A long time ago, Samuel Johnson remarked that human beings need more often to be reminded than informed. That is one reason why cliché is such an important part of human communication. We dislike cliché, we strive against it often when writing or talking. But we are sometimes wrong to do so. The problem with cliché is not that in saying something clichéd we are saying something many times said before. Rather, the problem is that most of us do not know when to say something clichéd. A cliché hits the mark when it is said in the right circumstances, to the right person, by the right person and at the right time. When that happens, the clichéd can change our way of seeing things, straighten a lopsided attitude or organize chaos. When rightly situated, a cliché reminds; it does not inform. Our dislike of rightly situated cliché results from our wanting to be informed when we need to be reminded.
So, a reminder I take to be rightly situated: Auburn needs to play one game at a time. Yes, a cliché; yes, obvious. But just what needs to be said at this point—and that is why Chizik and the seniors are saying it. Auburn cannot win the SEC at Ole Miss. Auburn cannot win the MNC at Ole Miss. But Auburn can lose the latter and endanger the former at Ole Miss.
Why is it that highly ranked teams so often cannot match the intensity of their opponents? Because the highly-ranked team wants to be playing someone else, somewhere else. If Auburn goes to Ole Miss to play Georgia, or Bama—or even Chattanooga, Auburn will lose to Ole Miss. To match the certain high intensity of Ole Miss, Auburn has to see the game in Oxford as Ole Miss sees it: as a season-defining game. It is.
Nutt has made a snaky living beating higher-ranked teams with lowered levels of intensity. He has done it to Auburn before. No doubt he expects to do it again.
Auburn is not a one-man team. Newton defies superlatives with a burst like that he showed Patrick Peterson. But what really makes this Auburn team go is the fact that both (both!) the defense and the offense have played with great intensity with the game in the balance. But now a season—potentially a great season—hangs in the balance. But the season cannot slump into imbalance unless the next game does so. Auburn needs to not only play Ole Miss with great intensity; they need to play them as if there is no other game left on the schedule. No other game. Beating Ole Miss gets Auburn what it wants because it leaves all of Auburn’s dreams intact. Losing to Ole Miss means watching those dreams drift out over The Grove, out into ever-greater shapelessness.
Beating LSU was great. But that is done. It may be that, as ordinary moral beings, we live our lives forward but understand them backwards. But a football team lives forward only as far as the next Saturday; and, it understands nothing except its own mistakes backwards.
Play one game at a time. An old book, a noble one, says somewhere: “Today is the day of salvation.” For this Auburn team, that Today is Saturday, and the scene of salvation is Oxford. Today and today and today. One game at a time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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