October 2011 Archives


When the legend-deity Paul "Bear" Bryant died in January 1983, shortly after resigning as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, members of the arch-rival Auburn fan base had reason to  hope that the end of  their perennial frustration with losing to the lads from Tuscaloosa might finally be a in sight.  Sure enough, in the very next matchup between the two teams, leading by three points with time running out, Auburn stood on the brink of making that hope a reality when War Eagles coach Pat Dye, faced with the choice of punting or going for it on fourth down, cast his gaze to the heavens and asked for God's guidance in making his decision. "Go for it, my son!" the Lord thundered without hesitation, "Go for it!" Naturally, Dye did as advised only to look on in total flabbergastion as the Tide easily stuffed the play, took away the ball on downs, marched down the field for a touchdown and won the game. As he staggered back to the locker room, a tearful Dye cried out in anguish, "Lord, why in the world did you tell me to go for on it on fourth down?" After a pregnant pause, the Almighty responded, "Beats me, Son. Bear, why did we tell him to do that?"

Pre- and post- game prayers have long been associated with America's most violent big-time college sport, but in recent years as the sleazier and more corrupt aspects of major college football have become increasingly apparent, it seems to the Ol' Bloviator there has been a corresponding increase in the number of coaches who go out of the way to invoke the Almighty at every opportunity. Sure enough, in a national television interview in the wake of a rare victory for the Georgia Bulldogs over the Florida Gators (who have positively dominated them over the last twenty years or so) Georgia coach Mark Richt prefaced his response to a reporter's first question with "To God be the glory. I'm so thankful. . . ." Well, the Ol' Bloviator reckons that if God had something to do with the Bulldogs beating the hated Gators for only the fourth time in the last fifteen years, then it was clearly as big a night to howl up in Heaven as it was here in good ol' Athens town. Now don't be gettin' the OB wrong. He's not questioning the sincerity of Mark Richt's remarks or anybody else's, for that matter. He is, however, a bit unsure, regardless of whether they come from the coach at Georgia, Clemson, Ole Miss, or East Cayuga Community College, whether such gestures actually glorify God or trivialize him. For example, does a statement like Richt's imply that God actually dedicated some of his energies to shaping the outcome of an encounter that, despite its overweening importance to a couple hundred thousand fanatics in these parts, amounts to not a heck of a lot compared to all the truly critical life-and-death concerns affecting millions of people crying out for His attention around the world?

As most Georgia fans see things, of course, it would be entirely appropriate for God to prefer the infinitely more-endearing "woof-woofers" of the Bulldog Nation to the "jorted" [i.e., jeans-shorted], mullet-coiffed denizens of Gatordom even though this would run somewhat contrary to His numerous professions of special concern for the suffering of the truly pathetic. Moreover, if He likes Georgia or our coach so much, where has He been for eight of the last eleven years? Regardless of how they are intended, don't attempts to link God to a triumph in any human conflict, be it mundane or monumental, amount at some level to a reiteration of the old Austin Lounge Lizards famed ditty, "Jesus Loves Me, But He Can't Stand You"?

Mark Twain's satirical skepticism, I dare say cynicism, was never on more brilliant display than in his famed "War Prayer," where the supplicant of a warring nation implores the Almighty to "help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells . . . to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain . . . to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire . . . to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief . . . to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst . . . broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it--for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts."

Okay, this might be a little over the top for what most Bulldog fans would like to see happen to the Gator hordes, although just how far over, the OB dares not say. Nor is he trying to imply that God does not intervene in human conflicts. It would be hard to imagine that He could have taken much of a shine to Hitler, for example, although if the outcome of World War II is in any sense a reflection of His intervention, He certainly took his own sweet time in getting involved.

            Much as we would like to make it an allegory about good versus evil, heretical as this may sound, a football game is really just a football game. I doubt that anyone has trouble understanding why coaches or players would ask God to help them perform at their best when it's time to take the field, but, barring the intervention of Satan's co-conspirators wearing the striped shirts, the actual outcome of the contest itself has a lot less to do with the Almighty's preference for one coach or squad over the other than the simple matter of whose "best" was better on that particular day. Finally, if, after all, the idea of a winning coach crediting God for his team's success is simply to show appropriate reverence for His power, the OB thinks it only fair that the losing coach should also have the option of blaming The Man Upstairs for his team's failure to make a single first down in the second half.

