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The tale of Eagle Nation

I hope this account, related to me by a friend and traveler to Eagle State, may be more entertaining to some than the common scribbles of politics and party.

All know of Eagle State’s illustrious football team, which dominated the league for decades. Its devoted fans, the Eagle Nation, followed every game but especially those against notorious rivals Woscom University and Middle State. In the best of times, Eagle Nation’s enthusiasm and loyalty made the team unstoppable.

Eventually the team began to slip and lose more games, and Eagle Nation grew tired of the familiar cast of “elite” coaches and players. When the coach retired, many fans wanted a bold change. An unusual candidate, a popular sportscaster from a wealthy family, offered to take charge. He had never played or coached football. In school he had skipped physical education classes, because a doctor said he had “thin skin.” Yet many fans demanded the sportscaster, who promised big changes.

After a controversial selection process, he was hired.

At first, “Coach” delivered what many fans wanted. He slashed ticket prices, even for luxury boxes that sold out anyway, and attendance soared. He increased security, to keep freeloaders out of the stadium. He eliminated rules that had irritated people for years. Coach yelled at unpopular referees and worked hard to replace them.

But problems soon arose. The assistant coaches grew restless, because Coach held many press conferences but rarely watched game film or attended practices. He spent more time watching his Foxy cheerleaders, who did incredible flips to please him. He called in plays from the golf course. When a player speared an opponent and broke his back, Coach cancelled team discipline and called him a hero. His own injured players were “losers.”

Even when the team lost, Coach often declared victory. Most second-down quarterback sacks ever, during the third quarter! Most popcorn sold! Close losses were stupendous victories!

If the loss was too big to ignore, Coach publicly humiliated his players and assistants. He reminded everyone that coaches win games, but players lose them. If they questioned his leadership, he got angrier. Many quit or were released. The churn from continual hiring and firing was extreme, even by coaching standards.

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Coach’s supporters said that the chaos showed his management genius.

Coach gradually purged from the coaching staff the “film” (fake film!) and “practice” zealots, who were from the “old school.” Some fans applauded when he benched spoiled “elite” players, who thought they were better than others. Coach fired his scouts and threatened to cancel subscriptions to traditional scouting services, which took Eagle State’s money while providing little. He said no one could match his own recruiting judgment.

When long-time fans criticized the radical changes, Coach whined that everyone treated him unfairly. He kept his original promise: “We're going to whine so much, that you're going to get tired of whining. You’re going to say, ‘Please Coach, I have a headache. Please, don't whine so much!”

Coach kept a sign on his desk: “The buck stops somewhere else.”

The front office became concerned that, despite great ticket sales, the team was losing money and rapidly increasing its debt. They wondered why Coach’s daughter held an untouchable management position, though she had never watched a game. Coach tried to allay their concerns by explaining that she would make a great future Coach.

People eventually noticed that Eagle State’s record was not improving. Coach talked a lot about Middle State and dined with their coach, but the team’s performance against Middle State did not improve. Coach complained that Middle State’s fans did not buy enough from Eagle Nation, and so he made it harder for Eagle Nation’s fans to buy from Middle State, but all that did was hurt everybody’s business.

Coach also socialized with the coach of Nut State, who was constantly refining his only play, the Long Bomb. Coach said that he and the Nut coach “fell in love” and that he would abandon the Bomb. But nothing changed. When the Woscom U. Assassins started scoring more points, Coach said nobody cares about Woscom U. any more. And even if they did, he had played them tougher than any coach in history.

A new mental illness, Coach Derangement Syndrome, emerged. Unusually, it had two opposite presentations: CD-righters said Coach was the team’s savior and the best coach in a thousand years; CD-lefters said Coach was the worst in two thousand years and would destroy Eagle State. Yet infected persons could typically name only a handful of the team’s 40 previous coaches. Self-quarantine was common – CD-righters tended to congregate in isolation from the general population, as did CD-lefters (who sometimes withdrew into a catatonic state, endlessly rewatching Back to the Future Part II) – but CDS spread rapidly nonetheless.

