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Football & the Death of the Hero in “56-0” by TC Boyle


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Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
—“To An Athlete Dying Young” (A.E. Housman)

Robert Downey Junior’s character Derek Lutz (in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School (1986)) may well have been poaching, with tongue-in-cheek, from Don DeLillo’s End Zone when he quipped that “violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war,” but TC Boyle takes Lutz’s (or Delillo’s) conceit up a notch or two in “56-0”, which I jealously think is one of the most perfectly crafted stories that I have ever read. “56-0” can be found in Boyle’s  Stories, but it was previously published in his 1992 collection Without a Hero, whose title is a perfectly apt controlling metaphor for the story as a whole, since, with seemingly effortless grace, Boyle has somehow managed not only to revivify one of American culture’s most clichéd of plotlines (an underdog team’s attempted, “against all odds” heroic “comeback”), but also to bring the ossified Aristotelian unities magically back to life, such that his story gains a remarkable, athletic equipoise,  in which  humour is locked into a dialectical deathgrip with existential gravitas. And—somehow—Boyle  manages to make writing like this appear to be the most natural thing in the world.

1. Life is Football (and Football is Life)

The main character of the story is Ray Arthur Larry-Pete Fontinot, who was named by his father “after the three greatest offensive line-men in college-football history”(163), and who was thereby burdened with an ineluctable, but equally impossible destiny: to live an outsized, classically heroic life. The story opens, however, with a symbolic death, with a

[…] humiliation. Fifty-six to nothing. That was no mere defeat; it was a drubbing, an ass-kicking, a rape, the kind of thing the statisticians and sports nerds would snigger over as long as there were records to keep. He’d always felt bigger than life in his pads and his helmet, a hero, a titan, but you couldn’t muster much heroism lying face down in the mud at fifty-six to nothing and the other team’s third string in there (156).

And, if he feels like he is at the end of his life and not at its beginning (at 22, he has “his whole life ahead of him, and he [feels] ready for the nursing home” after the pummelling that—quite literally—he has just endured),  something in us identifies immediately with Ray Arthur Larry-Pete’s (let’s just call him R.A.L.P. from here on) predicament: if to be a hero means to be “bigger than life”, what we all feel that we are really in for is a bit of, well, life—which amounts, more often than not, to getting our asses kicked, and more. Thus, from the outset, Boyle has signaled that this story will explore the tension between what we can imagine (and thus what stories can offer us) and what we can or must live with (Beethoven’s famous Es Muss Sein, orIt Must Be”). Our imaginations structure the stories of our lives aesthetically: meaning is a form of compensatory artifice, as Milan Kundera has suggested in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Early in the novel that Tereza [MK’s main character] clutched under her arm when she went to visit Tomas, Anna meets Vronsky in curious circumstances: they are at the railway station when someone is run over by a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. This symmetrical composition—the same motif appears at the beginning and at the end—may seem quite novelistic to you, and I am willing to agree, but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as fictive, fabricated, and untrue to life into the word novelistic. Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion. They are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven’s music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. Anna could have chosen another way to take her life. But the motif of death and the railway station, unforgettably bound to the birth of love, enticed her in her hour of despair with its dark beauty. Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.(54)

R.A.L.P. has certainly gone through a lot of distress over the past four years—his team, the Caledonia College Shuckers, have an 0-43 record, with this most recent loss clearly the worst in his career. In fact, pain, loss and humiliation have provided the only discernible pattern in this young man’s four year apprenticeship on this existential playing field, and after this most recent loss he finds himself “depressed” and “brooding about his college career, his job prospects, life after football”(160). [Wait a minute: life after football? Isn’t that an oxymoron—equivalent to life after life?] Well, if he is to be the hero of his own life, then he can only hope that his plot-line has reached its nadir, and that if his life is to be viewed “symmetrically”, if only by him,  he has to get out of the basement and make something of himself—redemption, that’s what heroes seek after reaching the basement, right?

