Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win
There's never been a book that encapsulates the sport and its players and makes clear the beauty, the drama and the tragedy of the game. No Dickens, or Thoreau or Chandler has ever been able to step forward and codify its beauty.
What we have are things like, "Semi-Tough", or "North Dallas Forty" and "Meat On the Hoof". Decent enough stories in them but they come across, to me anyway, more like expose best seller types. There's no attempt to telling the bigger more global story.
If I was forced to pick the best I'd say that "Friday Night Lights" is the best book about the game, good enough to survive the turgid movie and the annoying TV show. Its more a journal of a season then a story. It attempts to give insights to the players and the drama but being non-fiction it has too much detail and back story to fill in. Often the characters get lost.
And "Remember the Titans" is probably the best movie, but its more a movie about racism and coping with it, using football as a metaphor. The storybook ending may have been accurate but it never takes the time, or maybe has the time, to examine the inner turmoil about the game itself. Things get simplistic. Why would these kids put themselves in this difficult position to merely play a game? One kid because he's fat, another to get that football scholarship etc etc.
There have been plenty of those cheesy "auto-biographies" of stud athletes. They usually start with a bullet list of twenty high points in the stars career and some sports writer who the star is comfortable with because he sees him for a couple of hours after every game gets a 6 hour interview to fill in the details.
I sucked those books up when I was a kid. I was always looking for the key to being a better athlete. They were sometimes interesting but never illuminating. The writers lacked the skill to broaden the message and the athlete's agent was more concerned about the book then the athlete himself. Normally the athlete doesn't want to look bad or offend anybody.
After Jim Bouton came out with the baseball book, "Ball Four" it looked like things might change. "Ball Four" was funny and a shocking expose of the biggest team in sports at the time, the New York Yankees. It was fun and had dirty words in it so as a kid I loved it. It came close to explaining the drive to compete, the desire to play a game.
Part of this is because most athletes aren't very articulate. The few that are described as articulate usually get the tag from adding "sir" to the end of their answers.
A lot of reasons for this. I was pretty startled to discover that I'd been trained to not voice words in my head but to see and react.
A simple example is when a teacher asks a question like, "What is two time three?" Most people would go "two times three equals six" and then actually voice the words.
When I hear the question I visualize the symbols and then blurt out the answer. There's no translation in my head. Of course I'm just as likely to blurt out five as i am six, which is part of the reason athletes get branded as dumb. Our life training forces us to analyze things in a different way.
The closest description I can give is like when you're driving home from work. You're thinking about the job, there's a favorite song on the car stereo and you suddenly discover that you're home with no clear memory of how you got there.
It happens to everyone but athletes, especially football players tend to live that way.
It starts on the field. The difference between a guy who runs a 4.4 forty and a 4.3 forty is huge in a straight line. If the guy running the 4.3 has to think about where to go next the extra speed is more than lost.
We're drilled to recognize a cover two defense with a blitzing linebacker coming off the edge. The entire team has to see the same thing, recognize it and know what to do. If you have to say to yourself, "Let's see, the SS is playing centerfield and the FS is faking a blitz without committing his front foot while the Willie back is crowding the End so the pass is off and it will be a run to the strong side at the B gap," the play is over and either busted or for a loss.
The recognition has to be spontaneous and symbolic and the execution as routine as your dive home from work.
I have a friend who was a four year starter at Penn State, a defensive end. He was a second day draft pick and decided that rabbiting the NFL training camps wasn't for him. He returned to school and got his Doctorate in Micro-Biology. When he got his degree he taught for a few months before a Fortune 50 company offered him a position doing pure research with his own private lab.
As one of his professor's explained to him, "Too many scientists learn things by rote. They learn the answers and where to find them when they forget them they learn where to re-find the answers. The best way tolerant is to assimilate the knowledge taught and to make it a part of your life, a pure part of your logical thinking process."
The Fortune 50 passed over a lot of candidates for their position and took my friend not because he was the most brilliant but because they hoped that the dedication and tenacity he had shown in playing football at that high a level would translate to the lab and research. He's worked there for nearly 20 years.
