I don’t keep up with professional football much anymore, what with the shenanigans that have dogged the league for the last several years (no pun intended). From Vick’s dog fighting to Favre’s dick pics to Randle’s panty raiding to Hernandez’s murder trial, the NFL looks more like the Jerry Springer Show than a legitimate sports organization. Throw in the recent domestic abuse horseshit (aka the passive-aggressive condoning of violence against women and children) and, well, it’s hard to be a fan nowadays. But I happened to catch the end of the Seahawks/Packers game on Sunday, and I must admit that it was the single most exciting three minutes of football I have ever witnessed. Seattle was dead in the water after having been thoroughly outplayed all game, but after converting a fake field goal for a touchdown late in the third quarter and then scoring 15 points in only 44 seconds within the final minutes of regulation, those scrappy bastards put themselves in a position to win in OT. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt I’ll ever see anything quite like it again–I reckon I was fortunate to have been flipping channels at just the right time. I had a similar experience in 1990, tuning in to HBO just in time to hear, “Down goes Tyson! Down goes Tyson!” as Buster Douglas knocked out the nigh-invulnerable heavyweight champ: “Iron” Mike Tyson. (This was before he went bat-shit crazy and started biting people’s ears off.)
Of course, the post-game interviews were chock-full of sports clichés including “never give up,” which got me thinking about perseverance and the virtue of sticking with something even when all hope is lost. When the odds are stacked against you and defeat seems all but certain, that is your time to rise to the occasion and make the impossible possible–that can be your moment of heroic triumph. But only if you allow it to be. Sometimes it’s far too easy to give up, to simply fold a lousy hand and concede defeat, or to throw in the towel like Roberto Duran did as he was being humiliated by Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring (“No más, no más,” he famously told the referee). When what you’re giving up on doesn’t really matter, if it’s of no consequence, then that’s fine–no harm, no foul, I say. But when you give up on something you truly believe in, something that you feel defines you or is an essential part of who you are or who you aspire to be, then you have effectively given up on yourself and you might as well go ahead and give up on life, too.
(Leonard vs. Duran II, November 25, 1980)
I once had a friend who found herself blindsided by an unfortunate life event, and she was in such shock and disbelief as to how she’d been mistreated that she didn’t know what to do with herself. Full of pain and anguish, her first instinct was to lash out and strike back, but she ended up running headlong into a pattern of self-destructive behavior instead. I remember giving her the following advice: you’ve got to pick yourself up and dust yourself off before you throw a punch. The point being that when you suddenly find yourself sucker-punched full in the mouth and knocked flat on your ass, it’s in your best interest to take a moment to compose yourself before you stand up and take a swing. Otherwise, you’re likely to wind up on your ass again. And now I find myself in the strange position of having to heed my own advice. All I want to do is to jump up and hit life back with everything it has dished out to me, like Ralphie did to the yellow-eyed Scott Farkus in A Christmas Story, bloodying the bully’s face with haymakers and all the while cursing like Yosemite Sam. But I know better than this. I know that if I were to try such a thing, I would only find myself back in a heap on the ground.
In the spirit of perseverance and boxing metaphors, I’ll leave you with a link to the music video for “Ali in the Jungle,” a song by the English rock band The Hours. Just by chance, I stumbled upon this video a few years back whilst drinking and looking for the footage of Muhammad Ali knocking out George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” and I have since adopted it as my aphoristic anthem (“Everybody gets knocked down. How quick are you going to get up? Just how are you going to get up?”). In the song are references to famous instances of men and women persevering in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe this song as my kind of music, it is somewhat catchy and the video is worth watching for the psychedelic art direction alone. Oh, and don’t be afraid to read up on some of the folks mentioned in the lyrics if you’re not familiar with their stories. Learnin’ is fun, dammit.