2. Football is War

Right, TC Boyle seems to be saying, let’s take the kind of structure, the kind of self-guided aesthetic tour we all want life to provide, and let’s push that to its limit: we have one full week to do it in, impossible, right? Not for our lonely, isolated hero, even if he spends most of the Sunday following the game “wrapped in his own private misery”, in a world of hurt in which the pain pile just keeps getting heaped higher and higher, such that “his eyelashes [are] welded together” and “both his knees [feel] as if ice picks [have]been driven into them”(157)—not much less than we would expect after such a drubbing. “Fair enough,” we grunt in assent when we learn that “by nightfall, he [feels]good enough to get up and puke”: for we are studious in our naiveté and our optimism, and insist that this is just to be taken for granted. This is just day one: let him sleep on it.

In the morning, a full forty hours after the game had ended, he felt even worse, if that was possible. He sat up, goaded by the first tumultuous stirrings of his gut, and winced as he pulled the sweats over each bruised and puckered calf. His right knee locked up on him as he angled his feet into the laceless high-tops (it had been three years at least since he’d last been able to bend down and tie his shoes), something cried out in his left shoulder as he pulled the Caledonia sweatshirt over his head, and then suddenly he was on his feet and ambulatory. He staggered down the hall like something out of Night of the Living Dead, registering a familiar face here and there, but the faces were a blur mostly, and he avoided the eyes attached to them.

R.A.L.P. avoids the eyes of his peers because he does not want to reflect on the knowledge that they reflect back to him: he knows that he is a kind of monster-turned-zombie, and does not want to dwell upon the implication that the Caledonia Shuckers are truly moribund, one game away from being put out of their misery—and so is he. Boyle heaps the imagery here to great effect: breakfast, for example, is as dead as he feels, his tray  “loaded up with desiccated bacon strips, mucilaginous eggs and waffles that looked, felt and tasted like roofing material”(158), and the “hardwood slats of the bench” in the cafeteria feel as “unforgiving” as life itself. R.A.L.P. is in fact so incredibly sore that, in order to try to eat, he has to “[work] his spine into the swallowing position.” And R.A.L.P. is not the only one: all of his teammates have been—again, literally—crushed by defeat, and “gimp” (165) around campus sporting “Band-Aids, gauze and tape—miles of it—and the lamplight caught the livid craters of their scars and glanced off the railway stitches running up and down their arms. There were casts, crutches, braces slings” (164).

It’s a massive pileup that just doesn’t seem to want to end, and when one of the victims somehow manages, in an attempt to “man up” to the unwritten macho code, to grunt out a raspy “I’ll live”(160), we hardly believe him, and R.A.L.P.’s response to the poor boy is itself a literal croak: we are evidently following these would-be heroes not to the Elysian Fields, but onto the set of The Walking Dead. About the only living, let alone “lively” thing around is the “blistering” wind (158), and everyone seems to already know which way it is blowing: it is the harbinger of winter, of the heat death of their so-called athletic careers.

Hyperbole seems to be the key trope in this story, and this is only fitting, for these are no mere athletes—these are football players, after all. Boyle thus allows his powers full reign, and the results are hilariously grandiose, like the players themselves, whose “protoplasmic mass”(164) is “cut from the same exaggerated mold”(158) as our protagonist: “[. . .] his fellow linemen loomed over the general run of the student body like representatives of another species. Their heads were like prize pumpkins set on the pedestals of their neckless shoulders, their fingers were the size of the average person’s forearm, their jaws were entities unto themselves and they sprouted casts like weird growths all over their bodies” (158).

They are, in other words, made for the application of brute force (or should be—one of their quarterbacks is unfortunately named after the 18C philosopher Diderot, author of—appropriately enough in this context, Jacques The Fatalist), not for thinking. They are enrolled in, of course, Phys Ed., and write “three paragraph papers”  in  courses like “Phys. Training”, “Phys. Comm.” and—yes!!—“Phys. Phys.”(160). However, R.A.L.P. finds himself “fretting”, wallowing in melancholia, “brooding” on defeat and its implications for , and it has has turned not only R.A.L.P. but all of them  into dithering, doubting, cogitating Hamlets; it has removed them from their proper sphere, that of leadership, of action, of “glory”. Even the coach wants to throw in the towel and forfeit the next game. In one of the best scenes in the story, we see R.A.L.P limping over to the locker room to confront the suddenly defeatist coach just as the aforementioned wind summons up “snow flurries” to “scour” our hero’s ears. We see the empty and “barren” trophy case as a signpost for the hero’s journey: if he is to real-ise the comeback, if this archetypal story is to follow its appointed path, then he must, as Heracles, descend into the underworld and steal Cerberus, the powerful dog who will not permit the dead to return to the land of living, from Hades.

