Georgia Beats Florida…Wait…Did That Just Happen???

A sight for sore eyes down in Jacksonville. Yes, Coach Richt, you desperately needed this one.

There are times when a single game takes on outsize significance.  This was one of them.

On the surface, there is little if any reason to celebrate beating a 4-4 opponent that hasn’t won since September.  And this game does not do a whole lot for Georgia in terms of the division race; all it does is enable them to keep pace with South Carolina and possibly move into the lead if South Carolina should slip later on down the stretch–which has not happened and may not happen.  And with games against Auburn and Georgia Tech still to come, there is still plenty of time for Georgia to slip down the stretch.

But for some strange reason, Georgia has shown a shocking inability to win this one game.  Going into this game, Florida had won three in a row by a combined score of 124 to 58.  The long-range view was even worse:  Florida had won 11 of the previous 13 and 18 of the previous 21.

This was a game in which Georgia was constantly inventing ways to lose.  In 1992 Georgia scored to pull within 26-24 with about 6 minutes left in the game and needed only one more defensive stop; they never touched the ball again that day.  In 1993 they had the winning touchdown (assuming that a 2-point conversion attempt had been successful) called back because a Florida player called timeout.  In 1999 they fumbled when in position to kick a field goal and take a fourth-quarter lead; Florida went on to win that one 30-14.  In 2000 they went in the space of only three plays from having a chance to go up 24-9 to being tied 17-17; Florida went on to win 34-23.  They have been boatraced by vastly superior Florida teams; they have been shaded by average and even sub-average Florida teams.

Much better Georgia teams than this one have lost to much worse Florida teams than this one.  1992, 2002, 2003, and 2005 stand out as prime examples.  Three times this decade Georgia played for the SEC championship; in none of those years did they beat Florida.  In 2002 they started 8-0 and built a lead large enough to absorb the inevitable loss to Florida; in 2003 they made it only because of the vagaries of a tiebreaker system that involved BCS polls and the phases of the moon and even a vote of the other athletic directors; and in 2005 they made it with a lot of help from other teams.

Considering all of that, it becomes clear that Georgia was not just battling Florida this afternoon; they were also battling two decades worth of demons that had attached themselves to this game.  Overcoming Florida was not that big a deal, but overcoming the demons required a BCS championship-level effort.

For a while it seemed as if the demons would once again have their way with Georgia.  Everything that has gone wrong for Georgia in this game went wrong in spectacular fashion at the outset.  Florida’s first play from scrimmage was a 72-yard strike from John Brantley to Jeff Demps.  Only 7 1/2 minutes into the game, Florida would go for it on 4th-and-19 (Who on earth does that?) and score the game’s first touchdown.  After Georgia kicked a field goal, Demps returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to put Florida up 14-3.  The normally reliable Blair Walsh, who is coming unglued right before our very eyes, missed another field goal.  (He would miss two field goals by the time it was all over.)  And Aaron Murray had a pass bounce off a running back’s helmet and get intercepted.

And that was just the first half.

And then, this team that has found so many ways to lose this game, found a way to win.

The game turned on a play late in the first half as Georgia faced 4th-and-5 from the Florida 20.  Mark Richt–the same Mark Richt who just a few months earlier had ordered a field goal on 4th-and-goal against Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl–rediscovered the nerve that had propelled him and Georgia to the top of the SEC during the early years of his administration.  He had Aaron Murray take a shot at the end zone.  Michael Bennett hauled it in, and just like that the Florida lead was cut in half.

One of the flaws of this year’s Georgia team is that they just don’t know how good they really are, and they have played like it for long stretches of the season.  But on this day, perhaps even starting with this play, they began to believe.

Todd Grantham–say what you will about his end-of-game antics but his defense is playing better these days–made some second half adjustments and suddenly Florida wasn’t doing anything offensively.  Chris Rainey, who has become a non-factor ever since Gainesville police revoked his texting privileges (“Time to die…Hello?…Hello?”) was a non-factor in this one.  The entire Florida offense managed but 51 yards and one first down in the second half.  Their second-half possessions:  Punt, fumble, field goal, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs.

