Goux ordered the
entire team to gather round. "Now listen to me," he said. "Notre
Dame ended my dream as a [USC] player. They ended it right here where we stand
together. I'll never be able to forget it or change it. I can, however, bring a
football team here every other year with the best players the world has ever
seen. A football team that is a great big family, whose only living, breathing
desire is to be allowed by God one more opportunity to hit a Notre Dame
football player as hard as humanly possible. Tomorrow we wake as one. Tomorrow
we take the body. Tomorrow we are devastating, play after play, every man until
the final whistle. If I see any man look up at the scoreboard, I'll kill him.
To hell with the score--we came here for more than that. Tomorrow we take a
program's heart and tear it to pieces with our bare hands."
Does any other
sport provoke such an oration?
On the eve of
USC's opener at Arkansas this fall, Trojans strength coach Chris Carlisle
called the team together on the turf at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium
and delivered a brief history lesson. After setting the scene for the Battle of
Agincourt in Shakespeare's Henry V, he recited the king's speech to his
soldiers: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...." While the
Bard's iambic pentameter may not have inflamed the team to the extent that,
say, a Snoop Dogg visit might have, it must have provided some inspiration. USC
beat Arkansas 50--14.
football for seven years, then writing about it for 23, I've heard
well-intentioned coaches refer to the sport as war--which, of course, is
ridiculous. As exobiology professor Alan Zapalac of fictitious Logos College
points out in Don DeLillo's End Zone, "Warfare is warfare. We don't need
substitutes because we've got the real thing." No one is more acutely aware
of this than American soldiers overseas. For them, football is a reminder of
home, a touchstone.
That's why Maj.
Fenton Moore, a supply and purchasing officer in the Ohio National Guard,
taught a football-officiating course while stationed northeast of Baghdad last
summer. A Columbus native with 20 years of experience as a high school and
college zebra, Moore certified several fellow guardsmen, who then put their new
skills to work by officiating soldiers' flag football games on an unmarked dirt
And that's why
Capt. Timothy Jacobsen, commander of Golf Troop 10th Cavalry, brought a
football to Iraq from Fort Hood, Texas. After taking over one of Saddam
Hussein's palaces in April 2003, according to an account in The Dallas Morning
News, Jacobsen told his men, "We're not going to damage anything. We're not
going to tear the place up. We're just going to go down there, take a look at
the palace, throw the ball around and then leave."
So they did.
This is personal,
but so is football. My father, J. Austin Murphy Jr., graduated in 1951 from
Colgate, where he twice lettered as an end. (He played both ways.) That same
year, bored by his job peddling sporting goods and prompted by a poster in
downtown Indianapolis that read, you're not good enough to be a marine, he
enlisted. Ten months later 2nd Lieutenant Murphy found himself on an outpost
near Panmunjom, Korea. He came back with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He
knew war from football.
Six years ago I
was working on a book about the Division III football program at St. John's in
Collegeville, Minn., led by John Gagliardi, who has since surpassed Eddie
Robinson as the winningest coach in NCAA history. The Johnnies were headed to
Pella, Iowa, for a second-round playoff game against Central. When my father
heard I was going, he proposed meeting me there. He flew from Boston, I flew
from San Francisco, and we met in the heartland.
I don't remember
much about the game--the Johnnies won a slugfest--but I do remember how well my
dad got along with Gagliardi. And that frigid day in Pella remains one of my
favorites, which had everything to do with the company I kept. My father and I
share the same name but not the same politics. That said, we get along very
well. Our bond is stout--never so stout, it seems, as when we are side by side
watching a football game.