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Soup of This Day #83: Part 5, No Confessions, No Religion, Don’t Believe In Modern Love

October 13, 2011

A Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), creeping into the picture. I have no reason for this photo. None at all – Photo: Stephen Wolfe, 2011. Stephen Wolfe has no affiliation with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The Kübler-Ross Model charts the discrete bus-stops of grief. Introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying it initially described the coping process of terminally ill patients. The model has since been used to describe the trajectory of grief with regard to all forms of loss, from death to baseball teams missing out on the post-season. At it’s heart are it’s 5 stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression (sometimes referenced as sorrow) and acceptance. Progress through each stage is not guaranteed and the path is often not linear.

At this point I guess I need to point out that Longworth72 is not dying and nor is he dealing with death. The Kübler-Ross Model is a subject here because I’ve been using it to structure my thoughts on the September collapse of the Boston Red Sox. Part 1, Denial, used raisins as a metaphor. Part 2, Anger, charted my indignation at the post-collapse media. Part 3, Bargaining, was around superstitious offerings. Part 4, Depression, was based on the saddest thing I’ve known. Finally, this post, Part 5, Acceptance, talks about why the Sox wore the wrong footwear and thus deserved to fail.

That’s right. Their footwear.

I was never going to be a great football player. In spite of this I’ve loved the game since I 1st set eyes on it and so at times I’ve played it to obsessive levels. In 2007 I was writhing on my bed in agony (and had been for close on 24hrs) as my bastard gall bladder tried to stuff up my liver – Attempting to ride out the pain I waited until the last moment to pull out of a football match, right before my incredibly patient wife drove me to emergency where-upon they committed me for some fairly urgent surgery.

She doesn’t let me forget that. And I’m obliged to mention that right before I caved in I said something along the lines of:

‘I’m just gonna have this bowl of yoghurt and I’ll be right to play.’

Apparently not though.

Another time I badly rolled my ankle and knowing that I might be tempted to play I turned up to a match in Levis and a pair of sneakers that I could barely fit over the swelling. I was tending goal by the 2nd half, still in my jeans and over-stretched sneakers and with a pair of gloves I’d accidentally brought along. I figured it was not like I had to run.

Yep, love the game. It’s a shame therefore that I’m just not destined to be great at it.

I’m not bad mind. I’m a serviceable defender, solid and dogged. I did once win a team MVP award. Nobody was shocked more than me. It turns out the votes were spread evenly across 3 candidates and they settled on me because I was always there. I’m not even sure if it was meant as a compliment but there’s no sporting award I’ve been prouder to win, mostly because I’ve accepted my level of talent.

This pragmatism has led me to develop a theory based on the type of footwear that players don. I grew up as there was a minor revolution in athletic shoes. Previously shoes were something you wore as an addendum to your talent. Then along came the outrageously talented Michael Jordan and suddenly kids everwhere bought Air Jordans because they wanted to play like Mike. Nevermind that for shoes to actually help you do that they’d have to be illegally performance enhancing. Suddenly footwear gave you an edge, the final 1% that separates the superstars from the mortal.

Football was not far behind in latching onto the dream. Where previously a simple pair of black leather lace up boots with 8 screw in stops was enough, now you required contoured surfaces that imparted extra curve and swerve and ‘blade’ stops that enhanced your acceleration and turning ability.

And the boots got colourful. Players started to show up in red, pink and gold boots. Blue, white and silver featured too. Boots became a fashion statement, outshining uniforms and hair. They screamed, ‘Look at me!’.

At 1st these trends began with the superstars. Then they moved down through the ranks, eventually filtering through to the lowly social and amateur leagues that I played in. Players who struggled to pass the ball to each other started to show up to training in $300 boots that promised to take their game to the next level. The problem is that the next level up from sea level is still a long way from the summit of Everest. Once a striker I played with spent 10 minutes lecturing me on the enhanced abilities his new boots gave him. All while the lazy, overweight arse had a cigarette.

