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Michael Conniff

Michael Conniff

Posted: October 21, 2008 01:10 PM

Con Games: Right Wing, Left Wing, Single Wing


The fate of the unrepentant synergist is to see the seeds of all things in all other things and that goes double for your friendly neighborhood Con Man. In the spirit of everything telling us something about something else, I give you my trenchant analysis from the trenches--or, how football as we now know it is no different now than our national politics on the cusp of a major realignment.

Let's go into the huddle and I'll draw 'er up for you.

Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama is running the spread offense, the latest re-incarnation of the single wing albeit on steroids this time. Republican nominee John McCain is in a hackneyed wishbone that has all but disappeared from its glory days decades ago even before it was morning in America.

That's really all you need to know about our politics circa 2008. How do I know? Here's the skinny: Obama's 50-state campaign leaves the Republicans playing defense all over the country trying to plug every hole in the formation. The spread--the pass-happy hurry-up offense that uses the entire playing field sideline-to-sideline--is not unlike the real-time Internet in the Presidential campaign, now yielding a bounty of $150 million for Obama Nation in September 2008 alone.

McCain, in contrast, is using a dog-eared Atwater-Rove playbook that only Darryl Royal could love, one where the run is put on a pedestal and anything new--like the forward pass--is considered sacrilege. Of Royal, the ball coach at the University of Texas who loved the 'bone and broken 'bone both, it was said: "He can take his'n and beat your'n, or take your'n and beat his'n." Coach Royal himself used to say, with small-town innocence: "We're going to dance with what we brung."

What McCain brung is a classic mistake in football, war, and politics. The negative campaign is the Maginot Line of conservative politics, a thing of beauty in those halcyon ground-game days of 2000 and 2004. But no more. In the era of the spread, wishful direct marketing and blabby talk radio can't get any traction in the face of Facebook and a blogosphere dominated by the liberati. Republicans are stuck with an antiquated ground game at a time when the game is being played in the air.

Maybe it's no mistake that the wishbone still lives on, often with great success, at some of the service academies where military discipline is always paramount, even on the fields of friendly strife now covered with FieldTurf. In football, as in politics, the only thing that stays the same is change, whether you believe it or not.