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The five stages of Wahoo grief

Virginia fans have certainly experienced their fair share of ups and downs with the University's revenue sports. The combination of football and men's basketball has been a seducing siren, like that pretty girl in middle school that seemed to like you and then dropped you like a hot potato, leaving your heart in tatters.

I've noticed that I progressed through the five stages of grief quite nicely during both seasons so far - or maybe I just think I have because I'm a psychology major with experience in sociology classes - or I'm just some kind of nerd. Either way, examining Virginia fans' progression through these five stages is an interesting way to look at the plight of the Virginia sports fan this season.

I love Virginia sports - especially football and men's basketball. The expectations weren't that high for either team this year. At first, both teams performed rather poorly, especially the football team as it lost the first three games of the season, including that humiliating opening game loss to William & Mary at Scott Stadium when the Tribe fans were the last ones to leave as they stayed behind chanting, "Our house!"

Both teams rose from the ashes, however, to give fans something to cheer about - if just for a while. Football defeated North Carolina 16-3, Indiana by a whopping 47-7 and Maryland 20-9. The men's basketball team - 4-4 after a Dec. 7 loss to Auburn - reeled off eight straight wins to move to move to 12-4 and 3-0 in the conference. At first, the Cavaliers were feasting on scrubs but then they used that momentum to defeat UAB, Georgia Tech and Miami, all of which were ranked in the Top 25 at the time.

As the victories kept coming, both teams stumbled upon big-time matchups that weren't as significant only a few weeks earlier - Virginia football faced Georgia Tech to determine first place in the Coastal Division, and the men's basketball team faced Wake Forest on the road that would have validated the Cavaliers' place as contenders in the ACC had they won. Both teams faltered in the big moment, however, as football lost a rain-soaked, hard-fought game to the Yellow Jackets 34-9 - the score doesn't do the game justice - while the basketball team dropped a snoozer to the Demon Deacons 69-57. The football team proceeded to lose every game the rest of the season, and the basketball team has only won two games since that point. And thus began the grieving and its stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial\nDuring the football season, I was in denial probably around the very next game against Duke Oct. 31. The Blue Devils are certainly on the rise as a program, but I thought there was no way we would lose to them two years in a row. So during the latter reaches of the game, when it was clear a loss was imminent, I found myself denying it in every way possible.

For the men's basketball season, I was probably in denial the very next game, when the Cavaliers faced the Hokies Jan. 28. We all know what happened. Virginia blew a 10-point lead with 3:44 left to rival Virginia Tech only to force overtime on a miraculous Sammy Zeglinski three-pointer, a prayer which only gave us false hope. The orange and blue ran out of magic in overtime. I stood at the end of the game stunned at what had just unfolded.

Anger\nAnger was peppered throughout the football season for me because Virginia was always doing something to crush my soul. Virginia held leads during every game following the Georgia Tech contest Oct. 24, except during the Nov. 21 Clemson matchup, when the Cavaliers nearly equaled the Tigers score-for-score during the first half. Unfortunately, Virginia did not win a single one of these games - a fact that is both bewildering and maddening for the loyal fan.

When the basketball team lost a second overtime game to Wake Forest, it was a big blow, but I thought we would be okay because we had just won two games before that. Anger set in when we lost a second game against the Hokies we could've won. Talk about bitter moments.

Bargaining\nThe Boston College football game Nov. 14 was especially disheartening because I was thinking, "We HAVE to win this game. There's no way we can keep getting leads only to lose the game. All of that losing means we will win eventually. We deserve to win a game by now. We are due." It is this kind of language that defines the bargaining sports fan. By the time the Tech game rolled around, I was talking to the football gods: "Please. I'm a fourth-year. I now have the wisdom to understand your plan. To enjoy a magical finale against Tech, we needed to lose all those other games, right?" We led 7-0 and 10-7 and had a chance to win all the way up until the fourth quarter, but it wasn't meant to be. Fate again wore a frown.

Similar to the bargaining I engaged in before the Tech football game, I think I was in the bargaining stage before the big basketball game Sunday against Duke. I knew that a stunner against the Blue Devils could soften the blow of a season gone down the tubes. Then I found out Sylven was not going to play. Uh oh. Major props, though, to Jerome Meyinsse on a career night.

Depression\nA losing season is depressing. Things are fuzzy here, but I'd say for football, when we fell to 3-7 after that loss to Boston College and realized there would be no postseason bowl appearance, depression sunk in.

For basketball, it was as soon as I realized that we might not make the NCAA Tournament and then, oh wait - the NIT also. Depressing. Once we followed up the second loss to Tech with our first blowout loss of the season against Maryland, things were not looking good. And now, we ... just ... can't ... win ... one ... more ... game. We still need to win one game just to be eligible for postseason play following the ACC Tournament.

Acceptance\nFor football, I had accepted the losing season by the time the Tech rivalry rolled around but, like I mentioned, was still bargaining for a miracle upset. I had also accepted that Al Groh would be fired and was looking to the future and Mike London. I'm already hoping we can surprise some people and can get to 7-5 next season, the record we would need to make a bowl (6-6 won't cut it because we are playing two FCS teams).

Blowout loss after blowout loss had me accepting that we weren't an elite team in basketball. I still haven't accepted we can't make a late push for the NIT, but the outlook is looking bleaker and bleaker. I thought we could beat Miami to secure that .500-or-better-record - now it's the Boston College game tonight. Maryland is looking ridiculously strong right now and difficult to beat. I'm looking to the future now, too, though. Tony Bennett is bringing in a solid recruiting class, and I'm back to earth after the midseason winning streak and predicting that he can get us back to the Big Dance by 2011-12.

But seriously, here's another part of acceptance: Who's looking forward to our spectacular spring sports teams? No denial there. Yet.

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