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].
Auburn Elvis says
I think a lot of what we Auburn fans are experiencing is a feeling of constant inconsistency. With the exception of ’04, it’s been over a decade since Auburn fielded a consistent team. That’s made us all into a bundle of nerves. Honestly, I felt more confident about Auburn after lat year’s Iron bowl loss then after this weekend’s Clemson win. I think we all desperately want a return to the Dye years when you KNEW what Auburn could accomplish.
My wife keeps telling me the same thing, but man it is so hard but it is so hard not to want Auburn to beat every team by 300 points.
Happy for he win-may turn out to be great one. Feeling is that you can only dodge so many bullets and we have dodged 2 already, But, having said, I’d rather be 3-0 and dodging than 1-2 full of bullet holes. Also, there is a bit of envy that the bammers are on cruise and being compared to the greatest teams of all times. Big test this w/e- maybe Dyer will have his coming out Sat.
Dean Jolley says
Sure. I am not claiming that a person cannot be disappointed with certain features of a team’s play even when the team wins. I am complaining about those folks who elevate the standards of winning in such a way that for them a team loses even when it wins. (And I don’t mean that folks deliberately elevate the standards in that way, but I think folks do so elevate the standards.)
this should be printed on the back of every ticket.
Dean Jolley says
Theboogins: Yes. A silly Bama envy is playing a role in this, no doubt. (All envy is silly.) That is part of what I had in mind when I mentioned water-cooler arguments. Even Bama (!) is not a team than which none greater can be conceived.
this describes certain AU fans i know to a tee. could part of it not also be a slight bit of jealousy towards the bammers? as a lifelong auburn fan, there is nothing i want more than for us to be superior to sab/tan’s army in every way. beating teams by 300 every time would be a step in this direction…
Ken B says
Funny, I live in the Charlotte area and on sports radio Monday, a lot of the talk was how Clemson football is back. Clemson looked like the power it was in the 80s. It was a great game. Clemson nearly pulled it off. So the Auburn fan base struggles to accept a win, meanwhile the Clemson fan base is excited about its team’s direction.
I’d like to think that rather than comparing Auburn to the bammers, we are comparing this and every AU team since to 2004. IMO, we as fans are treating that extremely rare and special team as the benchmark for the modern era. We know that the ’04 team was full of all stars and rolled almost everyone they played…and THAT was not good enough to even PLAY in the national championship game (according to the BCS formula). To me that makes AU fans jaded and we feel that the current team must perform better than that to get the opportunity to play for an NC. Sure its unrealistic, but that is the psychology of a fan(atic). Because of ’04 we want to beat every opponent so bad that there can be NO DEBATE about who the best team is. Bottom line is we should be happy with just winning, but Auburn fans have been thru a season where that just isn’t good enough if the teams goal was an NC and I think it has made us all a little crazy!
I think I must of been mentally stunted at the time, but Saturday night I told my mom that Auburn was lucky, and they did not deserve to win that football game. In the light of Tuesday, and this here fine column, I take it back. Coming back from a 14-point deficit and rattling off 21 unanswered points to crawl back into the game to force an overtime? That takes ridiculous mental toughness and a bucket full of heart. The memory of this comeback will stick with our young men for the remainder of the season. They may get down again, but they have come back before, so they know they can do it.
As far as I’m concerned, we can have a season full of those, as long as we keep winning. I’ll just up my heart medication and get a manicure so I don’t bite my nails into oblivion.
Thank you, Dr. Jolley. I, of course, feel disappointment in some mistakes my beloved Tigers make as I’m sitting on my fat behind in the stands with a nice cool drink in my hands. 🙂 But, hey, thats been part of the game for years as well, right?
But, when that last Clemson kick sailed wide left, all I felt was appreciation for the hard work those kids did out on that field that night and the elation of the win.
Now, on to the mission of puttin’ a whoopin’ on The Ol’ Ball Coach! 🙂
Good Article Dr. Jolly. If we cannot enjoy a come-from-behind win over a solid opponent, then maybe we should stop watching the game at all, we are asking for too much. I was a bit disappointed in the last two games myself, but after having some time to let them digest, I am happy with the team. Like Clarity said, coming back from 17 down in the 1st half to win is something to be remembered, especially against a semi-rival like Clemson. Auburn will probably not win every game this year (undefeated seasons are special because they are rare), so we should enjoy every win instead of looking for negatives!
Guess an advantage of living in North Carolina is that I really don’t think or care about what Bama does ,,don’t read their sports blogs and skip over comments from their nutty fans on Al.com. What I do enjoy is the great feelings an Auburn success causes and as far as I’m concerned the win over Clemson was a nice W….and I hope that same mentally tough team shows up again this coming Saturday.
Dr. Jolley, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have been present at all three games so far this season and I have come away from each game with conflicted feelings. After Ark State, I was impressed with special teams and offense. I was somewhat disappointed that the defense didn’t pitch a shut-out. At Mississippi State, I was impressed with the offense early and the defense late. I was happy with an SEC road win and the progress that the defense was making. The Clemson game was disappointing early and awesome later. The season is a progression with the team building on each game. I remain cautiously optimistic.
The win against Clemson was great when you have lower expectations. Say if, you want to be a respectable football team. Or, just go to a good bowl game. It would have been a great win last year after a 5-7 season, just as it was a great win in the Peach Bowl before that at the end of a season where we could all see it slipping away from Tubby.
But, after the improvement and recruiting of last year, it is as disappointing as the 2006 Cotton Bowl 17-14, how the hell did we win that game against a Nebraska team that basically dominated us throughout. Sorry Professor, Auburn fans now expect more, and rightfully so.
Van P in Illinois says
From the moment, some 25+ years ago, that I first heard Lewis Grizzard’s famous quote, I have struggled mightily each week to be sure that winning–any winning, even this one– feels better to me than losing hurts. It is possible.