Midway through the third quarter, Richt did it again.  Trailing by a touchdown and facing 4th-and-6 from the Florida 14, he had Aaron Murray throw it again.  Tavarres King outfought Florida defender Jaylen Watkins for the ball, and the score was tied at 17.

There was still some ugliness to come–another long kickoff return would set up a field goal to put Florida back in front–but by then it was clear that today would be different.  A short Florida punt started Georgia off in Florida territory near the end of the third quarter, and Richard Samuel finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run that gave Georgia the lead for good.

With 5 1/2 minutes left in the game, Jarvis Jones sacked John Brantley on 4th-and-10, and Florida never touched the ball the rest of the afternoon.  Thanks to some nifty running by Isaiah Crowell and Richard Samuel, Georgia was able to run out the clock.  The game ended with the ball on the Florida 1.

Georgia spotted Florida a 14-point lead and did not blink.  Their nerves did not fail them as they came back and won this one.  That has been a huge reversal from what we have been accustomed to seeing from Georgia in recent years, in this game or in any other.

It was a flawed win over an average team, marred by special teams breakdowns and other mistakes.  Mark Richt admitted to as much in the postgame press conference.  But Georgia is long past the point of grading wins over Florida.

It was a flawed win over an average opponent.  But it was much more than that.  This game has taken on outsize significance to the Georgia program, largely because of all the pain that Florida has inflicted the past two decades.  Put simply, this was a game that Mark Richt and Georgia had to win.  And they did.

It’s Deja Vu Time

This scene has been repeated all too often during the last 21 years. Is it wishful thinking to hope that it won't happen again in 2011?

Those of you who are Georgia fans know precisely what I mean.

Florida-Georgia is only hours away, and we all know what that means:  Time to prepare yourself psychologically for the inevitable beatdown.

It isn’t just that this year’s Georgia team has done little to inspire confidence despite being 5-2 and ranked #22 in the AP poll, though it has.  Georgia’s four SEC wins have come against opponents that are a combined 1-15 in SEC play, and none of those wins has been a masterpiece of domination.  One of those almost got away right at the end; the Vanderbilt game was not decided until the last play when Vanderbilt tight end Brandon Barden was tackled well short of the end zone.

And it isn’t just that Florida isn’t as bad as we would like to make out.  Though that is true.  Florida got boatraced by Alabama and LSU.  And Georgia would have done any better?  Florida lost to Auburn 17-6 but it is clear they were still missing quarterback John Brantley, who was out that game.  And who’s to say Auburn wouldn’t do the same thing to this Georgia team?  Florida and Georgia have one common opponent to this point:  Tennessee.  They both won.  Yippee.

For Georgia, the problems run much deeper than that.  Florida has won the last three in a row.  The long view is even uglier:  Florida has won 11 of the last 13 and 18 of the last 21.

Another statistic for those of you who are statistically inclined:  Since this 21-game stretch started, 7 classes of seniors have graduated from Georgia without ever experiencing a win over Florida.  Unless Mark Richt can figure something out, the class of 2011 will be #8.

This year’s Georgia team enters the game on a five-game winning streak, ranked #22 in the AP poll, and a 3 point favorite while Florida is on a three-game losing streak.  No matter.  Last year Georgia entered on a three-game winning streak while Florida was on a three-game losing streak.  Florida won for the 18th time in 21 years.

There is no Georgia lead so large that Florida can’t overcome it.  In 2000 Georgia led 17-9 in the waning minutes of the first half and was only a few plays away from going up 24-9.  Three plays later the score was tied at 17.  Florida went on to win 34-23.

And there is no Florida lead so slim that Florida can’t hold it to the end of eternity if need be.  In 1999 Florida led 16-14 but Georgia was only one play away from, at the very worst, kicking a field goal and taking the lead in the fourth quarter.  Jasper Sanks fumbled on the next play.  Florida went on to win 30-14.

Having the better team is no source of solace whatsoever.  Much better Georgia teams than this year’s edition have lost to much worse Florida teams than this year’s.  1992 and 2002 are prime examples.  In the Mark Richt era, three Georgia teams played in the SEC championship game.  None of those teams beat Florida.

