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The Agony of Defeat

As a New England fan, I watched in horror as our team couldn’t keep the Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady defended during last night’s game, resulting in a fairly humiliating defeat in Super Bowl 42. Two touchdowns? Wow. Definitely cringe-worthy. The Patriots’ defense played very well, keeping pressure on the Giants and their quarterback, Eli Manning, throughout. But it just wasn’t enough without their powerhouse offense to back them up.

The New York Giants, on the other hand, played a superior game, always keeping the pressure up, and driving down the field when they needed to. Their players made some outstanding, Super Bowl plays. Their defense was relentless. In the end, they wanted it more and deserved the win.

Still, it brings us to an end of an amazing season for the New England Patriots. To go undefeated during the regular season (and some of those games were nail-biters too, so it wasn’t like it was easy) is something still to be proud of.

Which brings me to the question of the day… Why do I feel such a connection with my football team this morning, even after their loss? Do fans of sports teams identify with their teams more after an amazing win or traumatic loss?

Yes, according to Platow et. al. (1999), who examined the rate and amount of donations to charity workers before and after a game, who stood outside a stadium and identified as supporters of either team, or neither team:

In addition, charity workers identified with either team received a higher frequency of contributions from fans of both teams together after the game relative to before; this pattern was reversed among charity workers not identified with a team. This unexpected finding suggests an increased salience of a general sport-fan identification after the game relative to before.

Finally, fans of winning teams in particular contributed more to any charity worker after the game than before, but this pattern was reversed among fans of losing teams.

Watching a game with your team playing appears to bring you to more closely identify with that team — you feel their win or loss more acutely. If you didn’t watch the game, you probably would feel no closer to the team. The key appears to be in actually watching the game.

Naturally, when your team has won, we’d expect you to feel more generous, which is what the researchers also found.

So please forgive me for mourning the Patriots’ loss today — the research shows that I’m likely to feel a closer connection with my team. After 18 weeks of watching them go so far, it was disappointing to see them not be able to pull off one last win last night.


Platow, M. J. et. al. (1999). The Contribution of Sport Fan Social Identity to the Production of Prosocial Behavior. Group Dynamics, 3(2), 161-169.

The Agony of Defeat

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). The Agony of Defeat. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Feb 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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