Middle linebacker Sun Tzu and the historical football team

  • Bow High football coach Paul Cohen (center, baseball hat) watches his team compete against Souhegan on Nov. 9, 2019. Cohen’s frequent quoting of legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu inspired our historical football team.  RICH MIYARAfile / NH Sports Photography

Monitor staff
Published: 4/18/2020 3:22:10 PM

This has been waiting in a desk drawer in our sports department for years. Every time we took it out, we laughed like kids in the back of class. There was talk of turning it into a story, but that always felt too silly and self-indulgent.

Now, with the COVID crisis covering the globe, it feels like we could use some silly to distract us for a moment. It feels like readers might be willing to indulge in some workplace humor. It feels like the right time to take the historical football team out of the drawer.

The team was inspired by Bow football coach Paul Cohen. The former Marine and current history and math teacher has an expansive vocabulary and can quote historical figures in the middle of a conversation without missing a beat. He’s a sports reporter’s dream interview.

One of Cohen’s favorite quotables is Sun Tzu, the Chinese general best known as the author of The Art of War. Google search “Paul Cohen Sun Tzu Concord Monitor” and at the top of the results list will be an article from October 2014 about a 6-0 Bow football team allowing only 4.2 points per game. Some of the defense’s success, according to Cohen, was due to the players’ attention to detail. Except the coach with a Ph.D. in theology and ancient history didn’t use a cliché like “attention to detail.”

“To quote Sun Tzu, to be victorious you have to notice the subtle,” Cohen said.

That was probably the quote that sparked the historical football team. It’s hard to be sure because there have been multiple references during the 17 years I’ve covered Cohen. But it was right around that time I had this epiphany: Sun Tzu would make an awesome middle linebacker.

The idea and silliness grew from there, egged on by former Monitor colleague Drew Bonifant. He’s now writing for the Kennebec Journal in Maine, but he quickly agreed to help with this story and covered the line in our defensive position-by-position breakdown - we’ll be unveiling the offense next week. But before we get to any breakdowns, here’s one final disclaimer and a suggestion

There are some controversial characters on our team that were responsible for some significant atrocities. We’re not condoning any of those acts. We do condone this team inspiring a team of your own – a historical baseball team, a superhero starting five for basketball, a soccer side of musicians, whatever – and sharing it with us at sports@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ConMonitorSport.

Sun Tzu, middle linebacker

The legendary strategist emphasized understanding yourself and your enemy, so he would have lived in the film room and playbook. He would call out opponent’s plays by formation and he’d always audible to the right blitz or coverage. He also believed in the importance of the army’s spirit and the art of persuasion, so there would be some Ray Lewis-esque pep talks, although this team does have a lot of language barriers.

Shaka Zulu, outside linebacker

The African monarch was known for advancing hand-to-hand combat techniques and the speed of his army, skills that will also help him take on offensive linemen and chase down running backs. Even though he was an innovator and leader, Shaka also knew how to play within the system. He expanded the Zulu Kingdom through diplomacy and alliances as well as warfare, and he always recognized the larger Mthethwa clan as the rulers of the region. Basically, Shaka would bring a Belichickian “Do Your Job” mentality to the team.

John Stark, outside linebacker

A local favorite and the man who penned New Hampshire’s tough-guy “Live Free or Die” motto, Stark will bring a snarl to the edge. He took on the mighty British army during the Revolutionary War with a rookie militia ... and won. So, no, the major general will not be backing down from oversized tackles or double teams. You want Stark to play with that “Live Free or Die” emotion, but he can go too far, like when he resigned from the Continental Army after being passed over for a promotion. Luckily he has Tzu and Shaka to keep him in line.

Grigori Rasputin, defensive end

A frightening figure of late tsarist Russia, Rasputin would have been any tackle’s nightmare. Nicholas II’s holy man stood 6-foot-4, had a creepy stare that rattled most with a look and withstood multiple assassination attempts. No need for fourth-quarter breathers here, and as a pass rusher he'd be relentless. He claimed also to be a healer. High ankle sprains on the team would be nothing to worry about.

William Howard Taft, defensive tackle

If you're looking to clog the middle, Taft’s your man. Running backs would find no openings up the gut with the 27th president taking up blockers. At 350 pounds, Taft would command double teams, and would be almost impossible to push back. Think Ted Washington, just with a handlebar mustache.

Henry VIII, defensive tackle

Another historical hefty, with a waist size of 54 inches, Henry VIII would have been perfect as a bulldozer in the middle. He would also bring a nasty disposition to complement his partner at tackle. Taft would play with a Chief Justice’s grace while Henry VIII would showcase the blood lust that saw him execute two of his wives and recklessly execute scores of his countrymen. He was a nasty, nasty man – but sometimes, in football, a little nasty can go a long way.

Vlad the Impaler, defensive end

The former ruler of present-day Romania is regarded as one of the crueler men in history. He impaled and burned and boiled and maimed people on a whim, so one must wonder what he could do with an opposing tackle that stood in his way or a running back that tried to get around him on the edge. Still not convinced? He was the inspiration for Dracula. You don't want this guy on the other team. Be ready for unnecessary roughness flags, though.

Geronimo, free safety

Like the entire secondary, our free safety will play on horseback. The Apache war leader picked fights against both the United States and Mexico, often at the same time, so the pressure as the last line of defense will seem trivial. Fellow Apaches believed Geronimo had the ability to see into the future, which can help him break on routes and pile up the interceptions. Plus, his vast raiding experience would mean a devastating safety blitz.

Genghis Khan, strong safety

By the time of his death in 1227, Genghis Khan’s territories stretched from the Caspian Sea in what is now Iran to the Sea of Japan. So, the founder of the Mongol Empire would have no problem dropping deep to cover the pass or playing in the box to support the run. He was a brutal conqueror, and the coaches don’t condone some of his over-the-top infractions, but there’s no doubt the Khan intimidates. Not too many receivers would be willing to go over the middle against a killer of millions.

Billy the Kid, cornerback

The brash Kid was a federal fugitive by the age of 16, so he has the irrational confidence you want in a corner, and he certainly knows how to play on the edge of the rules. You’ll have to live with some pass interference calls, but the legendary gunfighter has great hands and will make up for the flags with picks.

Napoleon Bonaparte, cornerback

He compensates for his lack of height with great technique and oversized confidence. Being on horseback helps, too. The man who conquered Europe will take some chances and overextend himself, but he’ll also come up with plays that lead to huge wins – like becoming the first Emperor of the French. A believer in meritocracy and equality before the law, Napoleon is also great in the locker room.


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