Florida has been average or maybe even sub-average in Year 1 under Will Muschamp.  No solace here either.  Florida was sub-average in three years under Ron Zook, and Zook still left Gainesville with a winning record against Georgia.  Georgia couldn’t even touch him until 2004, by which time he was a lame duck.

Another statistic of note:  Mark Richt has worked against three different Florida coaches, and has a losing record against all three (Steve Spurrier:  0-1, Ron Zook:  1-2, Urban Meyer:  1-5).  Lose today and Richt will have losing records against four different Florida coaches.  I don’t think any other Georgia coach has sunk to such a level of infamy.

Believe it or not, however, there once was a time when Georgia owned Florida.  AJC sports columnist Mark Bradley offers reflections from former Florida coach Ray Graves and other eminent Gators who were associated with the program during that era.

Florida-Georgia Reflections: Tim Tebow Gets SERVED!!!!!

It seems incredibly hard to believe, yet Florida-Georgia is almost upon us once again.  Which means it is time once again to jump into the time machine and go back.  Fortunately, we don’t have to go back too far to find something slightly more uplifting than what we have had to witness lately in this game.  So join me as we go back…back…back…

Hillary Clinton and a charismatic young senator from Illinois were gearing up for the Democratic presidential primaries.  Boris Yeltsin, Beverly Sills, and Jerry Falwell kicked the bucket.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit the shelves of bookstores, much to the protestations of evangelicals everywhere.  The movie version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass came out and barely registered a blip on the radar of the public consciousness.

And on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late October in Jacksonville, Florida and Georgia teed it up once more.

Yes, the year was 2007.  Tim Tebow was electrifying crowds in Gainesville and all around the country in his first full year as the starting quarterback at Florida.  Earlier that year he had lit up Tennessee and set Philip Fulmer’s seat on fire with a 59-20 win.  His team hit a few bumps in the road though, including a 28-24 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, a 20-17 loss to Auburn on a last-second field goal, and a 45-37 win over Kentucky in which Tim Tebow got roughed up significantly.  Still, Florida was 5-2 and ranked #9 in the AP poll going into this game.

Georgia, meanwhile, was 5-2 and ranked #17 but struggling through a less-than-memorable first half of the season.  Highlights included a 35-14 win over Oklahoma State in the season opener, a 45-17 win over Ole Miss, and a 26-23 overtime win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa in Nick Saban’s debut season.  But there were plenty of lowlights, including a listless 16-12 loss to South Carolina in the season’s second game, a 35-14 bodyslam in Knoxville in which Tennessee scored 28 points during the pregame warmups, and a 20-17 win over Vanderbilt that was not decided until the last play of the game.  That game ended badly, as Georgia players bum-rushed the field and stomped on Vanderbilt’s logo after the game-winning field goal.

Add to all of this the fact that Florida had won 15 of the previous 17 games in this series, and suffice it to say that confidence was not exactly brimming at an all-time high this weekend.

But all of that changed in the opening minutes as Knowshon Moreno broke loose for the game’s first score and all hell broke loose.  Mark Richt had ordered up a team celebration after the first score; the Georgia players took him at his word and bum-rushed the field.  The resulting excessive celebration penalties forced Georgia to kick off from their own 8-yard-line, but it gave Florida a shock from which they would not recover for the rest of the game.

Florida fought on bravely, but a hobbled Tim Tebow and a porous defense were too much to overcome.  For every big play Florida made, Georgia had an answer.  A 53-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Mikey Henderson was lethal; it put Georgia up 35-24 with 11 minutes left in the game.  The game was over when Tim Tebow fumbled a snap with 2:53 remaining; Georgia recovered and was able to run out the clock.

This win was an energizer for Georgia in 2007; it sparked a late-season run that ended with Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and right in the thick of the national championship discussion that year.

Returning to the present, Georgia finds itself in a much similar situation.  Georgia is 5-2 and ranked #22 in the AP poll going into Jacksonville, but has not done much to inspire confidence to this point; an 0-2 start followed by a succession of flawed wins, the latest of which was a win over Vanderbilt in Nashville that was not decided until the last play of the game and ended badly with the coaches getting into it.  Hopefully the outcome in Jacksonville will be similar to what it was four years ago.  We can hope, can’t we?

