Auburn won Saturday. Auburn won. Auburn won. Auburn did not lose. Auburn had more points than Clemson when the game ended. Auburn won.
Why is it that each time I say that to someone—that Auburn won—I get a reaction that makes it seem like I am lying?
Because we fans have lost our minds. For us, our team only wins when it wins and plays so well that we are certain that they will win every future game on the schedule. Fall short of that standard, and our team loses. For us, our team only wins when it wins and wins so convincingly that we win every water-cooler argument from Monday-Friday. Fall short of that, and our team loses.
This is self-inflicted misery; and it is an offense against the game itself.
No team wins when held to this standard. Every team has a weakness; every team has the potential to play to less than its full potential.
We want perfection. We want a team than which none greater can be conceived. We want gridiron divinity, a team that arrives not in artificial smoke from a doorway in the stadium, but one that arrives with the sound of trumpets and the rolling back of the clouds like a scroll.
We have lost our ability to enjoy the game as a game, to respect its integrity, to acknowledge the bewildering variety of ways that teams can win and lose football games. We have lost our ability to contemplate, and, when necessary, to capitulate to the contingency of outcomes. We cannot bear up under the pressure of having to hope, sometimes to hope against hope. We cannot lose gracefully because we cannot win gracefully.
We do not rightly appreciate the color and pageantry, the passion and pride of college football itself. We regard all of these, not as ends in themselves, but as trumpery—unless they festoon victory. Lose, and the color fades to gray, the pageantry reduces to empty ritual, the passion and pride becomes a source of shame.
Football at its best is a source of the recreation of the human spirit—for both the player and the fan. It can make us believe in ourselves again, smile wryly at ourselves again, shrug in bafflement at ourselves again, nod in recognition of ourselves again. It can make us trash our cynicism about ourselves. And it can do that even when our team loses—if we are rightly related to the game as a game. Hell (pardon my French), it can even do that when our team wins.
Auburn won Saturday. Enough.
Dr. Jolley is a philosophy professor at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He was recently profiled by The New York Times. He also likes football. His book “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was published in 2007. His column Leisure with Dignity runs bi-monthly to monthly to whenever. Write to him at [email protected].