper to him.
“I feel like I don’t deserve this,” I said over the phone. “If we win a title in my first year as a fan, isn’t that basically cheating?”
Any UNC student or fan needs no reminder of how that 2016 run ended in Houston in the weeks following UNC’s devastating last-second defeat. I realized that with the pain of 2016, I had finally “earned my stripes” — or argyle, so to speak.
And that’s what made 2017 so much sweeter for North Carolina’s fans and players. As the final buzzer sounded and blue and white confetti rained down in Glendale, Ariz. last April, UNC had not only earned another title, but it had overcome the demons of 2016.
There was something beautifully cathartic about celebrating that championship on Franklin Street with 50,000 of our best friends. We had come so close to having this moment a year ago, only to have it snatched away at the last moment. But now it was finally here. We earned it.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the celebration in 2017 was deeper and more powerful than 2016 would have been had the Tar Heels forced overtime and won in Houston. 2017 was the storybook ending two years in the making.
And that’s why I still wake up on Sundays and sit through Jets seasons, sharing texts with my dad that range from naively optimistic to angry and defeated. It’s why when I have children, they’ll be indoctrinated early to hate the Yankees, Patriots, Duke and all things evil.
I genuinely believe the bonds formed through shared suffering run deeply. Maybe that’s the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but it’s how I feel.
Because when that moment of triumph finally comes — and it will — it will all be worth it.