3. War is Hell

Im not sure of the origin of the phrase “as cold as Hades”, but if that pitiless god has a contemporary analogue, it has to be Coach Tundra, the peg-legged army vet who is the living embodiment of, the incarnation of, the Robert Downey Jr. quotation cited at the beginning of this article:

You didn’t speak of pain. You toughed it out—that was the code. Coach Tundra had been in the army in Vietnam at some place Ray Arthur Larry-Pete could never remember or pronounce, and he didn’t tolerate whiners and slackers. Pain? he would yelp incredulously at the first hint that a player was even thinking of staying down. Tell it to the 101st Airborne, to the boys taking a mortar round in the Ia Drang Valley or the grunts in the field watching their buddies get blown away and then crawling six miles through a swamp so thick it would choke a snake with both their ears bleeding down their neck and their leg gone at the knee. Get up, soldier. Get out there and fight!(160)

The code not only forces the players to downplay their injuries in front of each other, it also forces them to transform those wounds into weapons: not only does R.A.L.P. shatter a coffee table by slamming his forearm cast  on it while attempting to motivate his troops for one last battle against the invincible team from State, when he succeeds in doing so he performs samurai-like movements in his bedroom “in his undershorts, cutting the air savagely with the battering ram of his cast, pumping himself up”(166). So transformed, he even succeeds in reanimating Coach Tundra, whose last chalk talk in turn transforms every last wounded warrior back into more than a mere squad: now finally, on game day, they are a “crazed herd of hoofed and horned things with the scent of blood in their nostrils”(167). Their savage cry infects the whole stadium, even fickle girlfriend Suzie, who is herself metamorphosed into white-haired harpy for the game, and who is freeze-framed in the stands with “her mouth fallen open in a cry of savagery and bloodlust.”

Of course, praying to the warlike god Mars in this manner means that some aspects of our humanity are over-emphasized, while others are sadly diminished. What’s taken away is any sense that the civilian, or non-athletic segment of society has any value whatsoever. Worshiping football becomes tantamount to worshiping the lifeless Tundra that Coach inhabits. And so if we look at the players’ attitude toward the non-macho, non-heroic crowd in the story, why they barely see them at all. Everyone is supposed to be watching them, not the other way around. And when they are noticed, it is not in a favourable light: there is the “half-witted dweeb” that R.A.L.P. would “gladly have murdered” for leaving a skateboard in the hall (158-59); the waterboy has an onomatopoeic name, “Garry Gedney”, and is a “chicken neck” who ineffective “thin whistling whine of a balloon sputtering around a room”(160); R.A.L.P.’s girlfriend, Suzie, is present mostly by her absence, and is described only in terms of male desire, as “one of the quintessentially desirable girls on campus, with all her assets on public view”; the school’s only winning team is women’s field hockey, “and who counted that?”(162); the worst thing that a football team can be accused of is not a bunch of quitters, whiners or slackers, but “a bunch of pussies”(166).

4. “I Am That I Am”

The structure of the story, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, almost perfectly obeys the Aristotelian unities (Action? Check. Place? Check. Time? Pretty much: one week, the “natural” diurnal rhythm of football, as it were): it coaxes us into a sense of readerly comfort, as if to say: you’ve been  here before, you know how this turns out, don’t you? So, when our hero plunges into the lowest depths of Hades, and  confronts Coach Tundra, the old man turns out to be as forbidding as a wet noodle. No longer the predatory raptor, Coach now has “nothing in those eyes” and “even [his] brush cut, ordinarily as stiff and imperturbable as a falcon’s crest, seem[s] to lie limp against his scalp”(162), so he will not get in R.A.L.P.’s way. What Coach Tundra gives up on is not the first two of our above premises  (“life is football” & “football is war”), but on the conclusion that all of these Shuckers (sounds like “suckers”) must deduce from them—if life is therefore war, then this is retreat:

He heaved a sigh, plucked a torn battered shoe from the pile of relics on the floor and turned it over meditatively in his hands. “We’re done, Fontinot. Finished. It’s all she wrote. Like at Saigon when the gooks overran the place—it’s time to cut our losses and run.(163)

