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Let It Bleed

In 1994, a psychologist named James Dabbs took saliva samples from twenty-one Brazilian and Italian men before and after Brazil’s World Cup soccer victory over the Italians. He found that in the Brazilians, testosterone levels shot up 28 percent after their win, while in the Italians, testosterone levels plummeted 27 percent. Scientists say the reaction is similar in male animals after a fight over a mate, and theorize we’ve evolved this way to ensure the peace soon after battle; it’s our bodies’ way of telling us to accept the result.

Ironically, the foregoing passage comes from Warren St. John’s Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, but it accurately encapsulates the way I feel and provides at least the consolation of knowing that my despondence is perfectly natural, even if it is abnormal and more than a little ridiculous.

The Realist is right, of course, that we all have much more important things in our lives than college football. My family means a whole lot more to me than a game and I support my family not by writing about intercollegiate athletics, but by practicing law.

These things, though, are not unrelated to one another. Although my first visit to Sanford Stadium was for my uncle’s graduation rather than for a sporting event, I was attending football games in Athens well before I had decided to attend classes at the University of Georgia. While at that institution, I acquired the education that enables me to practice my profession and met the woman to whom I have been married for the last eleven years, and with whom I have two children.

If it is true (and I believe it is) that my being raised a Bulldog fan led me to attend the University of Georgia, and if it is true (as I know it is) that attending the University of Georgia has led, directly or indirectly, to every good thing that has happened in my life since I was 19 years old, then it follows that much, if not most, of what has been good in my life is a direct result of the fact that I was Bulldog born and Bulldog bred and, when I die, I’ll be Bulldog dead.

So, yeah, it’s just a football game, but, no, it ain’t just a football game. As Brian Cook put it, "I think that sports may not be such a silly thing to make a career of describing and relating and experiencing." I suppose it is fitting, then, that I am about to pull something akin to a move for which I criticized Brian a little over a year ago.

No, I’m not going to pull down every posting off of this site, close down every comment thread, and post pictures of kittens; we lost to Alabama, a fine football team with an outstanding coach that boasts one of the most storied traditions in the sport, so this loss is not accompanied by nearly the ignominy that went with losing to Appalachian State.

I know I promised you that the national games of interest were coming soon, but they’re not. This week, for me, they’re all the national game of disinterest.

After sticking it out to the bitter end and shaking the hand of the Crimson Tide fan sitting on my row and congratulating him on the victory, I left Sanford Stadium feeling better about the loss than I had about any loss since---and here is more irony---Georgia fell to Nick Saban’s national championship-bound Louisiana State squad in Baton Rouge in 2003. I walked away from that game, too, hoping for a rematch in Atlanta, and I should have been careful what I wished for, because I got it.

Rather than hanging my head in defeat, I hung my hat on the Bulldogs’ furious second-half comeback, but there was never a point at which Alabama’s commanding lead was in jeopardy. As the days have passed, I have felt progressively worse rather than better as the cold hard reality, both of the magnitude of the defeat and of the magnitude of its consequences, has dawned. I was kidding myself by trying to look for the silver lining. There was---there is---no silver lining. That is trebly true in light of the injuries the ‘Dawgs have suffered in the first month of the season.

My team is my team, first, last, and always. From 1993 to 1996, while Georgia was going 22-22-1, I attended 23 out of 24 home games between the hedges and went to away, neutral site, or bowl games in Atlanta, Clemson, Columbia, and Jacksonville. I was there for the down years, and I’ll be there through this. When Tennessee comes to town on October 11, I’ll be there, in my seat, cheering for the Bulldogs.

But, right now, the players and the coaches aren’t the only ones who need a bye. At 7:45 last Saturday night, everything was perfect. Southern California had lost. Florida had lost. The crowd was wild. The "Battle Hymn" soloist whipped off his red coat to reveal the black band uniform beneath. All was in readiness. The prize was in sight.

