Trickster Gods: A Hog Football Lament
“Since the beginning of time the tricksters have embraced life’s paradoxes, creating coherence through confusion — adding disorder to the world in order to expose its lies and speak the truth.”
CIRCA (Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army)
It’s talked about frequently that football, particularly college football, is a religion in the south. And it absolutely is.
We build it’s cathedrals and make pilgrimage. There are saints and cautionary tales. The canon of our team’s history is perfect for a deep dive of lessons and legend and prophecy.
But the funny thing is that it is NOT religion like most southern Americans are actually used to. There are no rules and commandments. There is no guarantee of paradise if one simply keeps his/her head down and does the right thing. The religion of football doesn’t work like that.
The religion of football owes more to the Greeks and Norse and Native Americans than it does to any biblical tradition.
Football is run by Trickster gods.
The religion of football is one with many gods of varying strength and importance. The gods have all the human failings but writ large. The gods teach us about ourselves through their outrageous acts of vanity and self-importance.
Zeus was always disguising himself and knocking up an unsuspecting virgin. His wife was always plotting against his offspring rather than punishing the wrongdoer.
A seat near Odin in Valhalla was attained by dying while committing reckless violence, not by following any real codes of battle.
The followers of these religious pantheons didn’t expect justice from the world or from the gods. They hoped for favor. They expected to be fooled.
There is a sense of being fooled in Hog-land.
For the most part Bret Bielema has been treated pretty well for four years here. He seems a decent, possibly even good, man. He recruits good kids and treats them with class and dignity. He appears to honestly care about them and how their lives turn out.
His philosophies of football are simple and straightforward. Block. Tackle. Run first. Build from the lines out. Control the ball. Scheme is secondary to technique.
It is a sound approach. The Zeus of college football, Nick Saban, (to my knowledge Saban does not impregnate unsuspecting virgins but he definitely exudes an all-powerful dickish-ness that would fit right in on Mount Olympus) has a similar view of football. Success comes from process and the process is as old as the sport. There are new-fangled ideas and gimmicks that must be embraced. But the process remains the same.
But unlike Nick/Zeus, Bielema appears to be entirely mortal. The instruments he works with are not half-god 5 stars. They too are simply humans.
The trickster gods are the most fun. The Lokis and Coyotes. Supernatural beings that toy with mortals, gods whose aims aren’t clear or understandable. They make us think they are on our side only to make clear that in the end they only really care about themselves. They want the world to be interesting. They give us intrigue. But they rarely offer satisfaction.
Bielema, along with the Arkansas fan base, has been the unwitting victim of the Tricksters. Bielema is learning that you can pretty much do things the right way and still fail.
At the same time we can watch someone like Bobby Petrino, an objectively awful human being, be gifted with one of the singular quarterback talents of the decade.
Bobby Petrino is the anti-Bielema. I am not saying one is good and one is evil, just that they are polar opposites. Petrino doesn’t believe in a “right” way. He believes in HIS way. He believes that his gifted offensive mind should be indulged and success will follow. In Petrino’s world there is no larger scheme. There is only HIS scheme and his scheme is the best.
And for the moment it seems the trickster gods are laughing at us as Bobby plays with the wondrous toy that is Lamar Jackson. (And make no mistake, watching Lamar Jackson play under Petrino’s direction is a fantastic thing.)
But the trickster gods are never that simple and straightforward. Bobby will likely fail in some spectacular way due to ego and short-sightedness. He will fly too close to the sun on wings made of wax and the gods will punish him for his arrogance. Or maybe they won’t and we will all throw up our hands.
And maybe Bret Bielema’s fortunes will change and the pieces will fall into place and it will seem like doing the right thing produces good outcomes. Or maybe they won’t and we will all throw up our hands.
All that we can do is look to the football gods and hope for favor. But not expect it.
Expect to be fooled.
Only one thing is certain in the religion of college football. Things will always work out just fine for Zeus.