Skye Jethani: Blessed Redundancy

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Skye Jethani over at Out of Ur called “Blessed Redundancy“.  In this post he critiques the model prevalent in many evangelical churches which place an inordinate emphasis on one preacher and elevate him to superstar status.  Likening the church to an airplane, Jethani contends that a better model would be to have redundancy of leadership.  This would be healthier for leaders, enabling them to serve for the long haul, and healthier for their churches, because they wouldn’t fall apart in the absence of superstar leaders.

Read Skye Jethani:  Blessed Redundancy

Moammar Qaddafi Is Dead

Congratulations to the people of Libya.

Perhaps a quote from G. K. Chesterton is in order here.  In this quote Chesterton speaks to the frailty of human institutions and the necessity to stand guard lest the things we create to free us from oppression become instruments of oppression later.  As the Libyan people move forward, I believe they–and all of us–would do well to take these words to heart.

We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and terrible sense true of all human things. An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old. It is the custom in passing romance and journalism to talk of men suffering under old tyrannies. But, as a fact, men have almost always suffered under new tyrannies; under tyrannies that had been public liberties hardly twenty years before. Thus England went mad with joy over the patriotic monarchy of Elizabeth; and then (almost immediately afterwards) went mad with rage in the trap of the tyranny of Charles the First. So, again, in France the monarchy became intolerable, not just after it had been tolerated, but just after it had been adored. The son of Louis the well-beloved was Louis the guillotined. So in the same way in England in the nineteenth century the Radical manufacturer was entirely trusted as a mere tribune of the people, until suddenly we heard the cry of the Socialist that he was a tyrant eating the people like bread. So again, we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty. It is the new rulers, the capitalist or the editor, who really hold up the modern world. There is no fear that a modern king will attempt to override the constitution; it is more likely that he will ignore the constitution and work behind its back; he will take no advantage of his kingly power; it is more likely that he will take advantage of his kingly powerlessness, of the fact that he is free from criticism and publicity. For the king is the most private person of our time. It will not be necessary for any one to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press. We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.

This startiing swiftness with which popular systems turn oppressive is the third fact for which we shall ask our perfect theory of progress to allow. It must always be on the look out for every privilege being abused, for every working right becoming a wrong. In this matter I am entirely on the side of the revolutionists. They are really right to be always suspecting human institutions; they are right not to put their trust in princes nor in any child of man. The chieftain chosen to be the friend of the people becomes the enemy of the people; the newspaper started to tell the truth now exists to prevent the truth being told. Here, I say, I felt that I was really at last on the side of the revolutionary. And then I caught my breath again: for I remembered that I was once again on the side of the orthodox.

Christianity spoke again and said: “I have always maintained that men were naturally backsliders; that human virtue tended of its own nature to rust or to rot; I have always said that human beings as such go wrong, especially happy human beings, especially proud and prosperous human beings. This eternal revolution, this suspicion sustained through centuries, you (being a vague modern) call the doctrine of progress. If you were a philosopher you would call it, as I do, the doctrine of original sin. You may call it the cosmic advance as much as you like; I call it what it is — the Fall.

Well, We Won, But We Are So Not Ready for Florida

Aloysius, our executive director here at Everyone's Entitled to Joe's Opinion, registers his disapproval of Todd Grantham's antics. Yep, Grantham choked.

It isn’t very often that a team laboring under a first-year head coach, a team that just got punked in its last three conference games by a combined score of 96-27, a team that is now down to its 117th-string quarterback and is using randomly selected fans to fill the position, looks at the schedule and sees Georgia coming up two weeks hence, and begins to salivate uncontrollably.  Even though Georgia has just won five straight after starting the season 0-2.  Even though Georgia is now ranked #24.  Even though Georgia has a week off to prepare.

But now, here we are.

Georgia beat Vanderbilt this weekend.  After leading 23-7, they held on for a 33-28 victory.  For a team that aspires to the SEC East title, or even to something only marginally better than a return trip to the Liberty Bowl, the words “held on” and “victory” should NEVER appear in the same sentence.  Especially when the opponent is Vanderbilt.

And yet, here we are.

