What if …
Source: TET image library
Hello again, it’s your laziest member of the TET staff, popping up once again to share a thought related to my own subjective experiences as opposed to the expert analysis by our crack team of football and sports mavens (in which all you knowledgeable readers are probably more interested). Nonetheless, this thought has been brewing in my heart and brain for a while now, and although I wonder if I will be thrown out of the fold of the Tiger faithful by sharing this thought, share it I must.
On the cusp of another mythical national championship game (I give it no legitimacy just because there was something termed a “playoff” involved), it appears that we very well may have to put up with our mathematically-challenged cross-state rivals lording over us for another year while claiming twenty or thirty more national championships than us.
One thing is for sure, even counting correctly, the team in Crimson does have more championships, whether national, conference, bowl or Iron Bowl, than the men in Orange and Blue. They seem to have a “process” that works for them to produce wins. They seem to embody excellence on the field, on a consistent basis, more than we generally do.
Perhaps their past success simply breeds more success, and like a genetic code that is passed down through the ages, those folks in T-Town simply keep surviving as the fittest. Sure, there might be a few genetic mutations and birth defects (Dubose, Franchione, Shula) and even some outright miscarriages (Price), but a brand like Bama never seems to stay under for long. Just wave those crystal footballs and what not in the faces of the strongest recruits, and your success keeps sustaining itself.
Now, none of this is said to run the Auburn program down. It just leads to my main premise: What if we, Auburn, are not the best football team in this state? What if we, through what has been built up in the past, are always going to show cumulatively less outward success than a certain team to the west of us?
Here is something that might be shocking to many of you: Other than the fact that the obnoxiousness on the other side is fueled by this state of affairs, I am perfectly all right with it. This may seem surprising, as the only time I ever blew my stack against a Bama troll was when he called me a “little brother.” However, allow me to explain.
As I noted in an old, old post here, college football to me used to exemplify best the axiom of “our best beat your best, making us THE best.” Until a few decades ago, when it seemed that student-athletes started playing more for us than with us, I felt a stronger spirit of actual representation by these young men. In fact, a friend of mine described players as being recruited not just to the Auburn football team, but also to the Auburn “way of life” which was held to make the program what it was.
Some would say that college sports was never that way and was always a myth: a psychological self-deception that keeps people interested in an illusion that can make their lives seem better as they bask in the reflected glory of the success of others, while being careful to cast off the reflected failure of those same objects of interest. Certainly, most of those on “the dark side” who never had any kind of legitimate connection with UA (whether as alumni or even earnestly “growing up Bama”) probably have deceived themselves thusly for years and years.
Nonetheless, I honestly believe that college sports was powered on an actual truth of representation—that the men in the navy blue jerseys were part of the same “way of life” that was and is Auburn, best defined by the Auburn Creed. And that their successes, to the extent they lived up to that “way of life,” were our successes, too, to the extent we also lived up to it.
In my opinion college football has fundamentally changed into something characterized by every other spectator sport. It has become just another industry—just another endeavor undertaken by those who specialize in it. And we who follow it have become mere consumers of a product produced by others. Within this context, I can show why I am not as desperate to get ahead of Bama as I once was.
I came across the opinion that Bear Bryant was the first head coach who fully realized the concept of the NCAA football factory, and from the historical record, it appears that may be the case. Furthermore, I do not think that we can deny that the latest coach at that institution of higher football has put together a continuing winner with his “process.”
If we accept the premise that modern college football is just a factory, then whatever we can do to get ahead of the other side would just be another cog in a machine that runs on and on without any input from us, other than our cash for tickets or merchandise. And that “process” can presumably be duplicated like any mass-produced item, regardless of the “way of life” of a particular institution.
Add that perspective to the sense of betrayal most of us felt from Mike Dyer, Duke Williams, Nick Marshall’s pre-2014 difficulties, the armed-robbery case, and the en masse give-up in 2012, and you can see why I think that I might not be the only person who believes that college football has left true college football fans behind.
This feeling isn’t due to our recent lack of success on the field, so don’t think I am merely “casting off reflected failure” here. I get this way as I see how discussions are framed at AU and across college sports:
* the pro-Petrino faction during the last (and probably next) AU coaching search;
* the characterization of Mark Richt as “a nice guy who can’t win;”
* the booster politics everywhere but especially on the Plains;
* recruiting becoming more about convincing players than finding and evaluating them; and finally
* the apparent success of the “process” on the other side of the state.
None of this is to say that there is no inherent value anymore in college sports. Excellence in athletic competition certainly is a legitimate form of entertainment, and the analysis and prognostication thereon is certainly fun. Nor am I saying I don’t care about Auburn or Auburn football any more. But I have really lost the feeling that the Tigers represent either me or that which makes me a part of the Auburn family.
Again, there are those who would say that they never represented me or Auburn values, and that fandom in general was, is, and always will be a sham. That may be the case now, but I know that it wasn’t at some point in the past. And who knows—I might be wrong, and this thing we love may remain not a sham even today.
In short, I am still proud to be Auburn, and still feel proud every time those fellows in the dark blue shirts go out and give everything they have to give. And I’ll feel this way no matter what the outcome of the game tonight may be. But I really don’t think our pride can be measured anymore versus those other fellows, and any attempt to increase our success vis-à-vis Bama really won’t mean what it used to mean (although it would still feel really good to beat those guys up and down again).
(who felt the same way about “Star Wars” after seeing the prequels, but BEFORE seeing the new one!)