Commentary

Ehrlich diary: Searching for Mojo

Updated: June 25, 2010, 5:11 PM ET
By Carl Ehrlich | Special to ESPNBoston.com

Editor's note: Carl Ehrlich, who was the captain of the 2009 Harvard football team, is in Spain to play football as a linebacker for the Valencia Firebats. He's chronicling his experiences on and off the field for ESPNBoston.com. You can find all of his previous entries here.

My parents came to visit me in Valencia this week. Part of me thinks they came to experience the amazing Spanish weather. The other part thinks they came to drag me home. Either way, the trip was warranted.

Skyping with my mom before the trip, she asked me what I wanted her to bring me. I could have anything I wanted from the United States, she told me. This was my chance.

After five months away from home, there's a lot that I miss. My friends, my bed, my dogs. Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Costco-sized jugs of peanut butter. Double Big Gulp Slurpees on a hot day. Thirty seconds in, I was salivating over a gluttonous reunion with American foods. Anything I wanted from the States? How much room you got in that duffle-bag, Ma?

"Pick one thing," my mom suggested, trying to simplify the task "and it can't be the dogs. What do you miss most from back in the States?"

What do I miss the most? That's easy -- my Mojo.

Call it an X factor. Call it swag. Call it, it (actually, don't call it, "It" because that movie terrified me) -- I call it Mojo. Regardless of what you call it, I want mine back.

To me, Mojo is Pedro in '99. The Pedro that goofed off in the dugout and threw at batters on principle. The Pedro that struck out 313, and that's not counting the five consecutive in the All-Star game. Larkin. Walker. Sosa. McGwire. Bagwell. In a time when everyone and their brother were doing steroids, Pedro was running on pure Mojo, the ultimate performance enhancer.

In the infamous Game 5 against the Indians, Pedro was oozing Mojo; he was wiping it from his brow as he warmed up in the bullpen. Coming into the game in the fourth inning and seeing him throw six hitless, shutout innings was incredible, but you can't say it was surprising.

To watch him now is to know his Mojo is running low. He's cut open the toothpaste tube and is running his brush along the inside. Every once in a while there's a flash, but not like there was. The man is WOM (With Out Mojo).

But who am I to say anything? I haven't had my Mojo for five months. My Spanish athletic career can be summarized in three Mojo-less moments.

    1. The First Big L. There's a reason I keep revisiting this 39-0 loss -- it had a lot to do with how the season played out. And probably a lot to do with the disappearance of my Mojo.

    Back before I was WOM, I went into every game thinking I was going to win, but this game starting giving me doubts. The 39-0 shellacking the Pioneers put on us was a demoralizing experience and self-doubt is a real Mojo killer.

    2. Do You Believe in Miracles?! NO!! The Firebats' game against the Swarco Raiders was a perfect example of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."

    For starters, we weren't even supposed to be playing that game. This year, the Firebats won their first game in international play and unthinkably advanced into the EFL quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, we had the misfortune to draw the Raiders, the defending European champions.

    But if you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to want some milk and if you give a football player a game, he's going to want a win. Drastically under-ranked or not, the Firebats were dreaming big. We started to believe again. By the time kickoff rolled around, the game had all the makings of a feel-good, underdog story. Everything except the win.

    3. The Mojo Vendetta. If there's one thing a person with Mojo does, it's get even. Ali beats Leon Spinks in their rematch. Scott Spiezio beats the Giants after Dusty Baker gives Russ Ortiz the ball to declare the game over. Or -- let's face it -- the Mets get three straight hits with two outs to set up Mookie Wilson's grounder. We'll find out about Rondo's Mojo when he beats the Lakers next year.

    Having lost to the Pioneers three times in the regular season, last week's LNFA final would have been a great opportunity for our Mojo to have its revenge. All the great Mojo-ers get even.

    Instead, we got run out of the building. Back in the U.S., I was on the winning end of championship game blowouts (to wit: 2007 Ivy League Championship: Harvard 37, Yale 6). Now, WOM in another country, I'm on the losing end of big games.

So if you can, Ma, pack up that Mojo and declare it at customs. ASAP. I can't remember where I left it, but it's probably somewhere near my Harvard helmet.

Find it fast, because things are getting desperate here. I'm losing everything in Spain -- right down to Roca, Papel, Tijeras (rock, paper, scissors).

But the state of Mojo-lessness isn't satisfied with just a few losses, it knows when its victim is on the ropes. After our loss in the Finals, the wheels started coming off. On Tuesday, Spain dropped an unlikely opening round game to Switzerland. Thursday (for me, Friday morning), I stayed up until six in the morning to watch the Celtics lose. That was the same day that Stephen Strasburg, D.C.'s savior, threw seven innings of one-run ball and still picked up a loss against the White Sox (now Strasburg -- there's a kid with Mojo potential).

Having had enough of the losing, I spent my last weekend committed to regaining my Mojo of years past. And the only real way to regain your Mojo, I remembered, is to get yourself a slump buster. Like a baseball player who bunts to break a string of oh-fers, or a 3-point shooter who hits a free throw to end a cold streak, all I needed was a quick win.

A Saturday afternoon pickup game against local Spanish kids should've done the trick, but I couldn't even pull that one out. You know you're in a rut when you get hustled by a street kid in jean shorts with no sneakers. Woody Harrelson plays him in the movie.

The Mojo Paradox: Mojo can only be replenished by winning, but you can't win without your Mojo.

Sometimes Mojo has to come from an outside source -- a friend, a teammate, your mother coming across the Atlantic to visit. Mine came back last Wednesday thanks to the late game heroics of Landon Donovan.

Now I'm no soccer fan (or, at least, I wasn't), but any fan of sports will appreciate how great his goal really was. On both a local and global level, Donovan's goal made a huge splash in the athletic community. It unleashed torrents of Mojo energy for those who needed it, and I was at the front of the line.

I'll be in Europe for the rest of the World Cup, and I'm praying the U.S. team can keep the streak going for a little longer. Let's just hope Donovan doesn't run out of Mojo for the rest of us.

After captaining the 2009 Harvard Football team, Carl Ehrlich played professional football for the Valencia Firebats of Spain. Since hanging up his cleats, he has been filling up his passport doing humanitarian work in Southeast Asia. In addition to his travel notebooks, he has previously written for ESPNBoston.com and the New York Times.

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