The last goal is in. The World Cup is done. Now, reality: Happy roars have faded into lonesome blues and Monday hangovers for fans from America to Brazil to any other nation not named Germany.
Hardcore soccer fans are at a sudden loss –- not due to a lack of victory so much as an abrupt end to a global sports party, a happening that linked strangers on social media, forged friendships, kindled rivalries and stirred, for soccer newbies and old hands, a collective, short-term addiction.
In Ireland, fan David Sweeney said he has a “giant, football-shaped hole” in his life –- and he was rooting for Germany. In San Francisco, sports author Eric Simons got a text Monday from a World-Cup-hooked friend: “um ... now what?"
“It’s a huge, emotional cliff people are going to be dropping off,” said Susan K. Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts and an expert on the minds of those who live and die with their teams.
“What's so important about the psychology of fans is how it contributes to your sense of identity," Whitbourne said. “Although we sort of make fun of people for being extreme fans, it really does mean something to people and can be beneficial to your mental health to have that sense of connection.”
Unlike the “wait ‘til next year" mantra familiar to football or baseball lovers, soccer's fervent fans will have to wait four more years for the next World Cup.
The 2018 Cup is slated be held in Russia. For some, that might as well be an eternity:
In the soccer world, there are professional leagues to curb post-World Cup yearning. They help a bit, said Sweeney, based in Dublin, who writes for College Times, which offers student-authored views and content. He posted a piece Monday titled “10 Ways To Ease The Pain of the World Cup Finishing.”
“There's a void in my life now that it's over, not being able to watch the football that has effectively taken over my life for the last month,” Sweeney said in an email to NBC News. “I'm going to try and fill that void with as much other sports as I can, such as the Tour de France, the British Open Golf Championship and the GAA Championships, the national sport of Ireland.
“Plus the Premier (English pro soccer) League starts in a month so I just have to hold out until then!”
In truth, the empty space felt by soccer aficionados is fueled by a bit of brain chemistry –- specifically the pleasure hormone dopamine, said Simons, who studied the phenomenon while writing his book, “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans.”
“We become accustomed to receiving little dopamine rewards from the games. So every day during the World Cup, you wake up and there's the promise of a dopamine reward -- and then it stops, and there's no more reward, but your brain is still waiting on its daily excitement,” Simons said.
“You're not addicted to sports so long as your self-control still kicks in and tells you to turn off ESPN and pay attention to your life for a while. But it's similar to the way you can sit and refresh your inbox, waiting for new email, or … the way you can look forward to your morning coffee,” Simons said. “World Cup fans are all being forced right now to give up their coffee.”
For any fans feeling truly deprived without their daily cup of the Cup, psychologist Whitbourne suggests a sip of “perspective," even though all soccer fans do "have to recognize it is a loss and there is some grieving,” she said.
The World Cup also served as a retreat from the bad news that usually gets a similar level of international attention, Whitbourne said.
“Now," Whitbourne said, “if they could just settle the Middle East with soccer games, we’d be all set.”