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Just do whatever you have to do to not be miserable

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Root for whatever you want, pals. Just don’t make other people feel like crap about it, because this season has already done that to us.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers won against their big in-state rivals last night, tying up the Penguins early in the third before winning 2-1 in a shootout against Pittsburgh for what was the first time in franchise history. (In case you forgot, the shootout has been in the NHL for 16 seasons now.) In normal times, knowing that the Flyers had picked up a big win over maybe their most hated rivals in the closing stretch of the NHL season, this happening would probably generate a lot of excitement from the fanbase.

Of course, this season is not normal times. This season has been a season from hell, so much so that “how much are we really supposed to enjoy a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins?” is a question that people are legitimately and not-unjustifiably asking.

Let’s state what at this point is fairly obvious: the 2020-21 Flyers are dead in the water. It would take something pretty close to winning out for them to lock up a playoff spot, and that’s an unreasonable expectation for any team with 13 games left on their schedule, laughably so for a team that’s looked like the Flyers have since March began. This season is going to end without a trip to the playoffs for the fifth time in the Flyers’ last nine seasons, without a playoff series win for the eighth time in nine seasons, without a trip to the Conference Finals or the Stanley Cup Final for the eleventh consecutive year, and without a Stanley Cup for the 46th consecutive year.

That sucks, man. It just sucks, and it sucks even more that we get reminded of it every time these guys take the ice no matter what the circumstance or the outcome is.

While there’s no need to name names or call out specific people and comments, I saw a not-insignificant amount of discontent following this win in the various corners of the Internet that I find myself paying attention to as an observer of this team. Twitter, Facebook, even our comment section — there were folks who weren’t happy.

To some, that unhappiness was for the same short-term reasons that a lot of fans face right now; there’s nothing to really be gained in the standings by winning, so they may as well root for the Flyers to lose and get a bump up in their draft position and/or a few more ping-pong balls for that draft lottery. In other pockets, the unhappiness basically stems from their discontent with this team (for the failures described two paragraphs above, and the factors that contribute to those failures), and to the people in that group, every loss serves as a further rebuke of the crumbling facade of the Flyers and makes it more likely that massive, systemic changes may come this offseason, while every win makes it just a touch more likely that the team convinces itself that maybe things are going to be fine.

And you know what? Honestly?

I get it.

To be clear: whatever misgivings I have about the franchise right now, I am not there. When Kris Letang’s final shootout attempt landed in Carter Hart’s glove last night, I did enough fist-pumps in my living room that my wife gave me a look and told me I was weird. It would take some utterly extraordinary circumstances for me to not be able to enjoy a Flyers win over the Penguins like that. It really would.

But the people who couldn’t enjoy it? I feel really sorry for them. And not, in the slightest, in an “I pity them” kind of way, but in a “I really hate that this team and this wretched season have got any of us to a point where we can’t enjoy a win over the god damn Pittsburgh Penguins” kind of way.

In the time I’ve spent on this site and on social media talking about this team while representing BSH, I’ve got a chance to know and talk to so many different people about this team. Smart people, funny people, people I maybe wouldn’t be friends with otherwise but have got along with because we both root for a bunch of guys who wear orange while chasing rubber around on skates. And a decent number of those people I’ve got to know are absolutely furious with the state of the team right now. Livid. Would trade anyone for spare parts and fire everyone tomorrow if they could. Have been rooting for the team to lose for a solid month or so now. And I disagree with them about a fair amount of that.

Guess what? Those people love this team. Well, maybe not this particular version of this team, but I can tell you with certainty that the people who are mad as hell right now were as into this group during the run in January and February and March of last year as those of us who are still rooting for wins are, and they felt the ups and downs of the playoff bubble as hard as everyone else. To be at a point now where you can’t enjoy a win like that? That’s supposed to be a basic, fundamental joy of being a fan of this team — of any sports team, honestly — and if this season has taken this from you, I’m sorry.

Now, of course, the opposite applies just as much here, too. If your reaction to people enjoying an overtime win over the Penguins is to get mad and call them stupid or brainwashed or complacent ... then I need you to take a deep breath and realize you’re asking people to basically forget the basic joy of sports fandom: watching your favorite team beat a team you hate.

And then, with that acknowledged, let’s all remember something: we all got into sports fandom because, in theory, it seemed fun. And as we got more invested we stuck with it despite inevitably realizing that it was a bit of a sucker’s bet because every year one team and fanbase gets to have a fun ending to its season and about 30 more have a sad one. So sometimes we have to find ways to enjoy sports that go beyond “are we winning a championship this year?”, which, uh, these Flyers are not.

And since we can’t exactly turn that fan portion of our brain off — Christ, don’t you think we would have already done that if we could? — we have to latch on to whatever helps us keep that enjoyment going. And when a particular season has drained any semblance of actual enjoyment, you just ... you root for whatever’s going to make you feel good.

Or, to rephrase: you root for whatever’s going to make you feel least shitty.

If that’s a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in a lost year because you enjoy watching your favorite team win games, nice. If it’s a loss that gets you draft position and a couple more ping-pong balls and maybe adds a teeny tiny bit to the team’s long-term championship equity because at the end of the day that’s still what matters most? I get that. If it’s an embarrassing blowout that makes the team and coaches and front office look bad and makes it more likely that any of them will lose their jobs because you’re just so fucking sick of seeing them? Power to you.

At the risk of sounding dramatic here (let’s keep the perspective that we’re talking about watching a game here), we’re all just trying to survive this season, because, again, most of us can’t look away or detach because our brains are all poisoned with sports fandom, more specifically Flyers fandom. And while we are all going to survive it — just 13 more games!!! — we are not all going to feel the same way as everyone else does. We are not all going to feel the same emotions as other people.

And that’s fine. It’s totally fine. As long as you’re not being a flagrant dick to people, or talking to them with abusive or bigoted language (which you should not be doing at all! Ever! Let alone in response to a sports outcome!), really, who cares what other people think?

We are in this to be happy. And when the circumstances make it impossible to be happy, we pivot to being in this to not be sad. In a lost season on the heels of a mostly-frustrating past decade, that’s going to manifest itself in many different ways for different people. Do whatever you have to do, and if you’re happy or sad or mad and you see other people who aren’t as happy or sad or mad as you are, maybe just ... let them be that, because it’s what they need to do to get through this miserable season. Don’t make other people feel like shit for their response to a sporting event, because the Flyers have already made us do that enough this season.

We’ve got 13 more games before we can spend the entire long offseason talking about what the right path forward is. As long as you’re cool to your fellow fans about it, do whatever you have to to get there.