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Sunday's Word: Nirvana

There are twenty-one teams in all of FCS that can claim that they are 2-0 right now.

Of those twenty-one, only eleven teams can claim that they've beat two Division I teams - and one of those teams are our Lehigh Mountain Hawks.

As a result, you'd think Lehigh fans would be in "Nirvana" now after achieving exactly what they should have done in their last two games - namely, register wins against Monmouth and Central Connecticut State.

But you'd be wrong.

Why is it that some Lehigh fans' instincts are to be just as annoying as Brazilian soccer fans?  Why is 2-0 - to some fans - not "Nirvana"?

I kind of liked their music, and they felt kind of important at the time, but looking back now, the epically-misnamed "Nirvana" were never really as important as many people thought they were.

And face it - deep down inside, you feel the same way too.

Sure, if you read their Wikipedia page, "Nirvana" is credited for symbolizing Generation X, "popularizing alternative music" and making  a whole lot of "alternative" artists very, very rich.  

But to me, they fall so short of being true music icons.  Marketing icons, or music business icons, possibly.  But not music icons.

I'd love to say that my 1993 CD purchase of "Lithium" proved all the haters wrong and has stood the test of time, but I'd be incorrect.  "Lithium", "Nevermind" and "In Utero" sit collecting dust with many of my other CDs.  None of the songs are in heavy rotation on my MP3 player.

I remember, back in the 1990s, being so jealous that one of my artist friends had lucked into sold-out tickets to see "Nirvana" in New York City, seeing them perform in their final concerts.  They were about to embark on their now-infamous European tour, where Cobain had an epic drug-induced meltdown and nearly killed himself.

I was jealous because "Nirvana" felt important.  They were going to be the band that typefied our generation, the only guys that got it.  But it was all a fraud, of course. 

When it was reported - by MTV, of course, the journal of record for music, and still important in that function back then - I instinctively felt that Cobain, who was publicly battling heroin addiction, didn't have very long to live.  Even back in New York City Kurt Cobain's and Courtney Love had a reputation of being on a highway to a nasty place.  Their drug binges were legend, and even someone as unconnected as I had heard of their troubles, thanks to my high-school connections to that scene.

It was different, somehow, than the addicts of the old age.  Jim Morrison, recently re-popularized at that time by the Oliver Stone "based on actual events" movie of his life, showed how he wasn't really a junkie, but a seer trying to use drugs to achieve higher consciousness.  ("Nirvana", if you will.)

That was all a lie too, of course.  Mass media has done wonders to debunk the mythology that Morrison was anything more than a junkie himself.  In ways, mass media too has ruined any mythology around Kurt Cobain that had any hope of taking hold.

Even as his life was unfolding, it was very clear that Cobain wasn't a seer for a new age, he was just another junkie poet.  Furthermore, he wasn't a junkie poet that spoke to everyone on the planet - he was a junkie poet that spoke for a nation subdivided into hundreds of music tastes, not just one.  His message was delivered to a very small, declining number of Americans.  The slender majority was still listening to Whitney Houston, not some edgy barely-listenable (to them) band out of Seattle.

As for the record executives, Cobain was just the latest freaky guy who found a way to make a buck for them selling records.  He could have been purple with three heads for all they cared.  They cared not one thing about what the music said, or meant.  They just, as ever, wanted the money.

When Kurt Cobain ultimately died in 1994, it was via a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  To me, it had always seemed idiotic to take a junkie who had just tried to commit suicide in Europe and then confine him completely alone to his house.  Was it just a horrible idea, or was it more sinister than that?  Some conspiracy theories have been floated, but they haven't really amounted to anything.  The police made damned sure to be extremely meticulous about the circumstances around his death, keeping speculation to a minimum.

It helped that Cobain was incredibly rich: much of the talk about Nirvana, Ms. Love and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters center around the carving up of the Cobain estate and the assets of the Nirvana name rather than their musical legacy.  In a whole lot of ways, the Foo Fighters not only kept Nirvana's flame, but expanded on it, making it more accessible and much more successful.

When Cobain died, you may have felt sad, or perhaps wept, but really - did "Nirvana" essentially speak for a generation or important musical subculture?  No way in hell.  

Did Cobain's death really affect the nation the same way, say, Elvis Presley's did, or John Lennon's? It most certainly didn't - and for very good reason.

When Elvis and John Lennon died, people stopped what they were doing since their music, before the true era of mass media, affected almost everyone the world over in some way, for good or bad.  Elvis and Lennon were junkies, too - we would later learn - but not just music, they were  phenomena, that people were very familiar with, experienced by billions.

People listened to Elvis not fathoming how popular he might be, say, in Peoria as well as your living room.  Same with the Beatles.  Their initial popularity grew in an organic way, away from mass media, and when mass media in the form of TV finally entered the scene, their fame exploded in an inconceivable way at the time.  Lennon got a lot of heat for saying that the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus", but he had a point.   Nobody had seen the power of mass media so up close and personal than the Beatles and Elvis.

"Nirvana"?  They were experienced by a bunch of twenty-nothings - like myself, I hasten to add - and roundly ignored by many, many people.  Many musicians have died since then - Ms. Houston, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Amy Winehouse.  A very animated fan base is deeply affected, but to the great majority, folks spare a tiny thought to them, and move on.  There will always be more, it seems.

