In high school, Austin Kleber had to come up with a six-word phrase for an English assignment, so he decided to make a bold prediction about his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs:
Fast forward to November 2. Kleber' proclamation came true as the Cubs beat Cleveland in Game 7 and secured their first World Series title in 108 years. Kleber, now a journalism major at University of Maryland, watched with other Cubs fans at a bar in Washington, which erupted after the final out.
— Austin Kleber (@austinkleber25) November 3, 2016
"The celebration right after it happened was pretty much a combination of relief, pure exhilaration and just excitement too," Kleber said. "I don't even think I've still processed it. I don't know, I just haven't come to grips with the fact they just won a World Series."
Along with the joy, Kleber and other Cubs fans are coping with an identity crisis. Now that their team of "lovable losers" has actually won the World Series, how do they shift from a mindset that was so deeply based in heartache for more than a century and adopt a healthy expectation of winning? A Yahoo/YouGov survey taken before the end of the World Series found that "1 in 4 diehard Cubs fans say that … they will actually miss rooting for a team that's identity is rooted in losing."
But the team was built to win now -- and for many years.
"Just as Cubs fans are united in misery, there is also an endless sense of hope," Adam Beissel, a Maryland professor specializing in critical and theoretical study of sport and physical culture, wrote in an email. "This is perhaps best epitomized in [the Cubs'] famous slogan, 'wait 'til next year', which breeds optimism into every fan of the Cubs.
"It is hope that has been central to the Cubs civic identity since their last title 108 years ago, and this sensibility figures to grow stronger due to the recent championship and potential for sustained success."
But there is a fine line between being hopeful and overbearing, as Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Rosenberg articulated:
"Now your team is a budding dynasty, which is also very cool. But it comes with some risk. See, sometimes when a team wins a lot, its fans become insufferable and arrogant; we are not thinking of any specific fan bases, except the ones in St. Louis and Boston. We would hate to see this happen to you. You have been so much fun over the years. Please don't make us screen your calls."
Largely because the Cubs hadn't won the World Series since 1908, most fans across the country were rooting for them against the Indians. Cleveland, after all, hasn't suffered nearly as long, with its most recent World Series title coming in 1948.
"I think the bandwagon numbers will decrease in the coming years because the No. 1 draw for them was obviously losing for that many years in a row," said Connor Mount, another diehard Cubs fan and University of Maryland journalism major. "I think some people will still be drawn to the Cubs because of that history, but I don't think as many would want to instantly jump back onto that bandwagon just because they won, they got what they wanted."
Mount cited the San Francisco Giants, who hadn't won the World Series since 1954 until breaking through in 2010 and winning again in 2012 and 2014.
"You don't see people bandwagoning for a third or fourth Giants title in the last seven years," he said.
But what about the diehards? Will their camaraderie, which was developed from the same misery of losing, eventually fade?
It's inevitable that many fans, journalists and sports culture experts will compare the 2016 Cubs with the 2004 Boston Red Sox in the hopes of getting some answers. After all, the Red Sox broke their own 86-year championship drought with a prolific postseason run in 2004 that shifted the culture of the organization from being cursed to having an expectation of winning.
"The Red Sox went from 'lovable losers' to a team that was EXPECTED to compete and win other championships," Dr. Stephen McDaniel, a Maryland kinesiology professor who specializes in marketing and media phenomena of sport, wrote in an email. "When you are a perennial loser, you have the 'hope' of next year. Once you are a champion, it changes to we better win it again next year."
Of course, the Red Sox have delivered on those expectations with titles in 2007 and 2013, and the Cubs' potential to dominate MLB in the next several seasons is intriguing. With a core of young players -- led by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Addison Russell -- the Cubs offer legitimate reason from fans to embrace optimism, understandably cautious at the outset, as the organization's new identity.