It is perhaps one of the more enduring images in comics. Charlie Brown lines up for the place kick. Lucy is holding. Charlie Brown is thinking to himself, “She can’t possibly do it to me again. She won’t, she won’t.” He takes off at full speed. At the last second, Lucy pulls the ball away, and Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back, having done a flip, or a spin in the air, or some other unplanned gymnastic maneuver, screaming into the sky above, “Auuugggghhhhh!”
The great Charles Schultz recycled this comic theme for years on end. Every year, it seemed, he would dredge it up. Sometimes he offered a twist of some kind, but one thing never varied. Lucy always jerked that ball away, and Charlie Brown always ended up flat on his back, screaming into the uncaring sky above.
A Seattle Seahawks fan has to identify with this image. It is the great cosmic joke played on Seahawks fans numerous times over the past three decades. Most long term fans can remember them.
It is advancing to the Conference Championship game, only to be thumped by the hated Raiders.
It is winning five consecutive games to finish a season 10-6, only to be shut out of the playoffs because they lost to the wrong teams sometime earlier in the season.
It is taking charge of a playoff game in Cincinnati by driving late to score a TD and bring the game to within one score of a tie, then missing the extra point, leaving them still needing two scores.
There are other examples over the years, some with more, some with less intense feelings of déjà vu attached to them.
It’s hard sometimes in sports to even realize who plays the part of Lucy in this eternal metaphor.
As fans, it is easy to view our beloved Seattle Seahawks as Lucy. Dangling that placekick in front of us, promising to not jerk it away at the last minute, but hiding evil intent. It is all too easy to think they do this on purpose, just to mess with our heads. As fans, it is all too easy to take it personally.
So, the loss to the Rams last Sunday had a sickly familiar feel to it. Funny, but I remember not really being angry about the whole thing, just sick. Aching from that all too familiar feeling that they let me down again. I watched it unfold with a numb, detached sense of inevitability.
There I was, Charlie Brown, lying on my back, screaming to an unfeeling sky, how Lucy had tricked me again.
But just who is Lucy in all this? And does it really matter?
It’s not the Rams. Even Mad Mike Martz wouldn’t draw up a game plan that prescribed building up a 17 point deficit in the 4th quarter, would he? That’s the only way that the game would fit the metaphor, right? That would mean that the Rams, as Lucy, dangled that game in front of us to the tune of a 17 point lead, then yanked it away at the last minute with desperation passes. I can’t accept that. Nobody would do that on purpose.
Not being a religious man, I don’t attach a lot of “higher meaning” to a sporting event. Not to offend the Christian players and fans out there, but I don’t think God cares who wins football games. To think that some supernatural power is influencing the outcome of games is a bit too ancient Greek for me. This ain’t the Trojan War or the fall of Jericho here. It’s football. Sure, Bruce Almighty said, “I like the Sabers. The coach prays a lot.” For the most part, I think God has more important things to do than shave points on football games. So, I guess I’m saying that I don’t think God is Lucy either.
So who is Lucy?
Who is Charlie Brown, for that matter?
Here’s where we delve into the world of psycho-babble. All metaphors, to be effective, have to touch something inside of people. They have to demonstrate some basic structure in the psyche – some inherent, eternal part of the personality – to be effective and stand the test of time. In general terms, a good metaphor has to have something that people identify with. A lot of people.
I suspect that a lot of Seattle Seahawks fans identify with Charlie Brown.
I wonder how many of them realize that the image of Lucy lives within us also?
Let’s look at what these images bring.
Charlie Brown is the eternal optimist. After all, he gets up every time, lines up, and takes off again, always trusting that this time Lucy won’t yank that ball away. And although he is always disappointed, he always gets up and tries again. In short, he never gives up. He never loses faith that the universe will someday, somehow bend to his favor. He believes. We all need this energy.
Sure, every time we all shout out “Auuuggggghhhhhh!” But the pain is momentary. We get up, we line up, we try again. To not do that is to die, metaphorically at least.
Lucy is the great cosmic trickster. Ever present, she represents Murphy’s Law in all it’s predictable obstructionist nature. Bad things will always happen, and usually at the worst possible time.
Lucy lives within the team itself.
Lucy is Anthony Simmons dropping a sure interception.
Lucy is Koren Robinson dropping passes, effectively giving the opponent another 30 seconds or so of game time each time it happens.
Lucy is our offensive line breaking down, allowing an easy sack in the fourth quarter.
Lucy is the entire offense somehow forgetting how to make a first down in the 3rd quarter.
Lucy is a corner blitz, leaving a safety on one of the fastest receivers in the league when maybe a safety blitz would have been more appropriate, so we could cover the WR with a corner.
Lucy is a breakdown in punt coverage, shortening the field for the opponent.
In truth, there are a lot of reasons we lost that game last week. There is plenty of blame to go around. There are numerous instances of individuals not making plays that they maybe should have made.
So, like Charlie Brown, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again. And, of course, so does Lucy.
Back to the amateur psychology. We have said that both the image of Charlie Brown and of Lucy live within us, and within our team, as a collective entity. So does this mean that we are destined for an endless round of false hope and certain disappointment? Will Lucy always win?
It doesn’t have to be that way.
To acknowledge that a certain character trait lives within us – or within the team – does not mean that said trait should dominate our whole personality. In short, we can choose to lean away from Lucy. We can choose to not be overcome by the Lucy energy.
Charles Schultz knew that he could never let Charlie Brown kick that ball. To do so would violate the basic metaphor that was the Charlie Brown and the Lucy characters. The action had to be locked in stone and repeated forever or the metaphor would die. Letting Charlie Brown kick that ball even once would have forever altered the entire comic strip.
But in real life, people have choices. Players, being people, have choices too. It seems awfully simple, but most big ideas really are simple. Players can realize when they are giving in to that Lucy energy, and choose not to.
Athletes, in general, can probably handle defeat and loss a bit better than fans. They’ve all experienced it at some point in their careers. Nobody wins every game. Like Charlie Brown, they get up, line up and try again.
Unlike Charlie Brown, though, they don’t have to flail helplessly at air when the ball seemingly gets snatched away.
They can kick Lucy instead.
Steve Utz writes a column for Seahawks.NET every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.