Sunday, January 06, 2008


A game is a game, and Seattle played a very good one yesterday. But what is interesting is the narrative that surrounded this game.

Media loves a narrative, a story which gives deeper meaning to mere recitation of facts. Sports provides a lot of potential for narrative, since it involves scrappy underdogs, unappreciated heroes, last chances of redemption, establishings of dynasties, and all sorts of stuff. Anything can provide the narrative, and, once found, it is cheerfully pounded into the ground.

Case in point, the posthumous fate of Sean Taylor, Pro Bowl safety for the Washington Redskins, who was killed in his home by an intruder mid-season. Since then, the Redskins have rallied, won their last four games of the season, made it into the playoffs, citing Taylor's memory as their spark, their "gipper" (As in win one for...). And that is a great thing, the team rallying behind a shared tragedy, and the NFL put Taylor's number (21) on all the helmets in memorial. A fitting and positive testimonial to the untimely passing of a great player.

But for the past week, we have been subjected to a relentless summoning of Sean Taylor's ghost, a carpet-bombing with his spiritual essence. The narrative was "Washington is going to go in and win for its lost comrade". Strong narrative, one of the strongest of the weekend's. And it was relentlessly pounded home in article after article, newsclip after newsclip.

And then the game hit. The Redskins went down 13 points with no response, and Taylor, their patron saint, was mysteriously absent from discussions. Had he forsaken them? But wait, two quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the 'Skins lead, and the announcers suddenly uncork about how Taylor was the spiritual leader of the team, bringing him out of the tomb like Lazarus, and how it was a near-certain thing that their guardian angel would see them through the last 8 minutes of the game (I wish I were making this up - it was like watching the announcers find Jesus in High Def).

But it was a game, a game played by mortals, and the Seahawks stiffened, rallied, and brought it back to win, 35-14. And suddenly the narrative, trotted out early, fell apart, leaving the announcers to pick up the pieces, sputtering praises of the late safety even as the Seahawks ended the Redskins season. When the 'Skins were ahead, the narrative was divine intervention from the afterlife to bring victory - the Hand of God. When they lost, their guardian angel was quietly shelved, and you could hear the disappointment from the announcers that reality did not comply to the cool story.

Of course, there is the little matter that the Seahawks won by 21 points, Sean Taylor's number? 21. I haven't seen anyone make a divine connection between the two facts. I wonder why?

More later,

Postscript As one narrative falls, another rises in its place. Seattle goes to Green Bay next week. While the narrative could be "Old coach comes back against QB he taught", it is more likely the narrative will be "Seattle QB said something stupid the last time the two teams played - will God punish them this time as well?"