Friday, December 21, 2007

Suicide Mission = Football Jihad

Football language changed after this

Redskins fans are a mess right now. The team underachieved and there were calls for Joe Gibbs to step aside, all before Sean Taylor was shot and killed. So from a sociological perspective it is not surprising that the fans are looking not only for signs of strength and hope in the past two wins but also for a sort of spiritual successor to Sean Taylor, someone reminding us of and linking the team to Sean as we go forward.

That person is safety LaRon Landry, hard hitting, highly touted rookie from LSU.

The irony that we learned this week that LaRon writes SUICIDE MISSION in ink on his body before every game and has since high school is delicious. In one swell foop we have the spirit of Sean Taylor reborn in a young player, the puppy to replace the old hound, even if that old hound was still a hunter. He is a hitter, that much we knew. Ask Muhsin Muhammad, Plaxico Burress and Kerry Collins. But the parallel goes deeper:

"That's how I play, man," he said. "That's the attitude I have each and every game. Play each game like it's my last."

Play each game like it's your last. Taken out of context that is a trite aphorism. Careers are short, games are few, championships are scarce, yada yada.

But in the context of this season, it was true for one Redskin, wasn't it?

You can't write this stuff, it's better than a movie. LaRon has been doing this for years but only now does he reveal it, when he found the true meaning of it for himself.


I am somewhat surprised I have not seen the PC police commenting on SUICIDE MISSION yet. For those readers that have been around long enough to remember Super Bowl 25, football language changed after that game.

The US and coalition forces began airstrikes on Iraqi forces at midnight on 15 January 1991 and this Super Bowl was played 12 days later. I was a senior in college and my recollection of that time is somewhat hazy for many reasons not the least of which being that no one in my age bracket had ever seen the US military machine in this kind of action before, TV coverage was 24 hour, bumper stickers like THESE COLORS DON'T RUN were everywhere and after years of long hair and tie dyes with no problem in a college town I suddenly found myself being stared down by mulleted rednecks in line at the beer store. Everything seemed surreal.

Prior to the Gulf War Super Bowl it was acceptable, even fashionable to liken football to war, football players to warriors. Remember in 1987 when the Miami Hurricanes arrived for the Fiesta Bowl and attended all the media functions dressed in camouflage?

In the aftermath of the Gulf War Super Bowl there were complaints either in the interests of good taste or from the PC police depending on your viewpoint that rich guys who work a half year schedule should not compare themselves to Roman gladiators, trench warfare grunts or vanquishing armies given that our men and women were legitimately in harm's way for the first time in a generation.

And despite the complaints about lighten up it's a game that ensued, you don't hear too much of that anymore do you? Football is still couched in the gender language of the rougher sex but not in terms of war.

And so at that level SUICIDE MISSION is simply an update to terminology that can be argued is inappropriate. Suicide bombers (or homicide bombers as they are referred to on the Fox News Channel) are the critical tools keeping Iraq and Afghanistan from any kind of order and even as I went to Google News to search on the term to see what I got a dark serendipity put this story at the top without even having to perform a search: AT LEAST 50 KILLED IN PAKISTAN ATTACK, about a suicide bomber that blew himself up inside a crowded mosque in northwest Pakistan yesterday.

Going back and performing the news search, there are nearly 15000 news items matching that criteria.


So this is a longwinded way of saying I appreciate LaRon's mindset and I get why it matters, not simply in the context of how he plays, how he has always played and how he got where he is but also for what it means now, to him and to all the young players facing careers that are short enough as it is and now must withstand the tragedy of a death in their midst.

"Yup," he said. "I'm crazy. That's just the approach you have to have each and every game. Why not give it your all and leave it on the field? If you don't live up to that, why are you doing it?"

Screengrabs of opening montage from Super Bowl 25 on 27 January 1991 from here. This is an incredible cultural analysis of this game in the context of media representations of the first Gulf War.