By Sal Capaccio
It was fifth grade. Mr. DiCarlo's gym class at Cleveland Hill Elementary School. We were playing dodgeball. Of course, that's when dodgeball was actually allowed to be played in elementary schools across the country. Now, if a P.E. teacher so much as suggests it, they're considered "mean" or "too old school" for today's learning environment. But all that's a blog for another day.
It was one of those "free-for-all" dodgeball games. Every kid to himself. Last one standing wins. A ball whizzed by me. Never touched me. But Mr. DiCarlo didn't see it that way. He told me to get off the floor. "You're out, Capaccio!" I can still hear him say it.
I argued. I begged. It didn't matter. "No. I saw the ball hit you. Sit in the bleachers."
So, I sat. Then I cried. Yep. Cried and pouted like a baby. I knew the ball didn't hit me. I should still be in. I hated the fact that I lost. I argued with Mr. D. some more. Naturally, he told me to see him in his office after class.
As I sat there, tears running down my face, telling him "the ball never hit me!," he wrote four words in his grade book on the line next to my name:
"CAN'T STAND TO LOSE"
That was it. My 5th grade legacy forever stained right there in a grade book. Seeing those four words may have bothered me even more than being called out of that dodgeball game incorrectly. But as it turned out, Mr. D. was right. And those words aren't a stain. They're just who I was - and still am.
Now, don't confuse. When I do lose, I'm gracious about it. I don't blame officials or injuries or unfair play. You beat me, congratulations. Shake hands. I'll work harder to get you the next time.
But I have no issues admitting it: My name's Sal Capaccio and I Can't Stand To Lose.
Not in 5th grade dodgeball. Not playing golf with my friends now. Not when I coached high school football. Not when I go to Las Vegas and play craps or bet on a basketball game. Heck, not even playing board games with my wife. We used to play board games and cards, but she likes to play just for fun and I won't play unless we actually keep score. There should always be a winner and loser in a contest, right?
That's why I'll never root for the Sabres or Bills to lose. Not for a better draft pick. Not to "hopefully" make changes in the organization. Not for anything.
Call me pollyanna. Call me misguided. Fine. I'll wear that label if you're willing to wear the "losing is not only acceptable, but good" moniker. And not just for one game or one season. But you have to wear it all the time. Because that's what losing does. It infects you. It beats you down. It makes you complacent. Once you begin to accept it, it's a lot easier to keep doing that.
Losing isn't just a score. It's a culture.
Given the Sabres situation, I've made this same point on the air several times over the past few weeks. Then a caller recently said to me, "you're accepting mediocrity." No, I'm not. I'm the one who WANTS to win. All the time. You're the one who is ok with losing, sir. And once you're ok with losing once, you'll be ok with losing again. And again. And again. Heck, there's always next year and the next draft. I hear there's some real talent coming in 2016. Why don't we just lose every game for the next three seasons just to have a shot at the next once-in-a-generation player? He has to bring us a Cup, right? Right?
Let's make one thing clear here. Just because I want the Sabres to win, to make the playoffs, to get that 8th spot, doesn't mean I'm simply ok with that and nothing more. Of course not. I'm just as less accepting of a first-round loss as I am not making the playoffs. I want to win the Stanley Cup. Just like (I'm assuming) you do. Being fine with just making the playoffs and losing early is accepting mediocrity. But that's not the case here. Not with me. That's not the goal. Winning is the goal. Every night, every shift.
Sure, the best players in the NHL right now were generally picked very high in the draft. I know getting a top 3 or 4 pick greatly helps the chances of the Sabres going forward. But what does it guarantee? Nothing. In fact, the Sabres have had the top overall pick twice in franchise history. And they didn't miss on either of them. Both became 500 goal scorers. One, Gilbert Perreault (1970), is arguably the greatest player to ever wear a Sabres jersey. The other, Pierre Turgeon (1987), was parlayed into Pat LaFontaine after only four years in Buffalo, two 30-goal seasons and a 40-goal season.
Pierre Turgeon; #1 overall draft pick in 1987
The franchise has also had the #5 overall pick five separate times. Rick Martin ('71), Jim Schoenfeld ('72), and Tom Barrasso ('83) were among them. That's three of the better players to ever play in Buffalo. Thomas Vanek was another one of those #5 overall selections. So, it's not like they whiffed on those picks (except for 1986 when they chose Shawn Anderson fifth overall). Yet, despite those high picks, despite the talented players they drafted with them, it's been (almost) 42 seasons of NHL hockey in Buffalo and still, no Stanley Cups.
Tom Barrasso won the Calder and
Vezina Trophies his rookie year with Sabres
Picking 1st overall, even multiple times over a short period, doesn't guarantee you the Stanley Cup or even anything close to it (see: Edmonton Oilers the last three seasons). But not making the playoffs does guarantee you something: another year of No Stanley Cup In Buffalo.
If one of the Sabres' ping pong balls bounces the right way this NHL lottery and they grab the #1 overall selection, I'll be thrilled with that. They'll get a great player. But before that ever happens, I certainly won't apologize for not wanting them to even be in that loser race. Because that's exactly what it is.
Because as Joe DiCarlo correctly wrote down about me in fifth grade, I "CAN'T STAND TO LOSE!"
Oh, and by the way, Mr. D., that ball never hit me and - 29 years later - I'm still upset about it.
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