@LATechFB: Starring in ‘Les Mis’ or ‘The Producers’?

Nov. 3, 2017

By Teddy Allen

RUSTON -- The subject of Broadway musicals – an endearing subject for sure – came up and set me to thinking, though not necessarily lyrically or even in iambic pentameter, which is, for my money, the finest of all the pentameters.

Here’s what I thought, and, if you have a love affair with Broadway, what you might think: Louisiana Tech’s battered football team, not injured beyond repair but unquestionably altered due to a collective 70 missed starts (give or take a torn pec) after eight games, is the cleated version of the difficult but gorgeous and wonderfully compelling musical “Les Misérables.”

You know “Les Mis.” A guy with the alliterative name of Jean Valjean steals a football autographed by Victor Hugo for his sister’s sick child, is penalized 15 yards and 19 years in prison, breaks parole after a show of mercy from an old equipment manager, then is hunted by a mean referee named Javert, (which rhymes with “jerk,” which is inexplicably left out of the lyrics in this Tony Award-winning musical, but hey, I’m only a patron). Along the way, there are ankle sprains, hamstrings, rib ‘contusions’ which we used to call bruises, and even the July Paris Revolution of 1832. (The home team won. AND lost.)

Jean Valjean -- often in disguise but that’s how he’s listed in the game program -- seeks redemption amid the poor, the wretched, the infirm, the dispossessed, the ones on whom the light never shines. It’s a mess. It’s misérables.

But he battles on because this is the hand he’s dealt, and while losers cry “Deal again,” he won’t. He plays through the pain, the doubt, the questions, even the falsetto notes required of him. A self-starter, he plays for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.

It’s a lot of stuff and it wears you out to watch it but I do anyway, again and again, and wonder if I could do the same. Maybe it’s the possibility of overcoming tremendous odds and suffering that stirs the soul. Maybe that’s why more than 70 million people have watched “Les Mis” performed, and why many more than that have seen the movie.

 

 

On a less metaphorical and completely unrehearsed plane, the Bulldogs are in the same boat. They are young. They have yet to find the dynamic leader they most desperately need. And yes, they have a lot of players hurt, a list longer than any other “injured list” on any other of the teams that Skip Holtz -- or any coach on staff -- has either played on or coached, I’d bet.

We can sum that black-and-blue phenomenon up this way: If trainer Gerald Jordan were a player, he’d have already lettered 17 times this year. And that’s with a third -- maybe more? -- of the season left. (Here’s a sad commentary: Gerald’s daddy was cleaning gutters in Gerald’s Tennessee hometown last Tuesday when he fell off the roof and suffered a nasty leg wound and some broken vertebra. Such is the case when you hit a porch rail and an AC unit on the way down. He should be fine but … really? The trainer’s dad? While cleaning gutters? Les misérables. Been that kind of a year…)

There is no formula that considers what each team must overcome that “isn’t fair” -- cornerback broke up with his girlfriend, tackle failed his physics test, safety and running back are feuding, key players are hurt -- to determine which team in any given game “should” win. The scoreboard is all that matters, and every team has its own specific challenges.

This one has plenty.

But this team also has the talent to get it done. It will take a loud and sure voice rising from the ashes, someone to hold his teammates’ cleats to the fire. Who might that be? Who might remind these guys to quit sweating what uniform they’ll wear and start playing hard every down, just to see what a Bulldog team with its paw on the gas for 60 minutes, cheering each other on, might look like?

You know what looks good? Winning. You know what’s fun? Winning.

This team had a chance to do all three: look good, have fun, win. Football’s holy trinity.

It will take mature-beyond-their-years focus, because a lot of guys have had to play out of position and will have to do it again Saturday against North Texas when the game starts at 2:30 p.m. in Joe Aillet Stadium. It will take having each other's back. And if that’s not enough, it will take commitment to the basics, the fundamentals, which are difficult to start with.

And still, what an opportunity the Bulldogs have. With a record of 4-4 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA, the Bulldogs, for the most part, control whether they win the West Division or not. Win out and you’ll have beaten North Texas head-to-head and you’ll likely be ranked higher than Southern Miss and UAB. Hello, Title Game.

More good news: The Bulldogs don’t have either death or life in prison on the line as the mythical Jean Valjean had. But when you are a guy and you are 20 and competing, and limited in perspective, winning and losing can sure feel like life or death. But Jean Valjean is fictional living proof that a guy can run through the wire. For that matter, so is Tech’s win at Western Kentucky.

In Tech’s 42-28 victory Saturday in Houston over Rice, the punting was the best it’s been. Your all-league kicker made all of his kicks. The defense had three picks -- the 11 total are already more than last year -- and is allowing a touchdown less per game on average than last year’s defense. Plus only 11 on the two-deep roster of 44 are seniors.

I wouldn’t want to play this team in two years.

But what Tech has not done is play start-to-finish as if it's a team no one would want to play THIS year. Do that, and they’ll be hard to beat.

Credit the offense in this regard: five times, the Bulldogs have needed a late score to take the lead. Five times they either scored or got the field goal unit in position to score. Tech won two of those games. In the other three, when push came to shove and the game was about to be won or lost, it was either the defense (South Carolina) or special teams (the field goal unit at UAB, the onsides kick team against Southern Miss) that failed with the outcome on the line.

The little things are the big things.

What the Bulldogs need to be are a smash Broadway hit on the other end of the spectrum, “The Producers.” The “Get Er Done Boys.” Guys who won’t take no for an answer. Somebody needs to get mad, look at a schedule, and let everyone know that it would be a shame if they didn’t, as a team, decide to see just how good they can be, despite the fates and the training room and the other teams clogging their path. Somebody needs to watch -- I shouldn’t even have to write this -- “Les Mis.”

“When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start

When tomorrow comes!”

Maybe a Broadway song about an insurrection is a little melodramatic in the case of a Homecoming game. After all, it’s “just football.” But “just football” is, if you wear a jersey, a contract with the guy beside you to fight, fight, fight for the Ol’ Red And Blue. The coaches and fans can’t play anymore. They can support and guide and help in all sorts of ways, but Saturday is for ballplayers. Good ballplayers expect it to be hard, and for 60 minutes. If it were easy, everybody would be winning games all over the place.

It’s an extra challenge to be “The Producers” when you basically have a different team on the field each week, but time and high ankle sprains wait for no man, and final football scores don’t either. No excuses. As they say on Broadway, “The show must go on.”

Which is true. But when the play is not yet written, the players have the biggest say in deciding how it ends.

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