True opportunities for revenge are rare.
The chance to reach out with fervent hands and snatch back what is rightfully yours in a clenched fist; righteous, 5-fingered missile. That satisfying, carnival ride twist, rickety yank, that snaps the moment into focus like so many Polaroids of yesteryear.
That dull, too-sweet ache that comes from self-indulgent sin. That midnight smile, lit only by moonbeams and glittering, fractal eyes. We’re told not to want it. And by and large, this is an impulse we can suppress. That we should suppress.
But, not in sports.
No. In sports, we get to crack open that closet door and ease that monster out from within it. We get to feed that ravenous, famished wild thing that is chained up somewhere in our waking hours, firmly corralled in the electrified fence of the pre-frontal cortex, and we get to do it in a way that does little to no harm in the “real” world. It’s one tile of many in that mosaic of a football Saturday that makes it so much damn fun.
And, in spite of coach-speak Mad-Libbing his way through the crescendoing hype — once a white noise, background hiss that has now turned to Red-noise clangor — this is Nebraska Coach Mike Riley’s first, best, shot at vengeance against the Oregon Ducks.
Surely, though, perennial nice guys like Mike Riley don’t thirst for that tip-of-the-tongue, visceral sweetness of getting even, right? Guys who take the high road, and let’s be honest with ourselves: Riley practically paved that m-fer with a khaki pants-hitch and a folksy colloquialism, don’t find themselves wanting to throw their truck into 4-wheel drive and go crashing off into the brush on the side of the road, do they?
The answer is this: they don’t have to.
Because we get to.
Because Mike Riley is who he is, probably means what he says when asked about going against the team that turned his Corvallis turf into a curb and then stomped those Beaver teeth right out onto it, and — and this is the real kicker — Riley is that guy.
You know the one.
The guy who wins Mr. Congeniality and isn’t faking that he’s excited about it. That permanently friend-zoned dude who gets a whole lotta Netflix and no chill. You know: that guy.
Only now, that guy has a chance. That guy isn’t by himself. He’s been working out. He’s been getting confident. And this time, he has his friends with him. All 90,000. All 1.8 million.
This time, when the clock hits midnight, Cinderella won’t go back to being a picked-on, beat-down scullery maid. This time, when the clock hits Midnight at 2:30, it’s going to be a full moon and she’s turning into a werewolf. A starving, howling, day-drinking monster that doesn’t care if the sun is out, because it can provide its own shadows and that isn’t starring in a Disney movie for the kiddies.
This is going to be a Tarantino flick.
This is going to be 90,000 voices speaking like a rocket-fueled, pre-gamed, Greek Chorus. Only Homer didn’t write this Odyssey and the nice guy doesn’t have to finish last this time, because we’ll drag him across the finish line on the bucking, heaving back of that untamed behemoth known as sweet revenge, even if we have to strap him onto the saddle.
Mike Riley may not admit to wanting this game more than any others, to needing this game. He may smear his Jiffy Extra Crunchy thick platitudes onto the pages before us and he may not admit to breathing in September’s last goodbye kiss and exhaling vitriolic fire.
He doesn’t have to.
We’ll do it for him.
(Featured image courtesy of Getty images)