"Whatever befalls you was preordained for you from eternity." – Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (161-180 AD)
WADHAMS, Mich. – The trifecta of evil is complete. The Wagnerian Ring Cycle of doom has reached its natural climax.
John Elway won not one, but two Super Bowls.
Art Modell and the Ravens stole the championship last year.
And now, Bill Belichick wears the crown all Clevelanders seek.
The foul triumvirate that tore away Cleveland's heart has been feted and glorified. Darkness reigns. The axis of fetid, amoral swine has lowered a filthy curtain of melancholy over the ruins of pro football's fallen landscape.
Our darkest hour is upon us.
Has all hope faded? Are we reduced to a lifetime of servitude amidst the engines of our destruction?
Therein lies the saving grace of the National Football League. The annual Arthurian Grail Quest for the Lombardi Trophy begins anew the moment the ultimate prize is held aloft on Super Bowl Sunday.
Now, in the moment when all seems lost and victory very far off, we must rally around the orange and brown flag.
Even in this time of miserable despondency the fair winds of change blow down from the north, bringing a renewed sense of optimism.
A new age is preparing to dawn. The National Football League is braced to enter uncharted territory. A fresh season will bring realignment, a new team and renewed anticipation that the final hurdle – the Super Bowl – will be surmounted 11 months from now.
For those plagued by doubt and uncertainty, who foresee nothing but impending carnage and another failed season, let us look to history for examples of miraculous feats in the face of certain doom and unimaginable odds. Since it's nearly Washington's Birthday, and all things Patriot are en vogue at the moment, what better paradigm to offer us hope than the Battle of Trenton?
For those of you who haven't thumbed a history book since the days of the AFL, let me take you back to a time when the fate of a fledgling nation was a dark as Al Davis' honor.
The year was 1776. The ink on the Declaration of Independence was barely five months old when Gen. George Washington's Continental Army found itself on the verge of disintegration. And the Revolution was the army. As long as the weary, dirty and unpaid Continentals slogged through the new nation's backwaters, the Spirit of '76 remained alive.
But, as Thomas Paine was to write that cold December, these were the times that tried men's souls. The bright, heady days of 1775 that had seen British troops flee under withering musket fire at Concord was long past. The Empire had flexed her might, driving the pitiful band of rag-tag soldiers from the field in battle after battle.
Another such setback, and the thing was done. To make matters worse, the enlistments for hundreds of Washington's troops were to expire before the end of the year. The end was certainly at hand.
Washington, whom history has elevated to a place not far from Jesus, had proved he was a miserable general on the battlefield, but he could retreat better than anyone. And skilful retreat was a vital skill because it meant the survival of the Continental Army.
Washington masterfully extricated his troops from Long Island in July 1776 after a particularly harsh defeat that cost the nation the city of New York. The retreat – over the East River under the cover of darkness – was a stroke of luck and military genius. It bought the Revolution another chance.
By December, Washington, driven into the freezing wilds of Pennsylvania, knew he must act. The troops were sick, filthy, unpaid, unhappy and freezing. A lesser man would have given up all as lost. Instead, Washington developed a plan that could only be described as madness: Attack.
There was no way it could work. His army was exhausted and weak. But the British and their German mercenary allies knew that – and relaxed. A fatal mistake of Billick-like proportions.
Washington gathered the effective remains of his army, not many more than a couple thousand men, and moved them across the icy Delaware River into New Jersey. His troops were dispersed into several columns – another military no-no – with orders to converge on the Hessian garrison at Trenton. Those troops were expected to be off guard and slumbering after a night of heavy Christmas revelry. They weren't, but they weren't on guard, either.
Today, the Battle of Trenton is thought of as one of the most important engagements in history. Washington's plan, which had no business working, did. The columns arrived on time, and the Germans were taken by surprise. More than 900 Hessians were captured, killed or wounded.
American casualties were less than a dozen.