This “stun[s]” our hero, but it doesn’t finish him off, and we don’t expect it to, for we know that if our 20C hero is to overcome great obstacles on his way to victory, such roadblocks must, the reader suspects, be internal. The 20C hero must conquer himself. If this encounter knocks him for one, leaves him “prostrate on the bed like something shot out in the open that had crawled back to its cave to die,” if this moment of “perfidy” is followed by another equally as devastating (Suzie would rather “hav[e] her nails done”(164) than tend to her wounded warrior), we fully expect him to get back up from this, this classic turning point of the story that is also the very “nadir of his despair”.

When he does indeed get up, he does so not merely like a true hero, like a born leader, or even a force of nature (he does come “up off the bed like some sort of volcanic eruption”)—no, this is something other. When he “roar[s]” into the phone at Gary Gedney the waterboy to “phone up all the guys,” and encounters only the bleating of a petrified sheep, R.A.L.P. transforms himself, somehow, into some kind of Übermensch, some kind of god, and the hero’s nadir is transformed thereby into the story’s climax:

Gedney’s voice came back at him in the thin, whistling whine of a balloon sputtering around a room. “Who is this?”
“It’s Fontinot. I want you to phone up all the guys.”
“What for?” Gedney whined.
“We’re calling a team meeting.”
“Who is?”
Ray Arthur Larry-Pete considered the question a moment, and when finally he spoke it was with a conviction and authority he never thought he could command: “I am.”

This evokes not only a god, but the God, the unpronounceable, unnameable JHVH, YHWH or Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14, in which Moses is instructed by Yahweh/Jehovah to tell the Israelites that “HE WHO IS hath sent me unto you.” This God authorizes Moses to go to his people and tell them “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites [. . .]a land flowing with milk and honey. And they will listen to your voice.”

5. The ∴

Of course, since R.A.L.P.’s  “I am” moment serves as the story’s climax, and since Boyle is toying with our readerly expectations vis-a-vis the whole “underdog” theme (while nevertheless crafting a perfectly symmetrical plot line for us), we are therefore forced to admit that it is going to be all downhill from here—both for ourselves and for our hero. We anticipate not only that our team is doomed to defeat, but also that they will somehow salvage a sense of dignity at the end of it all, while R.A.L.P. will have a perfect Joycean epiphany about life, leadership and humility. Or something like that.

The problem is, we readers, like the team, are “confuse[d] as much as inspire[d] by all of this mythologizing of war and of masculinity, and also by all of this comfortable immersion in literary structure, and we do not see that our author is not engaging with us, or his characters, on a—erm—level playing field. We, like the team, have “gimped”(165) [def’n: “lame”, but also “contemptibly stupid”] along after our narrator, after our hero, in search of some kind of meaning, hoping too to find some form of compensatory comfort when even a Sisyphean life such as R.A.L.P’s is sublimated into a work of art. But we barely notice when the third string quarterback gives the team, (as well as the reader) advice that no one wants our hero to take: to choose the pragmatic route and “forfeit” the game.

Now, the historical Diderot is famous for a number of things, but I’ll not-even-gloss-over three: first, for his Encyclopedie, which was, in the spirit of 18C Enlightenment rationalism and optimism, an attempt to assemble all of human knowledge together in one volume (something only dreamed of 150 years earlier in Hamlet’s  metaphorical “distracted globe” , a world unto itself which is simultaneously “the book and volume of my brain”); second, for his habit of both playing with (a là Tristram Shandy) readerly expectations concerning representation and literary structure; third, for his theorizing of the concept of the “fourth wall” in a theatre, which metaphorically separates us, the audience, from the work of literature, a separation which allows us to imaginatively and vicariously participate in the lives of the characters as if they were living and breathing people.

