In keeping with this week's theme of 9-11, it occurs to me that, despite the obviously horrible loss of life and fracture of family and community, I am still not ready for the media-coaxed sentimentality and self-doubt that have accompanied the aftermath of this attack for more than a year now. And just as it wasn't particularly popular a year ago to have the strong opinion that we should not cancel our sporting events in this country because of any act of terror perpetrated against us by cowards, it is still my opinion that the games--and all other aspects of American life--should always go on, hell or high water.
It is my opinion that we, as 21st century Americans, must, above all else, get on with our lives no differently from the way in which we lived before the attack. I believed a year ago that such an approach would be crucial to our survival as a nation, and I still believe it. The following are thoughts that came to my mind on 9-12-2001.
A long time ago, when I was a boy, my great aunt turned advocate for me when my mother told her that there was no way she was going to buy me a motorcycle. I'd kill myself, she said. Now Aunt Maude didn't attain the ripe old age of 98 by taking foolish risks, but she responded to my mother with what since has become, for me, a life long motto: "Get it for him," she advised. "It's better to die living than live dead.""
Freedom is a hard thing to come by. And an even harder thing to maintain. Yet, without it, life is bland and colorless at best, oppressive and joyless at its worst. Perhaps the most perplexing quirk in all of human experience is the paradoxical nature of making freedom the highest good. When people do that, the world usually turns against them. The status quo no longer protects them, and they become, to some extent, outsiders. The suffering begins when the will to live free takes over. Yet to take on the awesome responsibility of living the free life is the ultimate act of maturity and the ultimate condition of human dignity.
Our founding fathers discovered this horrible paradox first hand when they signed the Declaration of Independence. Many lost everything, including their very lives to the cause. Some lost family. All lost forever their economic security. And for what? For a parcel of unexplored territory, overspread with wilderness and wild Indians? For unknown disease and unforeseen difficulties? Why did they do this?
Why did, almost a hundred years later, American slaves fight to escape slavery while staring the uncertainty of liberty squarely in the face? Some textbooks have told us that it was to escape physical abuse, but I don't buy that. While there certainly would have been some exceptions, there was generally a degree of security under the room and board of the plantation that was nowhere to be seen outside of it. So why the longing for freedom, itself a vision fraught with uncertain survival and fear of a future with no guarantees?
Why did Winston Churchill say no to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policies toward Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany? Why did our soldiers sail headlong, almost insanely, into the machine gun fire at Normandy Beach? When Whitaker Chambers destroyed his own career as a Soviet spy by breaking with the Communist Party and declared that he and his family would then be, for the rest of their lives, "on the losing side," what did he mean by that?
Why would anybody trade, as rock group Pink Floyd suggested, "a walk-on part in a war for a leading role in a cage?"
The answer to all these questions is the same one my great aunt gave to my mother some 30 years ago. It lies at the core of the human heart and spirit. For mankind, there is no greater good, no more cherished capability than to able to do as he pleases. In the case of Whitaker Chambers, which is really the cage and which is the war? Life without freedom is no life at all. Life without freedom from tyranny is the materialist's prison camp for the human soul. Even if, in the end, that condition of freedom may cost not less than everything (to which the countless tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery attest). But that's OK. It's better to die living than live dead. It's the American way, and it always has been.
Let the games continue:
Oh rancid beginning to so short a career as head coach of the University of Florida Gators. Whew. They said there was a hurricane moving up from the peninsula, but they didn't say it was Camille. Tropical Depression my eye. By the time the Hurricanes left The Swamp last Saturday, even the biggest Gators were belly up in the lily pads. Nothing but carnage remained for the once-proud Florida faithful who had dared to entertain a notion of home-field advantage against college football's reigning National Champions.
This week Gator Head Man Ron Zook is pressed to prove his competence against the visiting Bobcats of the MAC. No problem. Ohio won only one game last fall and returns only three defensive starters. FLORIDA 64, Ohio U 20.
Another MAC Ohio team ventures south this Saturday for a tie-up with the LSU Tigers. The Bengals have not looked themselves so far this season, but certainly have the talent to turn it around at any time. The Redhawks, on the other hand, have already scalped ACC foe North Carolina and look to shock the SEC this weekend as well with a big win in Baton Rouge. But speed and experience on defense should easily compensate LSU for less than flashy play at quarterback. Expect the Bengal running game to grind the Redhawks into the Louisiana Land Fill that is Tiger Stadium. LSU 41, Miami, Ohio 17.
