Update [2007-11-30 15:53:27 by River City Rage]: Just a quick welcome to the folks coming over from DeadSpin! Thanks for stopping by! If you'd like, feel free to register for the site and comment! Thanks again for visiting!
I don't know if you'll believe it or not, but your humble narrator has a background in Russian Literature. It's true, I'm not all football and Jaguars all the time, there's actually some depth to my education. Recently, I was discussing one of my favorite books The Brothers Karamazov with a dear friend of mine and it started me to think about the book and the AFC South.
Seriously, that's how my mind worked. I re-read a few passages while listening to Jaguars this Week and some connections were made. There just happens to be 4 teams in the AFC South, and (spoiler alert) there are 4 brothers in The Brothers Karazamov.
So, without further adu, I give you the AFC South, in the form of the four most important brothers in literature. I only ask that you not read too deeply into this, I'm a little bored with all the regular commentary that's going on out there in the sports world, so I'm attempting to liven it up just a little bit. Not all of the characterizations I'm making are going to fit perfectly, but for the sake of amusement, let's run with it.
Dimitri Fyodorvich Karamozov as the Jacksonville Jaguars: Dimitri is considered the most emotionally driven of the brothers. He is most like his father in his sensualism and passion. Dimitri also has a terrible habit of having things turn terrible, just as it looks like he'll find what he's looking for. His mood swings from happy go lucky and positive to a violent temper that leads to destructive behavior. Dimitri is also prone to sudden rash decisions, for example he abandoned his fiance, Katerina, as he fell for another woman, Grushenka.
Jacksonville is known for being an emotionally driven team with a history of violent swings from elite to horrible, often over a few weeks. The Jaguars, like Dimitri when he finds out the Grushenka loves him, come ever so close to greatness, only to suffer a season ending collapse. To draw the metaphor further, Jacksonville is on the precipice of the playoffs, much like in years past, and the results of one game are like having Official Perkhtin barge in, just as Dimitri's about to realize his feelings for Grushenka
We could take the metaphor a little further if we widen our view a little bit. Imagine, that Dimitri's love interest, Grushenka, is the idea of respect and legitimacy. Jacksonville is widely erratic in it's pursuit of respect and credibility as a serious team, especially when competing in such a tough division. We can read Karamozov using this framework and imagine the frustration and dissapointment in Jacksonville as just when we're on the cusp of consummating our national respect and our place as the top team in the division something from our past, something in the way we carry ourselves comes in at the last second and takes our dream away.
Dimitri is a character obsessed with obtaining redemption, obsessed with rising above his background and overcoming the burden of sin in his heart. Jacksonville is at team obsessed with overcoming the Colts, of overcoming their reputation as an inconsistent and emotional team, and finally finding their Grushenka. The obsession only enhances their emotional intensity, and it's not until they overcome that intensity and play with focus that they'll find themselves at the top of the AFC South.
Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov as the Tennessee Titans: Ivan is a man obsessed with the dichotomy between the suffering on earth and the forgiveness required by god. Ivan is dominated by a logical mind that attempts to rationalize and justify the condition of man through what is real, rather than the idea of faith. Ivan's most famous attempt to reconcile suffering on earth with the promise of god comes in the Grand Inquisitor, where the Inquisitor rejects Jesus because to accept him would require accepting suffering, and man can overcome suffering on their own. None of the brothers in the book go through more suffering than Ivan, as he's consumed by doubt and frustration because his brilliant mind cannot fill the gap between his love of humanity and his doubt in God.
The book ends with Ivan in a dreadful condition as his rejection of God indirectly leads to the murder of his father and his lack of faith leaving him in a terrible existential crisis.
If we rename Ivan Fyodorovich as Jeff Fisher, we get an interesting result. Jeff Fisher is a brilliant coaching mind that's lead the Titans for a tremendously long time. Currently, he is tormented by his logical mind seeing the abhorrent performance on the field of Vince Young while believing deep inside that he could be a quality quarterback. Jeff attempts to reconcile this dichotomy between what is actual and what is possible in his most famous game plan, the dumbed down "Read Option", where contemporary football strategy is rejected because "Jesus in Cleats" requires a game play so simple to execute, that the offense suffers.
None of the teams in the AFC have gone through quite the level of suffering that the Titans have. Coming ever so short in a Super Bowl, ending the previous season on such a hot streak only to have the season fall apart under the lack of leadership in Vince Young, having all the leaders of last season leave in free agency, and the rock of the defense (Haynesworth) disappear due to injury.