Georgia is currently riding a five-game winning streak, yet they have spent most of it making us all wonder just how good they really are.  The four SEC opponents that Georgia has beaten are a combined 1-13 in conference play.  Yet Georgia never really put away any of these opponents; they all hung around in their games and were able to make the fourth quarter a lot more interesting than it needed to be.

This time, the outcome remained in doubt until after the final seconds had ticked off the clock.  With Georgia trying–and failing miserably–at running out the clock after a fortuitous interception that should have ended the game for Vanderbilt, Drew Butler had a punt blocked.  When you’re trying to run out the clock at the end of a game, a blocked punt is the worst possible play at the worst possible time.

The worst possible play at the worst possible time:  Still very much a defining characteristic of Georgia football.  To Butler’s credit, he very alertly tracked down the blocked punt and fell on top of it, thereby preventing any Vanderbilt players from picking it up and taking it into the end zone and winning the game right then and there.

But Vanderbilt still had a shot from the Georgia 20 with 7 seconds left.  An illegal substitution penalty backed them up to the 25.  An ensuing pass went off the hands of wide receiver Chris Boyd in the end zone, leaving one second on the clock.  Tight end Brandon Barden made a catch on the next play, but was tackled well short of the end zone at the 16.  Finally–mercifully–this one was over.

Is this progress?

The game was ugly all around.  The offense couldn’t finish drives.  The defense was nonexistent.  And don’t even get me started on the special teams play.  Discipline problems abounded–from the players all the way up to our powder keg of a defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who for the second consecutive year has become a Youtube sensation (more on this later).

Mark Richt was hoping for a quick start.  Didn’t happen.  After four possessions the score should have been 21-0 but was only 3-0.  Here’s how it went:  Missed field goal (49 yards), punt (three-and-out), field goal (52 yards), missed FG (41 yards).  During that time Vanderbilt had two turnovers, one of which set Georgia up at the Vanderbilt 24, and Georgia came away with zero points.

That’s a problem, people.

In the third quarter, Georgia got a field goal to go up 23-7.  Then Vanderbilt returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.  Later, Aaron Murray missed a wide-open Marlon Brown at the 5 yard line for what would have been an easy score before Georgia settled for yet another field goal to go up 26-14.

The defense, thought to be improving, was nonexistent.  Vanderbilt, which had only managed three points in its previous two games, scored three second-half touchdowns.  First was the aforementioned kickoff return for a touchdown.  Then came drives of 75 and 84 yards in which Vanderbilt moved the ball with ruthless efficiency.

Vanderbilt?  Moving the ball with ruthless efficiency?

That’s a problem, people.

So there was Vanderbilt, causing all manner of mayhem at the end of the game.  The aforementioned 75-yard scoring drive cut Georgia’s lead to 26-21.  When Murray responded with a 75-yard scoring strike to Marlon Brown, Vanderbilt showed its resiliency by going on another long scoring drive, finishing this one with a 19-yard touchdown run by Zac Stacy with 9 minutes left in the game.

Vanderbilt?  Showing resiliency late in a ballgame?

Remember when Georgia used to do that?

After the game finally ended, the Vanderbilt players and Georgia players gathered at midfield.  You could cut the tension with a knife.  It was just like the stare-down before the big rumble between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story.

At the center of it all were Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, exchanging heated words.  The video is all over Youtube; I have included it here at the end.  This marks the second consecutive year that Todd Grantham has become a Youtube sensation; last year he was caught giving the choke sign repeatedly and yelling obscenities toward Florida kicker Chas Henry, who would go on to kick the field goal that won it for Florida in overtime.  I have included this video as well.

This is a problem, people.

Richt on the postgame melee:

All I know is I hate the fact at the end of the game that we can’t just shake hands like gentleman and walk off the field. … It’s like the end of a play. When it’s over it’s over. Go to the sideline. And we didn’t do a very good job of that. It is heated. It is battle. It’s not war with real bullets but it’s war in a sense and tempers do flare up. I don’t mind our blood [pressure] getting high but we can’t do something that may get us beat, or make us look less than a first-class operation.

Grantham:  “Everybody’s competitive. I love my players. I support my players.”