More importantly, the Revolution was given newfound spirit and impetus. Men reenlisted. Morale rose. Even better, Washington was able to inflict a bloody nose on British troops a week later at Princeton. Two victories in as many weeks showed the world that the American Revolution was something more than a colonial insurrection.
A desperate gamble in the face of impending disaster. The over-confidence one's enemy. Farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, thieves and brigands together as soldiers … common men performing uncommon deeds not for glory, but for the man next to him … and because all options were exhausted save but two: victory, or death.
That's the mix that breeds the stuff of legend.
Now, let us return to the present. What does all that mean for the Cleveland Browns and their desperate band of fans?
It's the ideal example of why we hang on. Americans know we can beat any odds. It's only a matter of time and circumstances. And it looks likely that Cleveland's time will soon be at hand.
Butch Davis, in a Washington-like way, took a moribund Browns team and squeezed seven unlikely victories out of it, surpassing all expectations. A pair of victories over the defending world champions may prove to be this franchise's Trenton and Princeton.
In the meantime, we must weather the storm of popularity that is about to envelop a mortal enemy.
New England's victory means a tempest of laudatory press for Lord Belichick. Without a doubt, the scribes will tell the tale of his genius, the mastermind whose gridiron intellect smited the Rams.
Let us be pragmatic and concede the man something: His team did win the Super Bowl despite elephantine odds.
That said, he's still an ass. The victory over the Rams may very well wash away the thick sediment of ill will that had settled on his reputation. In Boston taprooms like The Kells and The Black Rose, Belichick's name will be toasted.
But there are places outside the Northeast where the name Belichick isn't spoken out loud, like Vlad Dracul isn't talked of highly among Romanian gypsies. In my house, he's known simply as The Devil.
I made a conscious effort to avoid as much hype and crap spewed by the press in N'Awlins, but I did snoop around to see if there was much mention of the "Kosar Incident."
If it was out there, I missed it. Almost nothing besides a passing mention in brief recounts of Belichick's "troubled" tenure in Cleveland.
Astounding, and it's sad the national media has let that story fade. The decision to release Kosar was wrong in every sense of the word. Zero good came of it for the team and fans. It was an egotistical, buffoonish mistake. I doubt even Brian Billick could have been dense enough to commit such a blunder.
I mean, Christ, Vinny Testaverde was injured and all the Browns had at the time was Todd frickin' Philcox.
To those outside of Ohio or too young to remember, the Kosar Affair was an internal power struggle. As one of the premier quarterbacks in the league, and a savvy passer almost without parallel, Kosar, from what I'm told, held considerable sway within the organization.
Belichick, whose austere methods couldn't tolerate anything but blind obedience to his regime, maneuvered to get rid of the local icon. The coach did so after the Browns' 29-14 home loss to Denver. The immediate on-field results? A 22-5 embarrassment the next Sunday at Seattle. Meanwhile, Bernie latched on with Dallas and played a key role getting them to the Super Bowl.
It was a disaster off the field, too. Browns fans were irate. Eventually, tempers cooled. Less than three years later, the team was in Baltimore, and Belichick was out of a job. Few tears were shed for him on the North Coast.
Belichick brings to mind Oliver Cromwell, the immensely controversial 17th century English soldier-statesmen.
Edward Hyde, the oft-quoted Lord High Chancellor to Charles II, once said Cromwell was "a bad brave man."
Fitting indeed for our Mr. Belichick. Voltaire's portrayal of Cromwell, however, may more closely hit the mark in our comparison with New England's current master: "The most terrible of all charlatans."
But those descriptions are not my favorite. A snippet of conversation between Archbishop John Williams to King Charles at Oxford, in Hackett's Life of Archbishop Williams always make me chuckle – and think of Belichick.
"In short, every beast hath some evil properties; but Cromwell hath the properties of all evil beasts."
Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor. He now lives in a remote part of Michigan's Thumb, safe from knaves, fools and Ratbirds. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.