Loyal Cougars

Of War and Football

Sports are the perfect release from the pressures of life and/or the horrors of humanity. College football is here, and it feels especially glorious considering a real war, another war, may very well be a real thing in the next few days.

I love history – especially American history and particularly the American Civil War. There is a grace about the time period, and an honor about the men who fought in the conflict. As a selfish and spoiled Millennial, it has always been sobering to read about the experiences of that day.

We tend to coalesce all of our likes into one great whole. I am guilty. The similarities between war and sport have always struck me as intriguing. I do not mean to romanticize or trivialize war in any way. War is hell. I am simply drawn to the human spirit and to the situations where it shows through.

The fusion of war and sport is part of what makes college football so enjoyable to me. I get the same sensibilities without the bloodshed. From the general’s battle plan and field commanders tactics in administering said plan, to the everyday private entrusted to bringing it to pass, war and the sport of football share a common narrative. Two opponents, clearly defined, strategy and tactic in hand, scheming to find a way to win the day. Each team, side of the ball, position group, and player as different on one team as they are on the other. Even the optics are similar: Two armies lined up opposite of one another, ready to collide.

If war awakes inner human qualities like nothing else, football comes closest to echoing these attributes outside of the battlefield. Even conflict terminology is a staple of the sport. You hear it used by coach, player, and columnist alike. “In the trenches,” “bomb,” “blitz,” “ground attack,” etc. Add the flags, the chants, and the marching bands. It goes on and on.

Sport brings out the best in the human spirit – and in an avenue where all can be edified, even the loser. Heroic effort, daring in the face of long odds, and dauntless determination in accomplishing the task at hand are on full display every Saturday. The game happens so fast that there is no time to pause and think about individual decision-making. Once the ball is snapped, everything is organic. No play is the same. No game, team, or season is alike.

How terrific that these young men who will showcase their talents on Saturday can do so on a football field and not a battlefield. I wish every young man were so lucky.

So begins the 2013 season.

Then, for BYU, how can Robert Anae outflank the opposition and get Jamaal Williams into space? With the opposing side so focused on the dangerous weapon of Cody Hoffman, will that leave an opening for BYU’s other receivers to play a necessary role in the game plan?  Can BYU’s offensive line hold against a fierce pass rush long enough for Taysom Hill to find the holes in the defense and exploit them? Will the athleticism of Kyle Van Noy be too much for opposing offensive lines to handle? Will Bronco Mendenhall employ the proper tactics throughout the 2013 campaign and bring BYU more success than defeat?

In Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner mused about the time just before Pickett’s Charge. The calm moments prior to when the battle was about to commence — a battle Faulkner knew would be for naught because it had already happened:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain…a crown with desperate and unbelievable victory.

I have often felt this wistful feeling when re-watching games that BYU was unable to claim victory. Perhaps it was the many close losses in bowl games during the Lavell era. Or when John Beck and BYU made a furious comeback against Cal in the 2005 Vegas Bowl only to come up just short. Stop the VHS, DVD, or DVR right before the game starts to turn against the good guys and think about what could have been.

With nothing but optimism before us, mere hours before the flags are unfurled, and with no knowledge of the final outcome, let us sit back and daydream of what might be. Is this the year to finally break through? The Cougars remain undefeated and the whole college football world is within their grasp.


  1. Sanpete

    August 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    In terms of nature red in tooth and claw, a group of humans that lacked aggression, or didn’t enjoy and honor essential aspects of struggle against other groups, including violent struggle–for whom war was only hell, and not also heaven–wouldn’t be likely to reproduce. Sports grow out of the evolutionary necessity of war, and the selective advantage of enjoying and being attracted to what is necessary. (That can be understood in either temporal or spiritual terms, if you think about wars in heaven.)

    It’s an uneasy connection for those who see war as essentially evil, though, which makes this article a little difficult to fully grasp.

  2. Zach Bloxham

    August 31, 2013 at 12:09 am

    An intriguing comment, Sanpete. I appreciate you taking the time to share it.