Its this ll important facet of the make up of an athlete that all writers seem to ignore to the point of me wondering if they know it even exists.
Now no film director I know of has ever played football. I find this odd because making a movie requires a lot of the same skill sets as playing football; especially for the director, cameraman and actors. With this rather significant similarity in thought processing I'd expect a more sympathetic approach to sports in movies.
John Hancock made a brilliant short film called "Sticky My Fingers and Fleet My Feet". Its about a middle-aged guy ho is very proud of how much he keeps in shape. Every Sunday he goes to the park and plays a flag game with his buddies. He's the star of the team. Then one Sunday one of the guys brings along his 14 year old nephew. The nephew has to cover our "hero". He smokes him completely. Our hero has his worst game of the season.
After the game he accuses the nephew of being a ringer, a high school stud they bought in to humiliate him. The kid never even tried out for his school team. He knew he wasn't good enough.
It was stunningly good entertainment. Hancock got offered a lot of movies, all of them sports related. Problem was that what came across as a paean to dreams was actually, in Hancock's mind a derisive comment on athletes and wannabe athletes. He had a strong antipathy for anything athletic.
This worked to his advantage in the lethargic and macabre "Bang the Drum Slowly", the Robert DiNero, Michael Moriarity film about a major league catcher dying of Hodgkins Disease and his friendship with the teams star pitcher.
But it was the next film that highlighted the attitude of Hancock in particular and movies in general towards sport.
Hancock's next film was the surfer flic "California Dreaming". It starred Dennis Christopher, hot off the surprise hit movie about bike racing, "Breaking Away" and stalwart Seymour Cassell.
The film was a dismal failure. Hancock hated surfing and surfers. A few guys who extra-ed and did surf stunt work on the movie were appalled at the contempt in which Hancock held them. The film failed on every level because the contempt shown through. It was impossible to care for any of the characters. They all came across as arrogant and dislikable. It was a sad movie that undercut its strong script with bad choices.
In fact it started to typify the "sports" movie in that the only way to succeed in one was to ignore the sports and the athletes and focus on the story away from the field. Sports became only a catalyst or as a source of conflict.
Its given us horror films like Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" and tons of teen romance flics. All varying in ambition and all missing the point of playing the game, of understanding the character's motivations and drives.
Its said that a masterpiece is identifiable because it finds its perfect form. Since books and films escape football perhaps it is the game itself that is the ultimate form for the game.
there is more drama in even a bad football game then most movies could encompass. A cast of fifty each one who is pivotal in the final outcome and resolution. Fifty stories focused on concentration that shuts out everything but the task at hand. Fifty stories about what breaks that concentration and leads to disarray. Unfortunately TV sportscasters seldom get involved in anything that deep. They bring up the easy stories like Brett Favre playing the game of his life on the evening of his father's death. But they provide no empathetic set-up, no basis to understand and to make Favre's plight and tragedy and triumph a tangible thing. Its left to the players on the field to convey those vivid emotions while enacting a play they've been practicing for years. Convey it with ballet like grace and the steady tempo of a driving rock tune.
There's more to think about here, at least for me. I'm just struggling too much to make it clearer.
Its been six months since my little blind dog passed away. Eighteen years since my wife and son were in their accident. Ten years since my best friend Tom died. I miss them and so many others every day.
I keep meeting new people. I'm lucky enough to have loved so many people and so many dogs. I'm lucky that somehow I have the capacity to love my friend and my three dogs as much as I've ever loved anyone. All the people, past and present are a part of me. A part I never want to see go.
Looking back through this journal I'm irked that there are a lot of things I've omitted about my daily life. I follow George Orwell's journal. Some guys are presenting it as a blog. Interesting stuff. I like that Orwell was obsessed with his chickens. He records their egg output every day. Some entries only read, "Two eggs."
I need to to something like that. When I look back I can feel what I was feeling then but not always the why for the feelings. I get more of that from the pictures then from the words. Like I say the words are just here to make pretty frames for the pictures.
Tomorrow begins Christmas Music season. I'm going through and picking them out now.