Friends came over for the Alabama vs. Virginia Tech game. Two of the men dressed the part, one wore crimson britches that featured miniature A’s that looked like fireflies. I wore a white suit with a Crimson Tide golf shirt.
My heart wasn’t really in it until the team entered the field, a river of crimson, and I felt the old excitement begin to rise.
It was a disappointing game. The newly minted line did not dominate the Virginians, blowing holes for T.J. Yeldon to run for 100-plus yards. So the 35-10 victory left us all pretty flat.
Which raises again the eternal question: Why do we care so much about a mere game played by boys?
Last year in an electronic and paperback book, I answered on behalf of fans, a tribe to which I belong. I wrote:
“All the expected sound and fury is to be taken seriously, because college football is not just a sport. It is America’s cultural dynamo, the only one of our organized sports that taps into the martial spirit and evokes the fervor of religious faith. Further, college football has been a fulcrum of social change in the U.S.; its schemes date back to Hannibal; and some of its themes are drawn from military history and Shakespeare’s tragedies.”
It is commonplace among the fraternity of scribes to write that in (any Southeastern state) football grips the soul with the tenacity of a religion. But you’ll get looks of doubtful curiosity when asserting that Hannibal invented the trap play.
Students of military history know that the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, invented plays such as the “draw” or “trap.” It was at the town of Cannae, 216 B.C., that the classic football sucker-play was invented.
Sixteen Roman legions attacked the Carthaginian. Hannibal stood with his men in the weak center and held them to a controlled retreat. Knowing the superiority of the Roman infantry, Hannibal had instructed his own infantry to withdraw.
The Roman infantry drove deeper and deeper into the Carthaginian semicircle, forcing itself into an alley. At this decisive point, Hannibal ordered his African infantry waiting on the wings to turn inwards and advance against the Roman flanks, encircling the Roman infantry. The superior Roman force was slaughtered.
A few hundred years later, Julius Caesar showed that overconfidence has consequences. When returning from victories in Gaul, he violated the tradition of commanders decommissioning their armies and, instead, crossed the Rubicon with his army intact — thus becoming a military dictator.
It is doubtful that Nick Saban is a scholar of Roman history, but his constant warning of the evils of overconfidence indicates he is aware of Caesar’s fate — a fatal blow struck by a close friend, Brutus, and civil war.
Who should be chosen for the role of Caesar — further evidence of the kinship between war and football — at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival but Eddie George, former star halfback of the Tennessee Titans?
Most coaches in the Southeastern Conference would discount the value of the locker room speech as a key motivator of victory on the field, but there are classic examples from recent and ancient history that were highly effective.
Knute Rockne evoked the spirit of a dying Notre Dame All-American, George Gipper (“win one for the Gipper”) to a come-from-behind victory over Army.
The classic locker room speech of all time inspired the British victory over France at Agincourt in 1415. Henry V addressed his men before Agincourt: “We few, we happy few / We band of brothers / For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother / And gentlemen in England, now a-bed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here / And hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks / That fought with us.”
I could use a locker room speech or, preferably, a smashing victory over Texas A&M to reignite the flame of my passion for the Tide.
Want more football? Read War By Other Means, in Longfleaf Magazine.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.