The Fire Sermon
You could be somewhere else instead. Somewhere far away and detached from all of this, the disaster that continues to blend into last year and become everything we swore this wasn’t. You could have been drafted. An apartment with barren white walls in some city you’ve never been to; clean and empty aside from a plasma television, a sectional sofa, a stack of sneaker boxes in a corner and a wireless router sitting on the living room floor. It’s not much but it’s better than this. You could be there.
And so you lug this defense’s incompetence around like an anvil chained to your ankle. Your shoulders are scrunched. You don’t say much and you don’t take your mouth guard out. Leadership as an art form is mostly foreign to you; to you it is transmitted involuntarily. It is impulse and fury. It reaches critical mass, and then you fake a smile on Monday afternoon. There are sporadic bursts of rage and then you pace the sidelines by yourself with your helmet in hand.
“Brandon was just telling everyone, 'Remember this feeling.’ Just yelling it.” Mike Martin told us about that after you lost to Michigan State.
When you are calm, leadership is all procedure. I have been here a while and I will say uplifting things; that is my job. Beyond that, it is up to them. They recognize your pain but they do not feel it as thoroughly as you do. How could they? No one else’s talent is as immense, as glaringly squandered on this.
“We said so much before every game, now it’s just all about what’s inside your heart, and what you believe you should do.” You said that two days ago.
You block punts. When you did it Saturday you hardly needed to run through anyone because the blockers had already begun to flee. You are frighteningly good. When you’re playing your eyes are wide, you stare like you’re in search of something. But afterward you squint, you’re exhausted. You’re constantly compartmentalizing the frustration and the ferocious anger, constantly redefining what this all means to you. To be undefeated … to be conference champions … to salvage this, whatever it is. Until all that’s left is you and the man in front of you and the need to win something, anything. There are only moments left.
And when they ask you about it afterward, outside of the stadium when it’s dark and you just want to go home, you shake your head and stammer before you figure out what to say next. You close your eyes for a moment and then open them to stare at the ground in awe and disbelief, as if you’ve spent the past three hours climbing a mountain only to arrive at the top and realize that you are looking upon a sprawling canyon. There was a vast chunk of earth that once existed but doesn’t anymore. Something is gone and you don’t know how or why, just that there is nothing where something once was. It is colossal; it is beyond all reason or comprehension. What can I do? This is bigger than one man.
“It hurts…we’re just trying to get to a bowl. I’m gonna go in there and make sure that we don’t lose focus, you know…we just gotta make sure it don’t happen again. It just hurts to keep saying it.”
It has come to irrelevant bowls, places deserted and and ignored -- a reminder of all that you could have, but don't. It has come to this:
We want to believe that this will eventually give way to something better. That in two years we will accept that it happened and smile because of how far we came – a jagged scar on our knee from when we first learned to ride a bicycle on just two wheels. In the distance, where we came from, there is rubble and smoke, but here now things are clear, things are good. Look at all that we have endured. That is what we want. But now a fear, however slight, envelops our subconscious with every loss. Maybe things won’t get better. They probably will, but they might not. And in two years we will instead realize that the signs were there and we should have known all along. This was just a part of a thick, interminable haze. It can be that way.
Everything you wanted was right here. You didn't lose for an entire month. You held this season in your hands. But now it feels like every time you step on the field it continues to erode. We know there are others to blame. We know you know. But it haunts you anyway because this is your identity. You close your eyes. You’re surrounded. There are bright lights from cameras and people asking questions; they keep asking but you can’t answer. Are you disappointed, exactly? “It’s just … ,” and again you drift away. They want to know, but you don’t know. You’ve tried, you have. There is just this canyon.