Ultimately, people briefly mourned Cobain's death, and went on.  The folks that "didn't get it" quickly moved on to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.  The people that "did get it" returned to their Sonic Youth records, and, perhaps, later would turn to the Foo Fighters.  The kids that liked the grunge clothes just kept wearing them.  Nobody today sits and thinks about where they were when Kurt died.


Bringing this back to Lehigh - you know, one of the eleven teams that have two Division I victories - it's really important to look at this team and realize that they have accomplished their mission in this early going.

Some folks seem to worry about the Mountain Hawks offense.  That's it's not in midseason form yet, or that a 35-14 win was not enough, or that senior QB Michael Colvin missed some passes the past two weeks.  Or, perhaps, the defense didn't play the perfect game and looked sloppy at times - giving up an errant touchdown, or missing a particular play.

To which I say - this is Labor Day football.

At times, the worst of the Lehigh fans resemble some Brazilian soccer fans I've known over the years.

To them, when Brazil wins games only 2-0, or - my personal favorite - they win 3-0, but not with the proper "style" and "flair" worthy of a Pele or Ronaldinhio, they are upset.  Brazil's success has translated into mammoth expectations that are rarely fully met.  Some even complain that while the World Cup victories are nice, they didn't win it as well as Pele's group did.

(Excuse me?  It's kind of like a Giant fan who longs for the 1987 Super Bowl championship because that team was better than the one that won this January.)

I think in terms of this Lehigh team it's really important to understand that this surprisingly young team is still a work-in-progress in many ways.

When QB Chris Lum was thrust into action as a sophomore back in 2009, it took time for him to really gel in the offense.   Like Colvin now, he showed flashes of great play, but it took time to really settle in and dominate.  Contrary to retroactive believe, he did not emerge immediately on the scene and throw frozen ropes to senior WR Ryan Spadola in Week 2.

September football is all about fixing things and improving week-to-week, and there are plenty of signs that Lehigh is doing just that.

Personally, I was really impressed how Colvin and the offense really came together after multiple first-half turnovers to pull together, get a big score to go up 21-0, and then finally settle down to get the job done in the second half.

One thing I have learned while following college football is how mistakes can make teams, and players, unravel.  The Lehigh offense did not come apart against either Monmouth or Central Connecticut State, though they could have.  They pulled things together and got the job done, mixing the run and pass, stopping the mistakes and not killing themselves.  Even on the drives where they were held short, they got back up and ultimately scored the back-breaking touchdown.

The reshuffled "O" line, a source of concern on Wednesday, wasn't a concern during gametime, dominating the line of scrimmage and helping forge almost 400 yards of offense.

Little things like that don't make it on the score sheet, but as long as they are building blocks for the upcoming season, they can really pay dividends.  I saw a lot of that Saturday.

On defense, too, there was a lot more good than bad to report.  Maybe not "Nirvana", yet, but important improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 that will help.

There was a lot to like from a lot of defensive players, but junior LB Nigel Muhammad in particular was a player that really came through and really made me take notice.  He forced an early fumble on an option pitch that might have been the play of the game, that contributed mightily to the 14-0 lead against the Blue Devils.  His game wasn't perfect - there were some plays where CCSU made some big runs to the outside on his watch - but especially in the second half he made a whole lot of critical 3rd down stops that ultimately helped break the backs of Central Connecticut State.

His game sort-of typefies September football.  Not "nirvana", but improvement from week to week - and again, the type of game that is a useful building block for the season to come.

And it looks like the way the rest of the Patriot League and FCS is going, they'll need to keep improving.

The story of the Patriot League this weekend was 1-0 Lafayette's 17-14 win over William & Mary of the CAA, a win that few outside of the most loyal of Leopard homers might have dared predict.  You can bet this win establishes them as a true contender for the title, and does a lot to give them momentum after last year's bitterly disappointing 4-7 season.

And one of the eleven FCS programs that are 2-0 against Division I opponents is Georgetown, with convincing wins over Davidson and Wagner.  The Hoyas, second only to the Mountain Hawks in wins and losses over the last two years, continue to play with confidence and will do so only until someone knocks them off their position.

Then there's the wider world of FCS, where the nationally-ranked teams around Lehigh seem to go from strength to strength.

2-0 North Dakota State, Lehigh's vanquisher in last year's playoffs, dominated Colorado State of the FBS 22-7 in a game that really wasn't that close.

2-0 James Madison, one of the top contenders in the CAA, dispatched Alcorn State 42-3.

2-0 Youngstown State followed up their Week One domination of FBS Pitt 31-17 by dismembering non-scholarship Valparaiso 59-0.

Clearly, the bar is set high - this year, in the Patriot League and in the world FCS, higher than ever.  For this Lehigh squad, too, it's a good thing - and the athletes, I'm sure, wouldn't have it any other way.  But it's really important to remember that sometimes, what seems important at the time really isn't as important as the bigger picture.

For Lehigh, the important thing is getting the wins, and seeing significant improvement week to week.  It may not be "Nirvana" to some Lehigh fans, but it will make things better when it really counts - in league play in October and November.


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