Sunday, February 21, 2010

When You Are Up Against It

Stonewall Jackson

Well folks, it is a crisp beautiful Sunday morning, dogs walked, fed and watered and a steaming hot cup of coffee warms the innards.  Been thinking for some time about some reflections I've been wanting to pen.  

Christmas break is the start of the "reading season" round this house and I began a long delayed foray into one of the great historical trilogies (non-fiction) ever written: The Civil War, A Narrative by Shelby Foote.  My younger brother has read it three times and he oozes satisfaction every time he speaks of the subject.

History is a great teacher, entertainer, companion, friend and eternal riddle.  When we read it, we all read it differently.  We by and large view it through the lense of our own experience and often it is weighed and measured by the scales of our own perspective and world view.  I am no different.  Being around football and football fields with little or no break since 1975 (84-88 excepted), I cannot but help to "find the football in things".   In reading Foote's account of the great conflict, I was struck over and over again about the relevence of those men's experience in today's world.  One fella who got me to gnawing on some football precepts or principles was General Stonewall Jackson.  What did he have to teach us or better put, what ideas of his confirm those of our own?  Turns out, a lot, I think. 

He earned his nickname for bravery at Bull Run, first major battle of the Civil War near Manassas, Virginia. Upon that field, witnessing Jackson's brigade standing firm against a very determined federal assault, General Bernard E. Bee proclaimed, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall," He met his fate when in the midst of one of his most brilliant maneuvers, he was mistakenly shot by his own men on the night of May 2, 1863 at the The Battle of Chancellorsville. Stonewall Jackson is widely regarded as one of the greatest of the Confederate commanders of the Civil War. He wa an outstanding leader and brilliant tactician who led some of the most stunning campaigns of the war and earned a place in military history.

Jackson's fighting philosophy was expressed to one of his officers when he confided that there were two rules to be applied in securing victory:

"Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible.  And when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can thus be destroyed by half their number.  The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds if by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part, and that the weakest part, of your enemy and crush it.  Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail, and repeated victory will make it invincible."

Condensing Footes description of an early campaign:

In the spring of 1862 he defeated three Union armies numbering 60 000 men who were led by generals who had been assigned the task of his destruction.  He did so with a force that never numbered more than 17 000.  Jackson and his small force in the span of just over a month fought four pitched battles, six formal skirmishes and a great number of minor actions.  All had been victories and in all but one of the battles he had maneuvered his force into a position where they outnumbered their opponent in the field anywhere from 2-1 to 17-1!  Jackson did this mostly with rapid marching, his troops covered 646 miles in fourty eight marching days!  The rewards were enormous, 3500 prisoners, badly needed supplies captured and most importantly, the diversion of 38 000 union troops from what could have been a decisive victory at the gates of the confederate capital, Richmond.

Beyond these victories lies important tangibles and intangibles.  There is such a thing as a tradition of victory and there is such a thing as a tradition of defeat.  The former provokes an inner elation, esprit de corps, and the other an inner weariness.  

Quoting again from Foote

-The troops Stonewall had defeated at McDowell (one of the 4 battles) were known thereafter, by friend and foe, as "Milroy's weary boys," and he had planted in the breasts of Blenker's Germans the seeds of a later disaster.  Conversely, "repeated victory"-as Jackson phrased it-had begun to give his men the feeling of invincibility.  Coming as it did, after a long period of discouragement and retreat, it gave a fierceness to their pride in themselves and in their general.  he marched their legs off, drove them to and past exhaustion, and showed nothing but contempt for the man who staggered.  When they reached the field of battle, spitting cotton and stumbling with fatigue, he flung them into the uproar without pausing to count his losses until he had used up every chance for gain.  When it was over and they had won, he gave the credit to God.  All they got in return for their sweat and blood was victory.  It was enough.  Their affection for him, based mainly on amusement at his eccentricities, ripened quickly into something that very closeley resembled love.  Wherever he rode he was cheered.  "Lets make him take his hat off," they would say when they saw him coming.  Hungry as they often were, dependent on whatever game they could catch to supplement their rations, they always had the time and energy to cheer him.  Hearing a hullabaloo on the far side of camp, they laughed and said to one another: "It's Old Jack, or a rabbit." -

They even buried his arm, shot-off in battle!

The football in all of this is kind of leaps out at me.  Further, there seems to be a broader message towards life and living as well.  I think that we are all "up against the odds" at one point or another be it our work, our hobbies, institutional wrangling, perpetrating ideas, our families, our teams, our politics, our finances and probably most importantly, our inner-selves and their challenges.  Stonewall's precepts channelled and massaged accordingly may very well be difference makers when a frontal assualt spells doom.

I am not going to wax thoughtfully on every verse above but here is some of the football that jumps out:

Relentless Physical Training and Expectation: Agony, sweat and soreness while hated during the act, allows for physical feats and maneuver that translates into victory.  The old adage "..the more sweat on the training field, the less blood (yours) on the battlefield." As a coach are you going to be popular by taking it easy or are you going to insist on preparation. Victory is its own reward and it snowballs.

Rapid Maneuver to Gain a Local Force Superiority: No Huddle, multi-formation offense.  A smaller football team can gain a local advantage by formation/motion and either outnumber the defense or "hit em where they aint".  Conversely, defenses that shift and pressure deliberately after identifying consistent lapses in offensive scheme/protection will gain success.

Hotly Pursue a Retreating Enemy Thus Causing Him to Become Panic Stricken: Hone an arsenal of big plays and follow up a big play with another big play.  Momentum changing special teams and trick plays are huge!  Anyone see the parrallel between this and the New Orleans Saints short-kick in the Super Bowl?  Crude translation: -Don't take your foot off of their throats, ever.-

And so it goes.........I'd be most happy to hear back from you all on other congruencies.


Anonymous said...

one of the beauties of coaching american h.s. ball (even in canada) is we have the ability to run so many different types of offenses and, yes, some of these can be very deceptive plus help level an unbalanced playing field due to numbers.

Herrien said...

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