The bigger they are, the harder they fall
So it begins again.
Tonight, lots of South Carolinians will be much more focused on a college football opener in Columbia than on America’s impending opening salvos in Syria.
Many of us will also, for at least 3½ hours, stop fussing and fretting about which parts of the ludicrously titled Affordable Care Act will be enforced, which kids should go to which schools, and which flags should (and shouldn’t) fly on Statehouse grounds.
Because regardless of where they stand their grounds on those matters, most folks in our state will pull for — or against — the supposedly mighty South Carolina Gamecocks against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The first-night, first-game excitement is familiar.
This year though, that fired-up sense of anticipation is intensified around here:
For the first time, both of the Palmetto State’s big-time football schools are ranked in The Associated Press’ preseason top 10 — USC is No. 6, Clemson No. 8.
How to handle such lofty expectations is just one of the many life lessons football can teach us all.
The manly game also can teach us how to handle lowly expectations.
Indeed, instructive, inspiring maxims have long peppered football pep talks.
The thrill of victory
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” (widely attributed to former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, though former UCLA football coach Red Sanders apparently said it first)
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” (Lombardi)
“You play to win the game.” (former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs coach Herm Edwards)
“We win; they lose.” (former Eureka College lineman Ronald Reagan, stating his then seemingly unrealistic goal in the Cold War Bowl against the Soviet “Evil Empire” Union)
“There is no substitute for victory.” (former West Point football team cadet manager Douglas MacArthur, who went on to even bigger battles than the Army-Navy game)
“They don’t ask you how you won, they ask you if you won.” (Buddy Rogers, a New Jersey youth-football star before joining the circus as a wrestler and ultimately becoming the squared circle’s original “Nature Boy”)
My favorite variation on this recurring theme: “Just win, baby!” (Al Davis, assistant coach at The Citadel before becoming head coach and eventual owner of the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders)
OK, so football’s fixation on triumph uber alles can get a bit monotonous.
So ponder this opposing — and quaint — perspective:
“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the Game.” (Grantland Rice, among the most acclaimed American sportswriters of the first half of the 20th century)
Of course, whether “you won or lost” has long been the overriding mark on coaches trying to stay employed and players trying to stay on the field.
And lest you assume fickle fate will decide the UNC-USC outcome tonight, or the Georgia-Clemson and Charleston Southern-Citadel crosstown-showdown results Saturday night, remember:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets with opportunity.” (1st century Roman philosopher Seneca’s wise observation, still echoed by coaches and other leaders)
Then again, “Even victors are by victories undone.” (17th century English poet John Dryden)
And: “What price victory?” (origin under review)
The agony of defeat
These days, the price of football victory, like the price of a ticket to the UNC-USC and Georgia-Clemson games, is quite high.
So are colleges’ soaring costs in keeping successful coaches, who, to keep their jobs, must win over the top high school players they need to win more games.
And S.C. NAACP President Lonnie Randolph Jr., during a Tuesday visit to this newspaper, warned that coaches in our state will keep losing prized recruits as long as that Confederate battle flag keeps flying at the front of Statehouse grounds.
How does Jadeveon Clowney feel about that issue?
As for the giddy notion that the Nov. 30 Clemson-USC game will pack national title implications for both teams, don’t forget what happened to that other USC last year.
The University of Southern California Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll.
Then they went 7-6, losing five of their last six games.
As another college football season kicks off tonight, Gamecock and Tiger fans now riding high should take heed of that epic recent failure — and this long-ago warning from former Auburn coach Shug Jordan:
“Remember boys, Goliath was favored also.”
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.