The Cruelest Month
by Jim Alderson, 8/5/03

T. S. Eliot had it wrong. Eliot opened his epic poem ‘The Wasteland’ stating, ‘April is the cruelest month.’ I submit that it is August. Of course, Eliot was writing about love and redemption, subjects of far less importance than the new football season we await; and August makes us wait. While we are less than four weeks away from the opening of the 2003 Virginia Tech football season, it will be what seems the longest passage of time of the year. Hours will become as days, days as weeks - I much prefer Spock to Eliot. The waiting, already tedious, can become excruciating.

It is difficult attempting to find ways to occupy oneself while waiting for August 31; I do not, however, recommend reading Web sites devoted to the works of T. S. Eliot. You will find absolutely nothing about football. My next search for ‘tailgate recipes’ provided much more useful material [there were some good ones, too. Will, one of the reasons this column is so late is that I found contemplating Atomic Wings and Bourbon Steak much more interesting than writing]. Eliot attended Harvard, but nowhere in his body of work, or at least those parts I have skimmed, does he mention that his alma mater invented the forward pass the same year, 1906, in which he matriculated. Eliot does not celebrate this momentous occasion in ‘Prufrock’ or ‘The Sacred Wood’ or anywhere else, as near as I can tell. It merely saved the game from the calls of its abolition from Eliot’s fellow Harvard alum, President Theodore Roosevelt, who found the game’s violence much more distasteful than shooting Spaniards on San Juan Hill.

Harvard was a football power in those days, but Eliot gives no indication that he even once attended a game in the newly-constructed Harvard Stadium, which, with its concrete grandstands on both sides of the field, limited the amounts of east-west running outside that could be done, causing offenses to figure out ways to attack more along the downfield north-south axis. The limitations on the field of play eventually beget the distances between the two grandstands being deemed the official width of the field still in use today, but you will not find the first mention of this revolutionary development in ‘The Family Reunion’ or any of Eliot’s other work. Nor will you find any references to the Florida-Georgia game in ‘The Cocktail Party,’ and while ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ could have been about Lane Stadium in October, it wasn’t.

Eliot was living in England in 1919 and did not travel to observe the Crimson play in the Rose Bowl, and was still there in 1931 when what is considered the best Harvard team knocked off the Hoos. What was he thinking about? So much for Eliot.

Besides, after struggling through the first couple of parts of the mind-numbing and virtually incomprehensible ‘Wasteland’ I find I like it now no more than I did a few decades ago when some long-forgotten English instructor first assigned me to read it, thereby earning my lifelong enmity. While ‘HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME’ certainly reflects how Tech fans feel about getting August out of the way and ‘Goonight. Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight. Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night’ perfectly expresses what we will be bidding the Big East next July, ‘Twit twit twit’ certainly sums up my feelings about certain fans of a soon-to-be former rival, ‘Wasteland’ makes for pretty lousy Dead Zone filler, although those who claim my sentences are too long should give Eliot a shot. I much prefer to read Will’s analysis of Tech’s offensive line.

August, while the cruelest month in that it is the last one that must be endured before another football season, also offers the possibilities of boundless optimism, particularly for fans of those schools who will be thinking about next year before September is past. For all of his fascination with death, Eliot could have been a fan of Rutgers football. There was none of Eliot’s morbidity to be found, however, when I recently scanned a Rutgers message board and found what was actually a serious discussion of the Knights’ chances of playing for the MNC this year. Talk about breeding lilacs out of dead land. This is the kind of boundless optimism August can bring. The odds that such confidence will be just another cruel trick from August are high, as they have been during most years for a Rutgers program that hasn’t had a winning record since the first George Bush was president, but who cares?

Although August seems interminable in its length to us, the handful of fans at Temple might wish that this month contained a couple of more weeks, giving them time to find a place to play their season. Even as a FedEx representative rings my doorbell and delivers to me my season tickets, the Owls have not even begun selling tickets, season or otherwise. There is a brand new football stadium in Philadelphia, but Temple has not yet struck a deal to play there, mainly because the Eagles don’t seem to want them sullying their field. And Temple wonders why the Big East threw them out. I would consider Temple’s problems their own, except for the little fact that Tech does not yet know where they will be playing against the Owls come November 15. I assume it will be somewhere, hopefully not some high school stadium or the middle of Broad Street.

This August also finds what will be known next August as our former conference surveying the carnage left by the ACC raid. August is a particularly cruel month for those left behind. The Li’l E hasn’t quite figured out as of yet what to do about replacing Tech and Miami, mainly because the remaining presidents are too busy angling to become the 12th ACC member, thereby salvaging their football future. My money remains on Pitt. August diversion is found by reading the news and noticing that there are actually schools desirous of joining the Li’l E, although none seem to be schools that could actually do that shell of a football league any good. Any feelings of remorse I possessed towards schools left behind vanished a couple of weeks ago, so too bad. ‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’

August will crawl by in its dreariness. The ticket package has already been opened and the contents examined [I am finding lots of things to do other than writing this column] and they have taken their place in their usual perch on my kitchen table. During the season, I will mark the passage of time not by a calendar but by the shrinking size of the two sheets. For the remainder of this month, however, they will serve to remind that the season hasn’t started yet, another of the cruelties of August. Practice will soon begin, and there will be daily news stories whose chief purpose will be their reminders that August must be endured in order to begin another season.

There seems to be no fans of mid-major teams infesting our message board with their incessant bragging about how they will herald their rise to BCS status by defeating Tech, who quickly disappear after the reality of a crushing defeat to Tech sets in; I kind of miss the Marshall fans.

We can expect another rite of August, the annual message board quarterback controversy, to soon be going in full force. Time must be marked, and August is the month in which it is done. I am already antsy for a new season of Tech football, and it still is early August. Eliot was wrong: August is the cruelest month.

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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