SEC FOOTBALL: The Other Reader Of Sun Tzu

If you're a truly devoted fan of national college football who manages to survey the landscape beyond Gainesville and the SEC, you might know that Georgia will face a stiff test at the hands of Boise State in the 2005 season opener. At the very least, the game --- to borrow the words of Lee Corso --- will be "closer than the experts think."

Why does this figure to be the case? If you don't know about Boise State and its coach, Dan Hawkins, you need to know a few things that, being Florida Gator fans, might make you go "hmmmmmm."

First of all, Boise State's colors? Orange and Blue. Just a trivial, coincidental element, but it's part of a puzzle that's being assembled.

Secondly, what has been Georgia's traditional stumbling block against Florida over the past 15 years? Mental toughness. The Gators have the swagger and serene confidence; the Dogs, except in 1997 and last season, usually buckled whenever the going got tough; and if they didn't buckle, they still flinched just long enough to fail on one game-defining play that either turned the tide or sealed Georgia's unlucky fate. As a classic example, think Terrence Edwards' drop in the 2002 affair. Georgia usually does things like that against the Gators. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it.

That detail? Georgia's mental weakness --- is what makes the following link between Boise State today and Florida over the past 15 years so fascinating: the current coach of the WAC Daddies and a certain former coach in Gainesville now relocated to Columbia, South Carolina; you might remember him? Both read up on the ancient Chinese philosopher-warrior, Sun Tzu. And while Steve Spurrier would read up on this sagely figure for some choice quotes and personal reaffirmation and motivation, Hawkins, a practicing student of Zen Buddhism, uses Sun Tzu to teach a holistic and integrated way of being and living to his entire Bronco team. In the big-dog world of the SEC, Sun Tzu was used by Spurrier to acquire a personal swagger that could then flow to his team. But with Hawkins, out in the peaceful, blue-smurfturf environs of Boise, Chinese philosophers like Sun Tzu point the way to a centered lifestyle that extends into all facets of being. It's not so much about swagger as it is about mental awareness and connection with self, those mystical principles that lead spiritual adherents of Buddhism to the mind-body fusion that creates optimum performance in major Division I college football or anything else under the Sun (Tzu).

Can you put the pieces together, folks? I can certainly envision this scenario happening: D.J. Shockley, who last time I checked does not have the leadership credentials of David Greene, starts off sluggish against Boise State in Athens. The natives grow restless. Boise State, calm, serene, tuned into their minds and bodies, plays a patient style of ball and doesn't get ruffled. As the game stays close late into the third quarter, the natives grow restless Between the Hedges. Shockley feels the heat, while Boise State under the guidance of Hawkins, an eternally calm and innately centered coach feels the total absence of pressure. In trying to press the issue, Shockley and the rest of the Dogs try to impose what will be their greatest advantage: raw physical and athletic superiority. However, that desperation could lead to one reckless play, one senseless pass, that a smart, patient Boise State linebacker (as did happen in the Broncos' near upset of Louisville in last year's Liberty Bowl, a game that proved Boise belonged on the big stage in this sport; Bobby Petrino's Cards were no joke) turns into a pick-six that carries the Broncos to victory.

An Orange and Blue team with a Sun Tzu-reading coach beating Georgia on the basis of mental toughness. You would have seen it before, only this time it would be Dan Hawkins and not Steve Spurrier doing the deed.

Will it happen? Quite frankly, Georgia should be able to sledgehammer Boise's front seven with the ground game. But if Boise can be noisy with its run-stuffing, the game then rests in D.J. Shockley's hands, and the advantage goes to the visitors from Idaho, complete with their Zen football ways.

Phil Jackson ain't the real Zenmaster in American sports. Dumping a longtime wife for the attractive owner's daughter replaces the "we" with the "me," which runs 180 degrees opposite from the very Zen mantra Jackson would so often spout forth in books and public speaking appearances. Instead, it's Hawkins, a family man content to remain in Boise year after year, while bigger programs offer the siren call of bigger bucks and stiffer competition, who truly lives out the harmonious and peaceful tenets of a spiritual practice that Jackson has hijacked for personal (bookselling) gain.

Just watch Dan Hawkins Buddhism … errr, football? … make Georgia sweat a lot. You know Hawkins and his players, calm as can be, won't be sweating at all.

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