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A meditation on the Big Game

As I watched The Game from the safety of the Ashland Elks Lodge bar, I couldn't shake the feeling that what was unfolding in Glendale was, to quote Stephin Merritt, "magnificently meaningless."

And there I was, riveted by every minute of Oregon's gallant defeat at the hands of the Auburn Tigers.

Sports talking heads have broken the game down to a mind-numbing micro level, but the baseline fact that you need to know is the Auburn players were just bigger, stronger and faster in several key positions.

Say what they want about the nuances of football — the carefully plotted strategies, the individual games within the game — it basically comes down to cruelty and brute force. The team that embodies both of these to the greater degree wins. Always.

One need only to focus on the game had by Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley — or as so many Oregon fans called him that night, "that &^@$*!&! Number 90! — to understand how being meaner and bigger than the guys across from you swings games.

The Ducks made a game of it near the end, which makes it all the more painful when the team succumbed to defeat at the foot of a kicker named Wes.

The bitter fact of football is that it's constructed in such a way that it often comes down to the kicking team winning games.

So you spend three hours watching your boys fight, claw, bleed, cry and get stomped on by behemoths like Fairley and just when you think you've achieved the miraculous and beaten Goliath, out comes some kid with flowing blond hair and little-kid pads to ram the dagger deep into your guts.

And twist. And then pour sea salt into the wound. While having sex with your girlfriend, making that image the last thing you see before death.

I drifted in and out of various debates on how the Ducks could have pulled it off in the fourth quarter. The most intriguing came from my friend, George, who argued that the Ducks should have allowed Auburn to score a touchdown when the game was tied at 19 with 1:30 left. That would have given the Ducks the ball with plenty of time to even things up and, maybe more intriguingly, perhaps go for the two-point conversion to win the game outright instead of heading to overtime. I think that would have worked. It would have been utterly insane. But feasible.

I didn't participate in these discussions because I couldn't shake the feeling that what I had just witnessed was akin to watching a line of perfect geometric shapes being drawn on a 20-foot Etch A Sketch as someone shook it from one side to the other, causing everything to disappear a few moments after it appeared.

Let me explain. Auburn's best player, quarterback Cam Newton, is under investigation by college football and the federal government for allegedly participating in a pay-to-play scandal. His sleazy father announced that the going rate for his son was around $200,000, which some booster affiliated to Auburn might or might not have paid.

If found guilty — and Newton will be, if only by association — his Heisman Trophy and the entire 2010 Auburn season will be wiped from the record books.

This is going to happen, folks. The NCAA didn't suspend the kid because Auburn was on a huge winning streak and there would have been civil unrest in many parts of the South had the league stepped in.

Instead, The Game's place in history will last little more than year before it is erased from the books, leaving a three-hour-plus hole where my Monday night once existed.

Rarely are we aware of the pointlessness of something as we are watching it, but that was where I found myself Monday night at the Elks.

"None of this is going to matter," I thought. "I'm seeing something that will technically no longer exist sometime in the near future."

It was like I had suddenly found myself a character in a Philip K. Dick novel or a Mars Volta album, stuck in a shifting reality where the laws of physics and time no longer matter. Adrift.

And who says football and deep thinking are mutually exclusive?

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-760-3888; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.