Eli and the rejuvenated Rebels look to be at least as good as advertised so far this season, but wins over Louisiana Monroe and Memphis may not be much of a barometer. Despite the Red Raiders' annihilation at the hands of Ohio State two weeks ago, this team has the QB (Kliff Kingsbury) and the offense to give the undermanned Rebel defense a run for its cotton. Tech usually plays very well in its first home game, so beware of the Red Raiders. If Ole Miss pulls this off, they could be a big-time contender in the SEC West. Texas Tech 31, OLE MISS 30.
Speaking of SEC surprises, how about those Kentucky Wildcats? 77 points. A win over Louisville. Two and zero. What's next, the SEC East? Probably not, but the 'Cats are good enough to beat Gerry DiNardo's 0-1 Hoosiers who no longer have the talents of Antwaan Randle-El and Levron Williams to keep them on the scoreboard. KENTUCKY 38, Indiana 24.
Last year the nightlife imploded in Starkville just about the time Troy State upset the Bulldogs on a rainy Homecoming day. The package stores shut down, McDonalds ran out of Big Macs and Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn fell off the wagon on the way home from the square dance. Everything that could go wrong that night did, just as it had earlier in the day at the game. This year, a real rock band has been hired for homecoming and Jacksonville State has replaced Troy State on the schedule of winnable games. MISSISSIPPI STATE 37, Jax State 16.
The Razors' runaway victory against Boise State last Saturday is easily explained by seven Bronco turnovers, four of which led directly to Arkansas touchdowns. Boise also lost starting quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie in Fayetteville, and by the time they got on the plane back to Idaho, all their dignity was gone as well.
Next up for Arkansas this Saturday is South Florida in Little Rock, where the Bulls hope to surprise the Pigs with 16 returning starters from last year's 8-3 team. This game is no laughing matter for Coach Nutt and his jailbirds who must all be hoping that there are no outstanding warrants for Razorback players in the state capital. ARKANSAS 27, South Florida 21.
The highly regarded Georgia Bulldogs disappointed friends and followers two weeks ago when they barely squeaked past rival Clemson 31-28 in their home opener in Athens. Conspicuously missing in that game was the Georgia running game whose hopes in 2002 are tenuously pinned on the fragile legs of junior TB Musa Smith.
South Carolina, for its part, was humiliated last Saturday night in Charlottesville, where the Virginia Cavs took advantage of a boatload of Gamecock turnovers for the easy late-game win. You were warned that Carolina lost the heart of its team to graduation last year, and it will take more Lou Holtz magic than there is in Columbia to knock off Georgia this Saturday night, though we've seen it before. Still: GEORGIA 27, SOUTH CAROLINA 20.
The Mean Green defense clamped down on the Texas Longhorn running game two weeks ago, limiting the Longhorns to 36 yards rushing. NT still lost the game, but holding your opponent to low rushing totals is something to shout home about, not only in Denton, Tex,, but in Tuscaloosa as well, as is evidenced by the Tide's moral victory over college football powerhouse Oklahoma.
Alabama's much talked about near miss against the Sooners has served as a week-long rear-view mirror for the Tide and may give the defending Sun Belt Conference Champions a chance for an upset. No, I don't think it will happen either, but I also don't think the Alabama offense is likely to entertain anyone other than backup QB Brodie Croyle, who doesn't seem to get bored with anything. But if Tyler, the starter, and Brodie, the backup, can't get it done, maybe punter Lane Bearden will again get Bama into the end zone, this time for the win. ALABAMA 17, North Texas 16.
Auburn and Vandy kick off intra-conference action Saturday morning at Jordan Hare Stadium with both teams coming off similar beatings of Southern Conference foes the week before. Redshirt freshman QB Jay Cutler led the assault for VU, passing and running impressively in the Dores' new multiple offense. Expect to see plenty of passes spiced with some option. This game plan will be a good test for AU's defensive ends. As usual, Commodore WR Dan Stricker will be a good test for AU's confident secondary, whether he actually catches the ball or not.
At this point, no one really knows what kind of team Auburn will have this season, but Vanderbilt has already exceeded expectations by scoring 48 points against somebody, anybody. Furman will do just fine. Rumor has it that some of the Commodore offensive linemen stole into the shower and shaved after the game last Saturday. Whoa. Manhood. Cool. AUBURN 48, VANDERBILT 19.