Barry Saunders

Saunders: How do you help a Heels fan heal?

I’m sorry for your loss.

The condolences from my buddy Eric in Indiana would’ve meant a lot more if he hadn’t been laughing.

Villanova hadn’t even victoriously cut down the nets after Monday’s college basketball championship game before Eric called to exult in the misery of UNC basketball fans worldwide.


People deal with heart-rending loss in different ways. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross put forth the theory that there are five stages of dealing with grief. Sports fans are familiar with those five and probably some she didn’t think of.

The first stage, she wrote, is denial – a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept reality.

Right on, Kubler-Ross. Immediately after that danged shot went in, I turned off the television and have avoided sports broadcasts and sports pages.

Game? What game?

See, it’s working.

No, it isn’t. Besides, that way, as the Bard wrote in “King Lear,” lies madness. Act as though the game was never played or that the shot at the buzzer clanked off the rim and you are liable to find yourself having a dream that the teams are lining up for the overtime tipoff.

That, doctor, is when I knew I needed help.

I asked Dr. Eric Morse, an addiction and sports psychiatrist with Carolina Performance, if it is normal to be depressed after a loss in a big game.

“It is normal to be sad for a few days,” Dr. Morse said. “You should not be having crying spells, loss of appetite or sleep, or suicidal thoughts.”

What, then, I asked Charlotte-based sports psychiatrist Dr. Charlie Brown – yes, Dr. Charlie Brown – is the best way to deal with it: Should you try to immediately forget it ever occurred or just wallow in sadness for a while until you get tired of it and can toss it out like a too-small Members Only jacket or a fuchsia culotte?

Me? I’d think that the worst thing one can do is to start replaying the game or specific plays in your head: What if the ref hadn’t called that foul on Carolina? What if that shot had or had not gone in? What if the ref hadn’t called that foul on Carolina?

“To replay it and replay it and replay is not going to help you,” Brown said. He then cited a plot development in every teen horror movie ever made. “You know how they’ll hear a noise in the basement and then go down there to check it out? You know if they go there, it never ends well. That’s my advice: Even if you have the urge to revisit it, just don’t go there because it’s not going to end well.

“If you’re looking backwards,” he sagely said, “you’re liable to miss something going forward.”

Brown also said it’s sometimes easier for athletes to deal with a tough loss than it is for fans, because a loss can make the athletes think about what they need to do to get better. “No one’s ever asked me about fans,” he said, “but I tell athletes they need to name it, claim it and tame it. Part of claiming it is allowing yourself to grieve for a little bit.”

How long should pass before friends and family need to start worrying about a loved one who is still in a post-championship game funk?

“A few days, where it is not interrupting your thoughts, work, family,” Morse said. If you’re still acting sad after that period, he said, you should “seek help from a mental health professional like myself. ... The loss may upset you for fleeting moments for the rest of your life. That is still normal.”

Tell me about it, doc. I still sigh or go “UGH!” when the memory of St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood misplaying Detroit Tigers’ Jim Northrup’s fly ball in game 7 of the 1968 World Series infiltrates my thoughts. That was 48 years ago, and I have never, ever watched a replay of it.

So buckle up, buttercup, and rest assured that, regardless of how proud of yourself you are for dealing with Monday’s loss like an adult so far, some of you will still be – 48 years from now – riding on that rollercoaster of acceptance, then elation, and then – 4.7 seconds later – despair.

Gives you something to look forward to, eh?

In addition to denial, Kubler-Ross cited as the stages of dealing with grief: anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That’s a comprehensive list, no doubt, but it is still somehow incomplete. She didn’t mention drankin’ copious amounts of Jack Daniels or listening to renowned psychiatrist Dr. Bobby Blue Bland sing “You’ve Got To Hurt Before You Heal” 177 times in a row.

Don’t combine those two coping mechanisms, though. That way lies madness for real.

You never know how long the wound will take to heal.

It might take months, it could take years.

That’s just the way love works

You’ve got to hurt

before you heal.