Eagle Nation, which had always had spirited debates about its coaches, split more deeply. CD-lefters and CD-righters congregated in the parking lot during games and shouted at each other. Others soon joined, and much of Eagle Nation split into “Deep State” and “Shallow State,” according to which end of the parking lot they occupied. Instead of rooting for their own side, many simply cheered for destruction: “Crush Deep State” or “Destroy Shallow State.” Fights became common. Coach, who often appeared bored at games, would leave the game to join the battles outside. Many fans stopped entering the stadium, because there was more action in the parking lot. People went home talking about who won the fights and did not even know who won the games.

This was partly because the crowds outside the stadium lost trust in the scoreboard. Hardly anyone was actually watching the games, so hardly anyone was sure whether the scoreboard was accurate. Each side said that the other manipulated the points. Coach fed these fears by replacing the scoreboard team.

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Deep Staters claimed that Coach had told 20,000 lies. Shallow Staters said 90% of that was baloney, that he had told only 2,000 lies. They were proud to have a Coach who truly loved Eagle Nation, or at least 45% of it. The Deep Staters laughed at the Shallow Staters and called them yahoos, but the Shallow Staters said the Deep Staters lived in a fantasy land and were less swift than they imagined themselves.

Everyone at least agreed that Coach had made Eagle State grate, or great, again.

It became dangerous to stand in the middle of the parking lot, so the sportswriters moved to one side or the other. They often forgot to cover the games and wrote only about Coach. If Coach held daily briefings then the Deep Writers said he was self-obsessed; when he stopped they said he was hiding from the press. The Shallow Writers, known internally as the Ministry of Truth, spent much of their time rewriting Coach’s previous statements.

The fights in the parking lot were so interesting that fans from Mocking U. came to watch, even when their team was not playing.

A fan, who was just passing through, died in the fighting. Coach said it was an accident, like missing a three-foot putt. The fighting intensified.

Coach said he had become indispensable, because only he could control the chaos. Sometimes he sent linemen out of the stadium to confront the Deep Staters, who he said were the real enemy. Sometimes Coach seemed to refer to Dark State instead of Deep State, though he denied it.

Coach condemned the Deep Staters’ “fascism,” which “demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.” He added that anyone who questioned his analysis would (if possible) be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.

To focus on the battles within Eagle Nation, Coach started sending smaller squads to away games. Middle State crushed Harbor College in a league game and refused to leave its stadium, but Eagle Nation barely noticed.

When the university, alarmed at the disruptions, considered ending Coach’s contract, he replied that he was the most important person at Eagle State and they might not even have that authority. But he would meet them any time in the parking lot.

Coach also said that most of Eagle State’s institutions were drowning in corruption, and only he could drain the swamp. He arranged the firing of the auditors who were supposed to find corruption, because he could trust only himself, his family, and friends. Many people became so sure that the university was lying about everything that they ignored even fire drills. Eagle State became awash in lawsuits, alleging every kind of malfeasance and favoritism.

Then, unexpectedly, a new beetle began to damage trees around the stadium. The team groundskeepers said it could cause serious problems if it spread, but Coach said the beetles would fly away. He said just 15 trees were sick, barely even sick, the beetles were totally under control, and everything would be fine. He recommended treating the trees with fertilizer, because fertilizer had helped trees before. The groundskeepers were skeptical, but Coach over-ruled them and spread much fertilizer.

Nine months later 100,000 trees had died and Coach said the beetles were flying away and everything was under control. Everyone admired the consistency of the message.

Coach put on his MAGIC hat, which had mysterious powers that helped him to survive previous crises. Yet the beetles still did not fly away.

Coach required loyalty. He said that a true fan loves Coach, and to love Coach is to love the team. Whoever does not love Coach betrays the team. Some felt that that Coach loved mainly Coach. Which proved that he loved the team. This situation was confusing to many traditional fans who had thought they loved the team and that this was not the same as loving the coach. Coach revealed that these fans were enemies of Eagle State.

Long-time members of Eagle Nation expressed grave concern about the overall situation and the future of Eagle State. But others told them not to worry: in the grand scheme, it barely matters. It won’t change the world.

It’s only football.

“Richard Sympson” is a former long-time local elected official who requested this commentary be published under a pseudonym so that his own political history doesn’t influence the reader’s perception of this piece.

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