On the other side of the state, my mobile phone produced the bell chime that sounds like an elevator reaching its destination. A friend had sent me a message that read, “Y'all might want to call in reinforcements, there's gonna be some property destroyed in the Boro tonight!”
I knew what it had to mean, but the reality was so improbable as to deserve the descriptions it would get in the coming hours: unprecedented, unbelievable, miraculous.
Twenty-six to 20, Eagles over Gators. David over Goliath. The “No Smoking” sign in heaven turned off just long enough for one victory cigar.
Words began flowing out of The Swamp, words strung together into news stories and columns and blogs from the singular vocabulary and distinctive rhythm of sports writers; words that, in any other context, would be trite and sentimental. And I read as many of them as I could find. After a while — because sportswriters are, first of all, good writers — it didn’t really matter that I had not watched or listened to the game myself.
But I kept reading. The Facebook posts and the comments on the Facebook posts and the comments on the comments on the Facebook posts — it was all so much, I don’t know, fun.
And then sometime around Tuesday afternoon, I think, I came across a blog post on the website Gator Country, which identifies itself as “the insider authority on Gator sports.” Written by Nick de la Torre, the post offered five things that stood out about the football game. Numbers 1 through 4 sounded familiar, simply recaps of all the other analyses I’d read. No. 5, though, caught my attention. No. 5 was “Georgia Southern’s joy after winning.”
De la Torre described how, after the clock expired, the team in blue and white stormed the field.
“A normal reaction,” he wrote, “for a team that just pulled off an upset. That wasn’t the picture that stood out. The team circled around their band — yes, Georgia Southern brought their band (something even Vanderbilt didn’t do) — and they sang their alma mater.”
They brought the band. A team that most of the world expected to lose; a team that was out-manned and out-moneyed; a team that would be disappointed but not devastated to get on a bus and ride home having done its best but having lost — that team brought its band. They brought the trumpets that heralded them as heroes and the drums that beat out the cadence of history. They brought music, that strange mixture of sounds that musters and rallies and holds together all manner of disparate souls. They brought the band because, while winning was what they came to do, it wasn’t the only reason to be there.
That’s where I stopped reading. That’s when it stopped being about just football and started being about life; about having dreams and pursuing them to the end; about making commitments and never walking away; about always bringing the band, no matter what.
In 1910, after leaving the White House, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Sorbonne that contained what has become arguably his most famous words. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” he offered. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If Theodore Roosevelt had been a football coach, I think he would have taken the band, to every game, no matter how far away; no matter how long the odds. ‘Cause if you bring the band, there’s always a reason to sing.
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