Franklin:  “I went to find coach Richt and didn’t find him, so I found one of his assistant coaches and it didn’t go well.”

This was a Vanderbilt game?????

With 2:53 left in the first half, a transformer blew and knocked out four sets of lights on the east side of the stadium.  Much of the remainder of the first half was played amid dark and shadows.  Just as well.  Most Vanderbilt games are better played in the dark.

This one was no exception.

Mark Richt was not happy about this game.  Nor should he have been.  “I just don’t know if we’re ready to continue at the top of the Eastern Division the way we played. We’re thankful for the victory but we’ve got a ways to go.”

Sounds like Mark Richt might be starting to get in touch with his inner Nick Saban.  If so, that would be a huge improvement.

What we saw this weekend in Nashville does not bode well at all for Georgia.  Especially not with Florida coming up two weeks hence.  Florida is struggling this year, but don’t put any trust in that:  Florida was struggling last year and they still managed to beat Georgia for the 18th time in 21 years.

The good news:  Four years ago Georgia came off an unimpressive win at Vanderbilt that was not decided until the last play of the game.  After the game there was a bit of a ruckus at the middle of the field.  Kinda like this time.  Here is what I thought about that game.

Two weeks after that, Georgia went on to beat Florida.

Maybe history will repeat itself.  You think?

It could, but I am not particularly optimistic.  Georgia won, but they showed that they are still a very flawed team.  The fact that they show such flaws against inferior competition is a huge concern.  What can we expect next month when the competition gets better?

The worst possible play at the worst possible time is still a defining mark of this Georgia team.  For the past five weeks, Georgia’s competition hasn’t been good enough to make them pay for it.  But against Florida, that will not be good enough.

Against Florida, nothing that we have seen the past five weeks will be good enough.

Here is Todd Grantham, our powder keg defensive coordinator, going ballistic at the end of the Vanderbilt game:

And here is Grantham giving ineffective choke signs to Florida kicker Chas Henry:

Les Miserables 71: The Chain (cont’d)

When we left off last time, Valjean and Cosette were out for an early morning walk, and they had just come face-to-face with a fearsome procession of prisoners on their way to prison.

The sight of this procession had a fearsome effect on Jean Valjean, because it stirred up memories from his own past.  For he had once been on one of those wagons, in a procession similar to this.  He knew full well what awaited these prisoners at the end of their journey.  He had experienced in his own soul the transformation which we have seen in these prisoners.  He had once been just as wretched–inside and out–as these prisoners, and if not for his meeting with Monsigneur Bienvenu at Digne, he would still be just as wretched, if not worse.  And yet, in this section of the story, as Valjean runs Marius off and tries desperately to cling to Cosette, we see his soul trending back in this direction.  If unchecked, Valjean will once again become precisely what we have just seen in this procession–on the inside at least, if not on the outside.

Jean Valjean’s eyes had become frightening.  They were no longer eyes; they were the deep windows that take the place of seeing in certain unfortunate creatures, that seem unconscious of reality, reflecting dazzling horrors and catastrophes.  He was not looking at a sight; he was experiencing a vision.  He endeavored to get up, to flee, to escape; he could not move a limb.  Sometimes things that you see grab and hold you.  He was spellbound, dazed, petrified, asking himself, through a vague unutterable anguish, the meaning of this vague sepulchral persecution, and the source of this pandemonium pursuing him.  All at once he raised his hand to his forehead, a common gesture with those to whom memory suddenly returns; he remembered that this really was the route, that this detour was usual to avoid meeting the king, which was always possible on the Fontainebleau road, and that, thirty-five years before, he had passed through this city gate.

This sight also had a fearsome effect upon Cosette, though not for the same reasons as for Valjean.

…She did not understand; what she saw did not seem possible to her; at last she exclaimed, “Father!  What can that be in those wagons?”

Jean Valjean answered:  “Convicts.”

“And where are they going?”

“To prison.”

At this moment the cudgeling, multiplied by a hundred hands, reached its climax; blows with the flat of the sword joined in; it was a fury of whips and clubs; the prisoners crouched, a hideous obedience was produced by the torture, and all fell silent with the look of chained wolves.  Cosette trembled all over; she asked, “Father, are they still men?”