Boyle’s sly allusion to Diderot here is thus a warping, if not a breaking of that fourth wall, in the sense that, far from the author speaking directly to the reader and thereby destroying the artifice at hand, Boyle takes us even deeper into the rabbit hole of our own lives as we gladly follow R.A.L.P. and his new-found disciples into a battle that they know they cannot win—for it is metaphorically the battle of each and every one of our lives. We all secretly believe Camus’s version of this, in his re-telling of the myth of Sisyphus: we moderns know that we lead ultimately doomed lives, lives characterized by senseless drudgery (and endless repetition thereof), and we know too that, not only are we unable to “stay” on “fields of glory” for any length of time, but also (and despite the fact that we are all addicted to watching Game of Thrones!) we all know in our heart of hearts that medieval concepts like honour and glory are no more than a quaint anachronism. However, following Camus, we can still choose to rebel—if only internally, inside what we imaginatively identify as our “core” “selves”—like Camus’ Sisyphus,  we rage against the meaninglessness of our being “thrown” randomly into our pathetic little lives. Out of such rebellion, Camus insists, we create individual human lives, we create meaning, and thereby endow ourselves with a dignity that Immanuel Kant thought was given to us by nature . As we’ll soon see, however, Boyle will allow us none of these comforting thoughts.

Boyle’s neatest trick in all of this is how subtly he plays with the conventional short story so that we hardly notice how closely it resembles such postmodern metafiction as Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—in outlook, that is, if not in form. In Diderot’s novel Jacques le Fataliste, a “great scroll” slowly unravels to reveal that, in this life of ours, “tout ce qui nous arrive de bien et de mal ici-bas était écrit là-haut” [“everything that happens to us good and evil here below was written up there”], and both Stoppard’s play and Boyle’s story suggest that “our ends are not our own, rough-hew them how we will”— but that it is not some divine providence at work “up there”, but something far more banally sinister, something coldly impersonal and calculating. For Stoppard, it is none other than the metafictional author perhaps, who cynically conspires with the audience so that both get what they want and expect from art. Boyle is a bit more sympathetic to his characters than this, but knows that the real author of our lives (Life, Nature, Human Nature? Masculinity? History?  In his novels, from what I can gather, Boyle seems to both suggest and deny us any of these pat answers) is decidedly not rooting for our side.

Still, who reading “56-0” can help rooting for R.A.L.P. and his Shuckers as they gamely give it one last old college try? On the night before the final game of his life, R.A.L.P. cannot sleep, toughs it out in his own Garden of Gethsemene moment, and endures his self-made self-doubts—and we feel that this humanizes him, or us, in spite of the limitations and seeming randomness of his/our own thoughts, desires, hopes and fears, all of which issue from a brain that seems more in the service of some implacable Fortuna than of our deepest, core selves. Thus he feels “his brain tumbling through all of the permutations of victory and disaster like a slot machine gone amok”(166). The threats to him are both internal and external: he feels his destiny calling to him from the abyss, in the form of the “poor pathetic bumbling fat man he [is]destined to become”, but nature is just as remorselessly constant in her opposition to his crusade, and game day dawns just as it has like every other in the week since the penultimate defeat, “cold and forbidding, with close skies , a biting wind and the threat of snow in the air”. But R.A.L.P. has swallowed the warrior’s code too deeply to give in to such threats, and some inner Horatio Alger or Dale Carnegie in us strains to agree: “if you [think] like a loser—,” he thinks, “then you [are] doomed.” The only chance for a dignified exit is to keep believing, and so we do, whether it be like R.A.L.P.s cancer-ridden mom “holding her feeble fist aloft”(167), or like fickle Suzie with her war-cries and “bloodlust”, we nevertheless cheer as our boys test everything they’re made of against their pitiless fate.

Trouble is, what Boyle has in store for them is even more pitiless, even more indifferent to our human aspirations, than we could ever imagine. 20C literary convention has prepared us readers to accept external defeat if that is the price that must be paid for the character’s (or at least the reader’s) well-earned epiphany at the story’s close, but Boyle’s narrator refuses to grant us even that. What he gives us, if life truly is football, is more, much more—and then even more, one remorseless pileup after another: after they are merely one minute into the game, the Shuckers are down 14-0 before R.A.L.P. and his  offensive team has gotten onto the field, and when he finally does he is hit so hard, it is as if “a tactical nuclear explosion”(168) has been detonated inside his chest. If football is war, it is a one-sided, asymmetrical affair at the very least, one in which pits our hero’s comparatively meagre will against a force so outsized, it eclipses “his own rapidly dissolving identity” without even trying: flat on his back, our would-be Sisyphus feels “the first snowflakes drift down into the whites of his wide-open and staring eyes” and realises that this is “going to be a very long afternoon indeed”.