What happened then was beyond failure. It was beyond losing. It was what RocketDawg said it was: a beatdown. What we had convinced ourselves was on track to be---indeed, but for the formality of a game in which victory was deemed foreordained, already was---the best team in the nation was beaten by a better team . . . on its home field . . . at night . . . in a magical atmosphere . . . with the fans exhilarated and the team pumped . . . and the Bulldogs were beaten badly.

What we anticipated would be a coronation disintegrated---no; was pulverized---into Greek tragedy. The crown was within reach, but the blackout ran red with blood. Afterwards, Nick Saban entered the throne room for his postgame press conference and instructed the four team captains he had sent to midfield for the opening coin toss to bear the Bulldogs, like soldiers, to the stage; for they were likely, had they been put on, to have proved most royally.

It was disheartening, in the Larry Munson they-ripped-our-hearts-from-our-chests sense---more blood: like the Player in Tom Stoppard’s "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can’t do you love and rhetoric without the blood; they’re all blood, you see---only, this time, there was no last-second touchdown to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. There was only defeat, in the most humiliating way imaginable. Only the exalted can fall from so great a height to so low a valley.

Yes, the coaches and the players, and even the fans (those of us who stuck around, at any rate), will bounce back, fix what ails us, and move forward, maybe even to Atlanta . . . maybe even to Miami . . . but, right now, I don’t believe that, and neither do you.

Granted, I felt the same way after last year’s Tennessee game and the campaign turned out well in the end, but what was supposed to be a special season now has been diminished, and not even the climb to the highest mountaintop would fully erase the reality of the carnage of Black Saturday.

This, too, shall pass; I know that, really, I do. But, for the moment, my heart’s just not in it. I believe it was Larry McMurtry who wrote that we use the word "heartbroken" because it describes a condition in which the sense of being shattered renders you incapable of doing anything wholeheartedly. That’s exactly how I feel.

I’ve tried using my angst and anguish to humorous effect, but it ain’t working, at least not for me. Right now, the line I keep remembering is this: "I am hurt, but I am not slain; I’ll lay me down and bleed a while, And then I’ll rise and fight again."

We’re hurt, but we are not slain, and we’ll rise and fight again. In the interim, though, I’m going to lay me down and bleed a while. Those of you who are up for it, please continue the conversation; you have my gratitude for it, really, more than you know.

But there will be no national games of interest this week. There are no national games of interest this week. I’ll be back soon, and in a better mood, maybe even as early as tomorrow, but not today. Today, I need to step away, clear my head, and make peace with what has just happened to a season that once held such unlimited promise and unbridled hope, but which now lies shattered into a thousand jagged shards glinting in the mocking moonlight as the empty stands of Sanford Stadium echo with the jeer: "Hey, Georgia! Hey, Georgia! We just beat the Hell out of you!"

Yeah, you did. You damned sure did, in more ways than you will ever fully realize. Georgia went undefeated the year I turned twelve. The ‘Dawgs did not accomplish that feat again in my teens, nor in my 20s, and, now, with my 40th birthday a little over a month away, I know the Bulldogs will not replicate that achievement in my 30s, either. I’d really kind of been counting on that as the gift with which to commemorate the occasion, to tell you the truth, so, for me, Saturday night was pretty much about how the Crimson stole Christmas.

But you’re wrong about one thing: it wasn’t a funeral. We’ll survive. We’ll get up again, and soon. Like Winston Churchill, I believe in being magnanimous in victory and defiant in defeat. Defiance takes energy and will, though, and, for the moment, I have none. Gasoline isn’t the only form of fuel in short supply in Bulldog Nation these days.

The ‘Bama faithful have asked that we bother them tomorrow, and they are justified in feeling as they do. I share the sentiment for equal and opposite reasons. Before long, we’ll pick up the pieces and begin moving anew. We’ll be back---I’ll be back---but, right now, I just need you to give me a minute while I lay here for a little bit, and bleed.

Go ‘Dawgs.