"The Sweet Lonesome"

Living long enough means we all are likely to relive situations with our children that our parents experienced with us. The first-ever visit to Athens, Georgia, of one Barrett Callaway Cobb, aged seventeen months and rarin' to go, brought this home to Grandma and Grandpa Bloviator more than once last week. Since Ms. OB and I spent a good chunk of our marriage living quite a ways from our somewhat-older parents who had no other offspring or grand-offspring on whom to dote, we put in our share of twelve- to twenty-hour drives at Christmas and during the summer every year so that our folks could grab a few precious days of exposure to their grandson.

Since our parents lived in opposite corners of Georgia and we obviously couldn't visit one family and not the other, this meant extended periods of living out of suitcases and sooner or later becoming frustrated with life under the unrelenting and sometimes disapproving gaze of our folks. There were also inevitable disputes about appropriate parenting techniques and ineffectual complaints that our parents, in their zeal to shower as much unqualified affection on their pride and joy as possible in the short time allotted them, were going to spoil him rotten and undo our strenuous efforts to ameliorate some of his less appealing habits.

 As the close of each visit drew nigh, our parents would begin to bemoan the fact that they had so little time left with us, meaning, of course, with him. This practice always made us feel uncomfortable and not a little guilty, because at that point we would be getting more than a little antsy to get back to our own world where we were the ranking adults and thus under no obligation to explain or defend the way we were raising our child. Ms. OB recalls that when the countdown for departure finally began, "loading the car was always the hardest part" because the symbolism of the open trunk was unmistakable. To their credit, our folks made a gallant attempt to hold back their emotions, but their tear ducts invariably let them down. It was hard for us as twenty- and thirty-somethings to understand why it always had to be this way, why our folks had to act as if this were the very last time that the three of us would ever see them again.

During last week's visit, we made a point to take Barrett to all of his then-toddler dad's old haunts in an attempt to replicate faded photos of his father's antics in those spots. This included a trip to the famous Varsity, where we had traditionally enjoyed a chili dog and some rings for our Christmas lunch, as we bade farewell to the grandparents in Southwest Georgia to make our eagerly awaited arrival in the opposite corner of the state. These new snapshots joyously affirmed the stunning resemblance between Barrett and his dad at that age, but they also took our hearts in another direction as well, for there was simply no comprehending what had possibly happened to the thirty-eight years that had flown by since we had stood at these very same spots and tried to get Barrett's dad to smile and look into the camera. Such contemplations seem irresistible on these occasions even though you know they're as likely to bring tears as a smile as you ask yourself why you didn't recognize at the time how truly priceless those moments were. (If you had, of course, your emotions might have robbed you and everyone else of the pure enjoyment that made the instance so memorable to begin with.)  In the end, I suppose, there is at least some solace in having the opportunity to cherish those occasions retrospectively with your children while vowing never to despoil any of the finite number of such chances that lie ahead with quarreling about things that really don't matter.

Sure enough, in true grandparental fashion, as the final hours of last week's visit wound down, Ms. OB and I found ourselves moaning about how awful it would be when they were gone, and the pathetically desperate OB was bribing Barrett to get in his lap by allowing him to have his way with his Blackberry (Sorry if he called you!) and his iPad. If the OB owned a Rolex that would surely have been Barrett's to paw and pound as well. Finally, when the car was loaded and everybody strapped in, the oldsters did their best, almost succeeding in keeping their lips tight and eyes dry, while truly realizing and understanding for the first time how our own folks surely felt all those times when it was Barrett's dad waving from the car seat as we headed down their driveway. At the same time, of course, his proud new papa was getting his first sense of how his own parents had struggled to handle the awkwardness and regret that such departures invariably brought.

A friend of ours suggested that the appropriate term for what grandparents are feeling as the vehicle fades from view might be "the sweet lonesome." This rings true for us, I think, for the combination of emotional closeness and physical separation means that the tenderest moments of togetherness are more likely elicit both joy and sadness in equal and almost inseparable measure. Such partings are really no fun for any of the adult principals (although Barrett had a heckuva time demonstrating his new-found prowess at blowing kisses), but they surely exact the heaviest toll on those who no longer see the future stretching limitless and rich with many such opportunities to reaffirm our affections. Skype is a lot better than nothing, but I'd be willing to bet that most distance-challenged grandparents would gladly trade a month's worth of internet exchanges for one really good hug. 

In the meantime, the gaping void between those precious hugs is far better filled by savoring the joys of the present than inviting the inevitable sadness attendant to trying to relive a cherished past that may not be dead but can neither be resurrected or reconstituted. The shrinks of several centuries ago were not that far off when they characterized nostalgia as a seriously debilitating and potentially destructive mental/emotional disorder, offering yet another reason why all grandparents-at-a-distance should be eligible for hazardous-duty pay.

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