R.A.L.P. bought into Coach Tundra’s warrior code, and it allowed him the illusory feeling of heroic or godlike status, but he didn’t realise that the tundra, like Elton John’s warrior planet Mars, is as cold as hell, a hell wherein nuclear explosions beget nothing but nuclear winter: appropriately enough, at half time, “frozen, pulverized, every cord, ligament, muscle and fiber stretched to the breaking point, they listened numbly as Coach went on about ordnance, landing zones and fields of fire,”(169) but the third quarter brings with it only more of the same, “a delirium of blowing snow, shouts and curses and cries in the wilderness,” as the Tundra code has brought them all to a place where life cannot and will not ever flourish.

Thus by the beginning of the fourth quarter, after their bodies have all but surrendered, all that is left of them is their humanity, their dignity, and they realise that they are no longer playing for glory, for the adulation of the crowd or even for the greater good of the squad, they are “playing for one thing only to avoid at all cost the humiliation of 56-0”(170). But life cannot be stopped, and it is one humiliation after another, and so as the storm escalates to a blizzard, such that “the snow [blows] in their teeth” as if they were chattering skeletons inhabiting a “blasted naked dead cylinder of a world” they are down 55-0, dreading the one-point touchdown conversion kick, and (of course, we’ve been expecting it):

there [is] one hope, and one hope only [. . .] and that was for one man among them to reach down inside himself and distill his essence—all his wits, all his heart and the full power of his honed young musculature—into a single last-ditch attempt to block that kick.

And, in a feeble echo of his “I am” moment from earlier, R.A.L.P. assumes the mantle of human dignity, the dignity of Winston Smith, a 20C hero who refuses to give in to being tortured by O’Brien, that pitiless agent of the totalitarian state  in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. And just as Winston Smith announces to O’Brien that he is a man, and that no torture on earth can take his essence away from him, R.A.L.P. trumpets that he is the man who will block that kick, he is the one who will prevent another “56-0”.

Of course, Orwell’s O’Brien all-too-easily demonstrates to Winston that if he is a man, a man with an core self, with an indestructible, coherent essence,  then he is history’s “last man”, and proceeds to destroy him, to make him betray his lover Julia and embrace the Party. And of course, while our hero R.A.L.P does indeed technically block the kick, the diverted ball is caught by a player from State, who runs it into the end zone for a two-point conversion, making the final score even worse than if R.A.L.P. had not ever attempted to pit his entire self against his team’s fate—his hubris is thus that he thinks he can be the author of his own life and thereby of the team’s destiny, and his punishment for this is something far, far worse than Sisyphus ever endured: he is condemned to a Zombie-like future, and we see him alone and isolated at the end of the story, lying

just where he’d fallen, the snow drifting silently round him, and he lay there long after the teams had left the field and the stands stood empty under a canopy of snow. There, in the dirt, the steady drift of snow gleaming against the exposed skin of his calves and slowly obliterating  the number on the back of his jersey, he had a vision of the future. He saw himself working at some tedious, spirit-crushing job for which his Phys. Ed. training could never have prepared him, saw himself sunk in fat like his father , a pale plain wife and two grublike children at his side, no eighty-yard runs or blocked points to look back on through a false scrim of nostalgia, no glory and no defeat.

No defeat. It was a concept that seemed all at once to congeal in his tired brain, and as Moss called out his name and the snow beat down, he tried hard, with all his concentration, to hold it there.(171)

It is a curious ending, where our hero almost wills himself into an alternate universe, into a future Zombie-life, one that has erased all traces of his current existence but which promises no further cognitive dissonance, and, if no victory, also no pain—much as O’Brien promises to erase Winston Smith from the stream of history, from even his own knowledge of his prior existence. But if life is football, then and football is erased, then what is this capital-L Life, that rules over TC Boyle’s story like some heartless demi-god?

To answer this question we must piece together the ineluctable logic of the unavoidable syllogism that the story has been implying all along, a syllogism built with incredible efficiency by every single metaphor and image in this truly remarkable piece of writing:

If Life is Football
& Football is War
& War is Hell
∴ Life is Hell !

football2

Note, if you liked this, you might want to check out  one of my own stories — thanks for reading.


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