No greater meaning?
Some could interpret that as a rather dark statement to make, regardless of context.
Others would say that there's always meaning to be found in a game, and that one simply has to look in the right places.
Narrowly, that's true. Coaches can look at what they could have done better. Players can do the same. Filtered through that lens, meaning can be derived from Saturday's game in Western New York State or any other location.
Is there a greater meaning, though, something profound or poignant, something impactful or immense, which jumps off the printed page and busts through the box score to illuminate the heart or mind?
That's the point.
We -- I'm referring to myself within the company of other sportswriters here -- are so conditioned to say, "This game proves X about Team Y" that no week seems to be meaning-free. Naturally, the fact that Army -- its defense steamrolling opponents -- abruptly lost its edge in the fourth quarter would lend itself to an epiphanic critique.
AHA! So THIS is that needs to be addressed in the Army locker room!
AHA! So THIS is where the team must focus in the weeks ahead.
Blowing a 20-6 fourth-quarter advantage is typically the kind of event which gives talk-show hosts a field day. Tut-tutting columnists pounce and turn the moment into a crisis point, or if not that, some grand symbolic representation of where the program stands.
You're not going to get any of that here.
Under normal circumstances, yes, one could apply a very specific (and greater) meaning to this game.
Army had a bye week coming up. It was about to go 4-0. Players let their feet off the gas and got complacent, driving home the point that this team isn't yet good enough to play 50-minute games and expect to get away with it.
Under NORMAL circumstances, that would be the main reaction to Saturday's loss against the Bulls of the Mid-American Conference.
However, these aren't normal circumstances. They haven't been. They won't be.
When a death in the family occurs, they can't be.
I'll be up front about this: No, I'm not going to reference Brandon Jackson after every remaining game this season. (That needed to be publicly disclosed, for your sake and mine.) The loss of Jackson offers a one-of-a-kind situation. It has inspired Army's coaches and players, but it is hardly something that should be viewed as "easy to deal with."
If anyone felt that Army's 66-14 win at UTEP the week before was "easy," it's important to offer the reminder that the first quarter did not proceed smoothly. Army needed to taste and experience the achievement of something good (a touchdown for a 10-0 lead) to reignite the full measure and scope of its passion for football. The team's response to Jackson's death -- viewed solely within the context of the gridiron on that day in El Paso -- was magnificent, but it was not easily forged, and it was not an automatic event. Anything but.
If we are to be generous and lavish (appropriately, I might add) in lauding this team for what it did against UTEP, we should be accordingly very generous and spacious in noting that a steady downward shift in fortunes in the fourth quarter, as soon as Buffalo (to its credit) found a way to turn the tide, should not be seen in football terms.
This wasn't about Army losing focus, folks. Under normal circumstances, it would be.
Under the circumstances caused by the death of Brandon Jackson, however, the fourth quarter in Buffalo comes across as nothing more than an emotionally spent team -- a band of brothers put through the emotional wringer by an enormous tragedy -- running out of fuel.
Now that the bye week is here -- thank goodness -- this team can spend some much-needed time on campus doing more grief work, more remembering, more (soulful) celebrating of Brandon Jackson. This isn't the conclusion of the grieving process, but degrees and measures of work left undone can be given more of the attention they need and deserve.
After the bye week and the return to action against Duke, the Jackson story won't cease to exist, but there won't be reason for me to keep bringing it up here.
This game in Buffalo was a one-of-a-kind circumstance, highly unlikely to be replicated (and the good Lord willing, I sure hope not) anytime soon.
There is no great takeaway, no grand lesson to be applied.
Now the team can regroup and gather itself for what lies ahead. Now Army can spend this off week doing things it needs to do -- off the field.
When Week 6 hits -- hopefully with starting kicker Mitchell Howard healthy (that's another part of this loss which is hard to derive a lesson from; bad luck simply bit Army in the backside there) -- a measure of normalcy can greet the season.
In Buffalo, it didn't.
This is a lesson-free loss, as inconvenient as that statement might be.null