OK, let’s start with the obvious. In the grand scheme of things, this game does not matter at all. The sun will rise in the morning. War will rage on in Somalia, Tibet will still be under the thumb of Red China, my house will still be standing irrespective of the result of events in Nashville.
Add to this the following caveat: there is nothing I can do to affect this game. Maybe if I’m there in the stands, I can contribute to the extra bit of noise or the one random shriek that causes a false start, or I contribute to the yell that rallies the spirits of our offense, or otherwise have some infinitely small impact on events. But I’m over two thousand miles away, and I know intellectually that nothing I do – watch, don’t watch, play the stream on the radio instead, wear this shirt or that hat, sit here, stand there, drink this, hold my head a certain way, mumble the same things at every snap – nothing makes one tiny bit of difference. Unless you are prepared to believe in the existence of a deity that takes an interest in the prayers of college football partisans and acts in the affirmative on their behalf, the fact of the matter is clear: there is the outcome of the game, and the influence I have on that outcome, and the Venn diagram of the two looks like a stripper’s fake tits.
Nick Hornby, in Fever Pitch, goes on at length about smoking goals in, or not smoking, or wearing this shirt or not listening to the radio or this or that – indeed, he describes a ridiculous ritual where he and his friends go to the sweet shop, buy sugar mice, bite the heads off, and throw the rest into the street as some sort of bizarre votive offering – because it worked once. I have broken myself of all manner of Rain Man-esque behaviors at Cal games, though to be honest, it mostly stems from the failing fortunes of the team and my resulting diminished emotional engagement. I myself almost drank myself blackout drunk one night because Vanderbilt basketball was playing better against then-#1 Tennessee when I drank bourbon than when I drank Guinness. I came within an eyelash of burning my apartment down in 2001 because Alabama was pounding Auburn relentlessly whenever I had my pipe going, and the fug of tobacco smoke was all the way down from ceiling to ankles.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen when you have abject confidence in the results. If you know you suck, you don’t get enmeshed in all this. If you know you’re going to win, you don’t have to bother. It’s only when the result teeters on the edge of a knife, when things are close to perfectly balanced, that your mind starts to go to these places.
When things are so precarious, and when you have an emotional investment in the team, it seems like anything – no matter how small, no matter how stupid, no matter how logically irrelevant – anything that might take that elephant on the head of a pin and tip its balance…well, if you can do it, you have to, right?
Last night, I tried to assuage my anxieties by looking at old posts on Anchor of Gold around the time of the Franklin hire. And what I saw was remarkable in retrospect…
Maybe this is realistic, maybe not, but here’s what I want to see:
Season one: more than two wins.
Season two: not less than 5 wins (including, by definition, at least one conference win)
Season three: not less than 6 wins (which would assume a bowl since they hand those out like candy now)
Season four: not less than 7 wins AND a bowl bid outside the 615 area code.
Season five: all of season four PLUS at least one big-ticket win over the Penitentiary of Tennessee, or some big-ticket foe like Florida or Alabama that we haven’t beaten in years.
If we win out the rest of the way, this season, we can hit my goal for season five. This year. Even if we were to lose everything the rest of the way and finish 6-6, as disappointing as that is, we’ve met the goal through season 3 a year ahead of schedule.
Ultimately, I suppose that’s all you can do. Step back, take a look at what you have, and be thankful for it. And whatever happens, happens.
I guess about seven hours from now, we’ll know how it worked out.
Anchor Down. Sink the Vols.