“Sometimes,” said the man of misery.

Here Hugo inexorably links Valjean to the procession we have just seen, by referring to the misery which deformed these men and took away their humanity, and then calling Valjean “the man of misery”.

Cosette gets what is happening here.  These people are still men, yet the punishment to which they are subjected has stripped them of their humanity to the extent that one has good cause to doubt whether or not they are still men.

Valjean is in a tricky place when Cosette asks him this question, because he was once in a similar procession, experiencing similar punishment.  He knows that under the strain of this punishment many of these men lose their humanity and turn into horrible monsters, yet if he were to say that they are not still men he would be damning himself, because he was once in such a procession.

And yet he does not want to reveal to Cosette that he was once a prisoner in such a procession.  Why?  Because he loves Cosette and is still trying selfishly to cling to her.  He is afraid that revealing this to her will cause her to lose her love for him and become revulsed with him and afraid of him, just as she is afraid of this procession.

So he answers carefully:  “Sometimes.”

It was in fact the chain that, setting out before daybreak from Bicetre, took the Mans road to avoid Fontainebleau, where the king was at the time.  This detour made the terrible journey last three or four days longer; but to spare the royal person the sight of the torture, it could well be prolonged.

Herein lies a bit of thinly veiled social criticism:  the idea that the king, by virtue of his office, was above the other people of France and should be spared the sight of human suffering.  These human beings, having been reduced to this inhuman state, could be forced to endure for a few days longer just to spare the king the sight of their anguish.  Because the king is better than other people and should not have to experience the horror that they would experience upon seeing such human suffering.  Even if that suffering was created by his nation’s laws and his nation’s justice system.  Victor Hugo was not a fan of this.

Jean Valjean returned home overwhelmed.  Such encounters are shocks, and the memory they leave resembles a convulsion.

Jean Valjean, however, on the way back to the Rue de Babylone with Cosette, did not notice that she asked him other questions regarding what they had just seen; perhaps he was himself too much absorbed in his own dejection to heed her words or answer them.  But at night, as Cosette was leaving him to go to bed, he heard her say in an undertone, and as if talking to herself, “It seems to me that if I should meet one of those men in my path, O my God, I would die just from seeing him near me!”

Little does Cosette know that her father, whom she has loved so much for so long, is in fact one of those men.  Imagine the effect it would have on her if she ever found out.  So we see that Valjean has very good reason to be afraid, and to keep the secret of his past to himself.

But there was a multi-day festival in Paris which started the day after this procession.  Valjean took Cosette to this, to get their minds off the horrible sight they had just seen.  Valjean was able to put on his National Guard uniform and thus remain inconspicuous.

Several days later Cosette was standing with Valjean on the garden steps one morning, picking a daisy to pieces, just like she would if she were playing “He loves me/he loves me not…”.  But she knew nothing of this game or anything like it; growing up in the convent, how could she have learned?

…She was fingering this flower by instinct, innocently, without suspecting that to pick a daisy to pieces is to pluck a heart.  If there were a fourth Grace called Melancholy, and if it were smiling, she would have seemed that Grace.

Jean Valjean was fascinated by the contemplation of her slender fingers on that flower, forgetting everything in the radiance of this child.  A robin was twittering in the shrubbery beside them.  White clouds were crossing the sky so gaily that one would have said they had just been set free.  Cosette went on plucking the petals off her flower attentively; she seemed to be thinking of something; but it must have been pleasant.

Once again, it is early morning and the birds are singing, just as it was on the day that Valjean and Cosette saw the awful prison procession.  And now Cosette shows that she has not forgotten what they saw that day.  She picks right up where she left off when she asked Valjean if the prisoners in the procession were still men:

…Suddenly she turned her head over her shoulder with the delicate motion of the swan, and said to Jean Valjean, “Father, what are they then, the convicts?”

Here Victor Hugo leaves us hanging.  Cosette is pushing Valjean for an answer that he is extremely reluctant to give.  Valjean has just come face-to-face with his own horrible past, we see that his soul is trending precisely in that direction, and that he needs some kind of help from outside to get back on the right path.  Will he get it?  What will it be?  Keep reading to find out.