Deflation. That's how it always feels. Every single time (but one), when the season comes to a close with a loss, it's like the air just gets pushed forcefully out of the balloon. It doesn't pop; that would be too quick, too kind. No, we have to wait for the pressure to be relieved, and it takes time.
There was one exception, I suppose. In 2003, we were still all so high over the demolition of the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game -- and stunned over the false police report which threw Fiesta Bowl preparations into chaos -- that losing to Ohio State was something most of us just sort of shrugged our shoulders and blew off. That was a unique situation, though. The others... not so much.
Losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight in 1988. The Texas A&M game, which actually led to a month-long hissing sound which only ended after nobody cared about the 1998 Alamo Bowl at all. Wisconsin. Butler. Wisconsin again.
Baylor. Oregon. La Salle.
Derek Drouin. Oregon State.
Just as they had all season, the BatCats gave us every reason to expect a miracle. The pitching staff did what it had been unable to do on Sunday night, keeping the Wildcats in the game. The bats finally started showing life in the later innings, just like they did all season, it seemed. But a brutally effective Oregon State pitching staff (to whom all credit) combined with K-State errors, both in the field and on the bases -- which had decidedly not been the modus operandi all season -- were the Cats' downfall. The decision, defensible as it was in the circumstance, to send Blair DeBord home on R.J. Santigate's looping single to left in the eighth inning summarized the entire season in one snapshot. Just short. The second-best offense in college baseball came up against the second-best pitching staff, and ultimately the difference was two feet of fake dirt. Just two feet.
Please don't misunderstand anything that follows. I am excessively proud of the accomplishments of Kansas State's athletic department this year, and I may be prouder of the BatCats than I have been of any K-State team ever. That said...
Nobody agrees with me about this, and that's fine; I may not even agree with myself in a few days. As bad as 1998 was, as much of a kick in the teeth The Fumble and Sirr Parker was, somehow this year is worse to me. Bear with me here; it's complex. In the fullness of time, a lot of people tend to think the Wildcats were in fact the best team in college football that year, and that has a very real impact on how that year feels in retrospect.
This year, we had a chip on our shoulders. No, K-State was not the best team in the nation in any sport this year. Pre-season, nobody even thought any of our teams were any better than middle of the pack in our own conference. The Wildcats of 2012-13 had everything to prove, to everyone. The football team had the bias of the national media working against them. The men's basketball team, the anger of a segment of its own fanbase who, while not exactly rooting for them to fail, felt that failure wouldn't be the worst outcome either. The baseball team? They were just fighting against national apathy, really, and a media conglomerate who cared so little about them that a game which was supposed to be nationally broadcast got shelved for several innings while another game aired on two different channels at the same time instead. And then we had the Olympic silver medalist trying to defend his title on... on... well, it wasn't on anywhere. Sure, I get it, track's not a big deal. It was a big enough deal to be live on television the following day, though.
Horribly enough, even proving something wasn't enough for the K-State athletic department. After the baseball team completed the trifecta by winning the Big 12 regular season title, it took ESPN over a week to acknowledge the feat. (It took them approximately five seconds to do the same for Louisville the previous day.) Do not mistake this for any bitterness or jealousy of Louisville. They've had a fantastic year, the best year any athletic department has had in major college athletics in approximately forever. It'd be nice if there was some acknowledgement that K-State was in the running, and had a better year than every team not located in a big city right across the river from Indiana.
Ultimately, this is why this year hurts so bad right now. We came up short at every opportunity to say something nationally, and there's virtually no acknowledgment of how rare, how special, our school's accomplishments were during this academic year. Sure, there's an undercurrent; I am certain that the combined successes of the men's athletic program will bear fruit throughout the department going forward. Those in the know understand and respect what happened in Manhattan over the last nine months. But at no time, even when the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the BCS Standings, did anyone say "this is the best team in the nation".
Fifteen years later, I can live with 1998, because everyone respects that team and acknowledges they were probably the best team in the land. I have no expectations that anyone would say that of any of our squads in 2012-13; that's not the problem.
Having people act as if K-State didn't accomplish anything at all this year because they didn't do it in the post-season? That stings. It's going to sting for a long time. Or maybe just for a few days.
Disappointment is funny that way.