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Sports fans often oversimplify matters when their clubs fare poorly. If it gets clobbered in a big match, the fans assume the players were out drinking all night, or they were all smoking pot in the locker room.

Sometimes it even works in reverse.

About thirty years ago, I was sitting behind two elderly gentlemen at a University of South Carolina football game. An underdog Virginia team had put up a stiff fight in the first half. The Gamecocks came out and scored a touchdown to open the second, and I heard one man say to the other, “Well, I reckon (head coach Jim) Carlen must have passed out the marijuana sticks at halftime.”

Yeah. That’s what it was.

At any given point, twenty-two players are in action. Oddly, this is true in both kinds of football, though, in the international variety, one or both of the teams is shorthanded from time to time.

During my modest football career, high school and American, I observed that defense is simpler. It requires no more than a fever pitch. A player can be out of his mind, banging his head (preferably protected) against walls and screaming at the top of his lungs, before he rushes out on the field with band playing and fans cheering. Offense requires more discipline. A lineman in an emotional froth will jump offsides, and if he happens to be the center, it’s particularly embarrassing.

Lots of players on my team played both ways. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them. Otherwise, I might be manic-depressive now.

Sometimes a young man tells himself over and over that the game is important, that he has to be at his very best, and sometimes himself just doesn’t buy it. No one fully knows why. It’s probably got something to do with being human.

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