This then is the genesis of the ‘Fancy Football Boots Rule’. It’s really simple – You wear the fancy boots, then you had better bring game. Don’t go wearing gear that demands attention when you have no substance to show for it.

The Boston Red Sox wore metaphorical fancy football boots this year. They talked.

A lot.

About how they were going to turn stuff around, both at the start of the season and throughout September. John Lackey once opined that come October they’d know what to do, they’d lift. Which presumably indicated that they didn’t need to lift from April through September. Didn’t need to run out grounders to 1st. Could maybe chug a few beers on off days, goofing off over video games and fried chicken in the clubhouse instead of sitting the bench supporting the team. Yep, they took their $161m payroll, the 2nd largest in the MLB and they bought fancy football boots.

The problem is – and this is acceptance time – they weren’t that good.

They finished with 90 wins, just 1 more than last year and this in spite of the much hyped and expensive additions of Adrian Gonzalez (good) and Carl Crawford (not good). John Lackey, now 2 seasons into a 5 year, $82m deal stunk with an ERA of 6.41 and a WHIP of 1.62. Yeah he won 12 and lost 12 but an ERA of 6.41 and a WHIP of 1.62? How’s that not going to bite someone? You can maybe get by on that if your offence is on it every day but they weren’t. Lowrie, Drew, Reddick, Varitek, Salty, Crawford and even Big Papi had too many off days for it to not be a problem.

Dice K and Buchholz went down with injuries. Buchholz might have been enough to save the Sox but in the end ‘ace’ Josh Beckett folded like anybody else with Jon Lester close behind. Tim Wakefield went from being a good stopgap to a tired and overused pensioner seemingly dragging himself towards a personal milestone. Don’t even get me started on the bullpen, where just Alfredo Aceves comes out with some credit. All of this was seemingly ok at the time because this is the Boston Red Sox, loaded with talent and able to pull it out of the fire at the last moment without a shadow of a… oh… ummmm… oops, our bad.

No, this team was not a good 1 and this highlights why the ‘Fancy Football Boots Rule’ is critical. If you don’t bring game then all of that colour and jazz – It just looks like unfounded arrogance.

Geelong Football Club play in the AFL. They won premierships in 2007 and 2009, winning 102 of 115 games from 2007 through 2011. 2 of their players have won Brownlows and they have dominated All-Australian selection. They have a right to wear colourful boots. Only they don’t.

Just yesterday I was in a doctor’s surgery, idly flipping through a magazine while I waited. I’d somehow jagged an Australian Sports Illustrated from as recent as February of this year. It contained an AFL preview of season 2011 and amongst it’s august predictions were these gems: Collingwood to win. Easily. Fremantle to finish in 7th. The Eagles to struggle in 16th. Geelong to be hit by the loss of superstar Gary Ablett Jr, coach Bomber Thompson and their President Frank Costa and to be close but not good enough in 5th. The Cats had not enough star-power it seems.

Except what actually happened was that West Coast finished 4th, Collingwood lost the Grand Final, Fremantle bombed in 13th and Geelong, undermatched Geelong, they went on and won the flag. Yep, the Cats tucked away the fancy boot mentality and played as a team. None of their guys featured in the Brownlow hunt and they could muster just 3 All-Australians to Collingwood’s 6. yet at the close they were worthy Premiers, having lost just 4 times all year and 3 times having accounted for the otherwise undefeated Collingwood. That’s 3 Premierships in 5 years.

If they have the same attitude and approach next year then they must surely start as favourites for 4 in 6.

Take a leaf Red Sox.

No Confessions, No Religion, Don’t Believe In Modern Love

  1. “I have no reason for this photo. None at all.” You should know I had a full swallow of milk in my mouth as I read that caption. Not all the milk made its intended destination. Laughter tends to deflect milk from the throat. As a huge college basketball fan I have become fascinated with the escalation of colored footwear. Some of the players look like blue-footed boobies, for example.

    • I was a little bitter when I wrote this post. I’m mostly over it now – In a strange way the Bobby Valentine experience put it into perspective. I still hold to my fancy football boots theorem though – Maybe it’s age.

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