I <3 Preseason

By Davis Jones

Earlier this summer, I learned how to play the card game Hearts. I hated it.

Not the summer. Not even the game. I hated the learning bit. Like, in what world is attracting hearts a penalty? I held the queen of spades long enough we could’ve been dating. One of my friends looked at me after a few rounds and said, “It’s okay. It’s easier once you get the hang of it.” Apparently this game is popular among grade school kids. This is concerning.
But here was the hardest part: every time a player laid down a card they actually needed, or whenever someone held onto an ace a turn too long, there was this new, sudden liberty to say, “But this is for practice.”

Don’t get me wrong. I needed that grace. What I couldn’t shake, though, was the feeling that I resigned myself to that grace when I agreed to play. Why should a different set of rules apply to me if I screwed up, or if a rookie mistake cost me the game? I never got close enough for that to happen, but nor should it have mattered. Even though the rules meant something completely new to me, the rules still meant something unavoidable and absolute. There were no practice rounds — a win or a loss should’ve counted.

Last week in the NFL preseason, the Detroit Lions blew out the New England Patriots 40-9. New England has won three Super Bowls in the past decade, consistently playing for a sterling silver trophy. Detroit has lost 37 games on Thanksgiving, consistently playing for a trophy of a bronze turkey doing the Heisman. Understandably, the score came to most as a surprise.

But the real story came the week before, when the same Lions lost 6-24 to the Cleveland Browns, a team about as good as its name is creative. I’d be hard pressed to find a player on Cleveland’s roster who left the field satisfied with it not counting that they beat the team who beat a league dynasty. I can also see the New England coaching staff wiping the sweat from their foreheads last week, relieved that a normally scarring loss was bruised instead and would heal over time.

A win in the preseason can either be hard-fought or a harder fluke, depending on which side you fall on when the scoreboard ticks to zero. It’s a rare time in society when unexpected losers drive home winners of sorts. The real winners drive home feeling robbed.

The college preseason starts for many fall sports teams next week, and not just for the ones that use a ball or a goal. Freshmen undergraduates will make their debuts at universities nationwide. They’ll carry awkward furniture up to their dorms, scan Amazon for textbooks the day before class starts, and begin careers as part of a brand new team.
I don’t mean that wins or losses should count for freshmen as I sometimes wish they’d count for sports. ‘Wins and losses’ don’t exist here, for one. Mistakes do.
Most of us have slept through enough morning alarms here to chalk it up in the ‘skills’ section of our resumes. Mistakes are bound to happen to students, because being a ‘student’ is just one of the nametags we wear. We also wear ‘friend,’ ‘son,’ daughter,’ athlete,’ employee,’ ‘love interest’ — That’s a lot to handle. I’m a firm believer that an error-free year happens to students who call themselves students and nothing else.

Fall sports here at USD tipped off long before Sept. 4. The preseason label might stick, but the preparation for many of our athletes begins when the regular season ends, which is to say that the preparation never really ends at all. The same notion holds true for freshmen. Most were preparing for this day before high school even ended. So maybe preseason wins or losses against other teams should be treated the same way—as preparation. While it might not count in the box score, it still counts. More importantly, it matters. Just like dumping the queen of spades.