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The Cardinals Red Badge of Courage

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Could the Cardinals’ humbling 1-4 end to the regular season actually turn out to be a blessing?

What is the greatest motivator of all?

What do you feel when you look at the photo above?

One of the greatest novels ever written about the greatest motivator on earth was Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.

I have written about this novel before —- but right now I believe it is most relevant,

Henry Fleming (“the youth”) enlisted in the Northern army because he wanted to return home as a war hero. Henry primary ambition in life was to be the subject of a lavish parade.

However, much to Henry’s profound chagrin, in the midst of his first battle, he flees and runs deep into the woods. Just as he begins to feel safe in the woods, he sees a dead soldier propped up at the base of a tree. The soldier’s pallid face is covered by swarming ants and Henry notices that the soles of the soldier’s shoes are bare (an indication of how far this soldier was willing to flee).

Henry realizes that he may actually be safer in the company of his regiment. So, as he makes his way back to the camp, he is accosted by a “tattered” soldier who nags and shames Henry to no end. “Where ya been hit?” The “tattered” soldier keeps demanding. In other words, where is your red badge of courage?

Henry then starts to run back to his camp, but when another soldier is running past him toward the woods, Henry tries to ask the soldier why he is running and the soldier bludgeons Henry in the head with the butt-end of his rifle.

While trying to gather consciousness, a mysterious figure whom Henry calls the “cheery” soldier, calms Henry down and helps Henry wrap white gauze around his bloody head wound.

The dramatic irony is that Henry now has his red badge of courage —- of sorts. The “cheery” soldier then escorts Henry back to his regiment where “the youth’s” fellow soldiers admire his red badge —- and when Henry turns to thank the “cheery” soldier, the mysterious figure had vanished. Henry realizes with regret that he had never really seen the “cheery” soldier’s face.

With another key battle looming on the horizon, Henry and his friend Wilson go down to the river to fill their canteens. While there, they overhear a lieutenant ask a colonel which regiment would be most expendable, and the colonel says the 134th (Henry’s and Wilson’s) and proceeds to call the 134th a “bunch of mule drivers.”

Henry and Wilson are incensed. How dare the colonel call them a “bunch of mule drivers”?

At this point, Henry and Wilson return to camp knowing that their regiment is going to be placed on the front line of the next battle. Henry had been pretty sure that in the face of battle he would run again and he continues to feel a nagging sense of shame whenever he thinks of the “tattered” soldier —- and there is evidence to suggest that Wilson, who had always put up such an air of bravado, fears he too will run —- especially now knowing the 134th was going to be sent out to the front line “in the face of impending annihilation” as a sacrificial lambs.

The extraordinary turning point for Henry, Wilson and 134th regiment occurs when the soldiers summon up a stunning sense of pride. In the teeth of the battle, the 134th display tremendous courage, unwavering unity and steadfast determination. The grand serendipity at the end of the battle occurs when Henry (bearing the Union flag) and Wilson capture the Confederate flag —- and the war is won.

While it was disappointing to see the 11- 6 Cardinals lose to the 7-10 Seahawks with the NFC West division title on the line —- it was a study in how the pride of a team can prevail. Pete Carroll billed the game as the Seahawks’ Super Bowl and even though the Cardinals punched them in the mouth early and then again in the third quarter, the Seahawks, through sheer will, pride and determination, found what it took to punch back and prevail in full force.

The Seahawks, humbled by a season of shortcomings, were playing for respect and, in some cases perhaps, for their jobs.

Pure pride is a humble pride. It is not arrogant, selfish pride (a.k.a “hubris”).

People say about teams that have missed out on the playoffs that “they have nothing to play for.” Well, it seemed this past week that the Seahawks, Jaguars and Lions did not get that memo, did they?

What Stephen Crane understood about courage spawned by humility is that the greatest motivator of all is pride. He also embraced a certain twist of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory in that survival often depends on teamwork —- or as The Beatles more commonly phrased it —- “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

One of the important things I learned as a coach and as a teammate is that in the aftermath of a bitter defeat, it can be an auspicious and advantageous idea to feed off of the opposing team’s impetus as our own team’s motivation to take into the next game.

Therefore, if the Cardinals are going to prevail as underdogs over the Rams, it is going to require their pride in each other and all of the teamwork and hard work they put forth over the course of this extremely challenging season.

Maybe, this week, the Cardinals can use humility to their advantage.

”Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”

-General Iroh.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports