Existentialism has been accused of being defeatist and depressing (and Sartre didn’t help his cause with terms like ‘abandonment’, ‘despair’, and ‘nausea’). But Peanuts also demonstrates the optimism of the philosophy. Why does Charlie Brown continue to go out to the pitcher’s mound, despite his 50 year losing streak? Why try to kick the football, when Lucy has always pulled it away at the last second? Because there is an infinite gap between the past and the present. Regardless of what has come before, there is always the possibility of change. Monstrous freedom is a double edged sword. We exist, and are responsible. This is both liberating and terrifying.
In a 1934 radio interview, Gertrude Stein talks American football:
INTERVIEWER: You saw the Yale-Dartmouth game a week ago Saturday didn’t you? Did you understand that in the American way or the football way or how?
STEIN: IN the American way. The thing that interested me was that the Modern American in his movements and his actions in a football game so resembled the red Indian dance and it proves that the physical country that made the one made the other and that the red Indian is still with us. They just put their heads down solemnly together and then double over, while on the sidelines the substitutes move in a jiggly way just like Indians. Then they all get down on all fours just like Indians.
INTERVIEWER: But those jiggles are just warming-up exercises.
STEIN: It doesn’t make any difference what they are doing it for, they are just doing it, like the way the Indian jiggles in the Indian dance and then there is that little brown ball they all bend down and worship.
INTERVIEWER: But the ideas in that is to get the ball across the goal line.
STEIN: But don’t you suppose I know that, and don’t you suppose the Indians had just as much reason and enjoyed their dancing just as much?
Prejudices up front: not only did I attend the University of Florida, but so did my parents, my wife, and many of my lifelong friends. I was raised on Gator football, and some of my family members, when cut, are known to bleed orange and blue. I think that Tebow is something of a national treasure (surely, had not Clinton succeeded in freeing journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling from a North Korean labor camp, we would’ve sent Tebow), and I acted like a silly fool when I got to meet Urban Meyer last year (he was recruiting players at the high school where I teach English). Not only am I predisposed to liking a book like Historic Photos of University of Florida Football, I also happen to be a former student of the author, University of Florida professor Kevin McCarthy (I will never forget him calling me over to his desk after class one morning, poking me in the chest and commanding me, “Come to class!”).
So, yeah, it’s possible that I’m enthusiastically biased about a book combining archival photos of the Gators with insightful text and captions. Fans of the Florida State Seminoles probably know that this book isn’t for them upfront, but that’s okay. True Gator fans will not be disappointed. Historic Photos of University of Florida Football (new from Turner Publishing) is as much a history text is it is a survey of Gator football, following a team from its humble origins at the turn of last century (McCarthy informs us that “its 1904 team in Lake City was outscored 224-0,”) to its present glories as National Champions.
Most of the book chronicles the early days of Florida football (over half of the 200 images date from before 1960), and while some fans might be disappointed in a lack of more recent photographs, it’s worth pointing out that in our current media-saturated age it’s not so hard to come by these. Far more interesting are pics of the old days, with sweatered all-male cheerleading squads, bulky leather helmets, and folks dressed up to the nines to go to a football game (if you’ve ever lived in Gainesville you know that even in October a suit jacket, let alone a tie and pants, are pretty uncomfortable). Many of these photos capture the energy and intensity of the game, as well as a sense of nostalgia for a time when college football wasn’t so commercialized.
The images collected here transmit a love for both the Florida Gators, as well as a sense of respect for the traditions of college football in general. As the Gators’ indomitable legacy grows, surely this book will one day be referred to as “Volume I,” as there are plenty more touchdowns to be scored, games to be won, and historical moments to be made. Recommended for Bull Gators everywhere.