Currently, Jeff Fisher must be in a state of madness, much like Ivan, where he's responsible for the collapse of his team by sticking with a clearly struggling Vince Young in spite of his obvious flaws. The reconciliation of the potential talent of his star player and the actual performance on the field will torment the Coach through the end of the season. Just as Ivan will need the love of Katerina to rise above his crisis, Jeff Fisher and the Titans need the love of Free Agency to bring other threats to the offense and relieve the fundamental pressure on Vince.
Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdakov as the Houston Texans : The "bastard child" of Fyodor Pavlovich, father to the other three brothers, and Stinking Lizaveta, Smerdakov is hardly considered part of the Karamozov family. Smerdakov suffers from terrible epilepsy , but is smart enough to use his perceived weakness to his advantage. For example, the man he would eventually murder trusts Smerdakov because the young man once returned some money that Fyodor dropped.
Smerdakov's shrewdness allows him to get away with the murder, at least for the short term, because he's able to use his illness to mask the crime. He's considered by others to be unsocial and isolated, and tends to mock philosophy and religion. He prefers to follow the idea that there is no good and there is no evil, there is just the idea that "everything is permitted". This loose morality allows Smerdakov to commit murder, but the act leads him to nothing but despair and eventual suicide, demonstrating the failure of his chosen nihilistic attitude.
This is pretty straightforward. Houston is the "bastard child" of the NFL, born from a team that left them behind (The Oilers), they seem to hardly be considered a serious NFL team. The Texans use this "weakness" to draw teams in for a terribly embarrassing defeat (usually the Jaguars), but never fully take advantage of their wins to produce anything approaching a winning season. Teams tend to trust that when they play the Texans that they'll walk away with a win, as they are seen as an uncompetitive team, despite their huge market and loyal fanbase.
The Texans suffer from a sort of epilepsy of their own, a trend of playing very good, very close football one week but to not hold it together long enough to produce a winning season. You can identify clear talents on the team, but the total package of the Texans seems not strong enough in its current state to do anything constructive. Instead they play like there is no win or loss at the end and instead go into each game like it's an individual sport. Perhaps it's the coaching staff, or the general direction of the team that needs to be adjusted for this collection of individual talents to coalece, or maybe if it could just stay healthy long enough to put some wins together we'd be talking about this team in a completely different tone. Otherwise, to be a Texan, much like Smerdakov, means living in a world of emptyness and despair, with only the Draft to look forward to.
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov as the Indianapolis Colts: Alexei or Alyosha as he's often called (as well as Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, and Lyoshenka, damn Russian tradition of having like 30 different names), is the most spiritually defined character. Alyosha serves at a monestary but is sent back home by Father Zosìma, who teaches Aloysha to deal with his families dysfunction and to go out into the world and "do good". Alyoshka is greatly admired by each of his brothers in their own unique, but not always positive way. Alexei is most close to Dimitri, but cannot understand his brothers emotional swings.
Alexei is not known for speaking a whole lot in the novel, instead he is most noted for his ability to listen and witness what the other characters are doing. While a confidant to everyone it seems, Alyosha largely charts his own course, as he wants to bring people together and relieve suffering, his struggles to do so tend to bring him down.
There are many obvious corollaries here. There is Tony Dungy, probably the spiritual leader of the NFL, a man who's coaching intensity is rivaled only by his faith and "quiet strength". Tony carries in his team the desire to not only win on the field but to somehow serve a larger purpose. Each team in the AFC South, much like Aloysha's brothers, have a desire to be like the Colts, to have the same success, and currently the Jaguars are the closest, but just like in the book, they're just not quite able to maintain their composure. Alexei lets his faith temper his emotions and that gives him a stoic like ability to remain above the madness of the Karamozov house, the Colts in their own way do the same.
Certainly, the Colts are known for hearing what other teams have to say and using their actions, rather than words, to "shut up" the opposition.
This was largely a "thought experiment" for me. What I found fascinating was that as I dove a little deeper into the book and my notes, the more resemblance's to each brother I could find. What troubles me, however, is that you could probably make any of the brothers work for any of the teams. So this is probably not the most useful metric of comparison for the AFC South.
It sure was fun to write though.
And just in case you can't tell....