Scratch that. This year, there’s no “just” anything.
If one takes away one point, and there are many to take, from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs & Steel and Collapse, his twin works on societies’ rises and falls, respectively, it is the dull truth that a people’s success or failure depends not on the greatness of its citizenry but on their making great use of the resources around them.
Furthermore, the more limited a people’s resources, the smaller their margin of error, meaning there is no inventing a way out of a problem. In truth, that probably just makes things worse, which nags at the ego of many a would-be great man. Our world, then, is little more than a massively large 4-H club, prone to self-annihilation.
Even on a smaller scale, the myth of the great man is dangerous. Notre Dame is preparing to fire their great man over the weekend, perhaps looking to hire Florida’s after the New Year. And upon his exit from South Bend, he’ll take his “decided schematic advantage” back to the show ponies of the NFL where it belongs. How great can that advantage be when, in games against Georgia Tech and Navy, it has a losing record against a scheme older than color television?
Auburn’s little brother syndrome went critical last off-season when the school hired a new coach with an embarrassingly bad coaching record when the fanbase expected their answer to Nick Saban. Even the absence of a great man can cast a shadow.
Knowing our world runs on transparent, even mundane, causes can be humbling. For some, it is preferable to imagine a world of puppet masters and marionettes, plotters and schemes. The conspiracy theorist fears the uncontrollable far more than any tyrant because there is comfort in knowing someone, even someone loathsome, is in charge.
To acknowledge the chaos in the world is to claim our part in it, which is harder than just blaming a referee. And so this season, the usual wingnuts have been joined by coaches and the press in their imagined scandals. Rather than accept the complexities inherent in the referee’s job, the conspiracy-minded observer infers intent from incompetence, which plays on the observer’s pride, a seer among the sheep exposing the charade.
Let us grant the conspiracy theorists their undue. Let us propose a world where the rules of the game are lax. Tennessee has their re-kick. LSU has their interception. Mississippi State has their touchdown. Each would still have to face that defense, that exceptional collection of resources, on the other side.
Is Nick Saban a great man? He probably doesn’t think so. But with his constant refrain of “The Process,” he’s pretty damn sure he knows how to make full use of his resources. And if Diamond is right, doing so in the right place at the right time can lead to something special.
So here we are.