Since being formed out the back of a brewing tycoon’s mansion many moons ago, the Essendon Football Club has used the vast majority of its 150-year history expanding, evolving and dominating.
While their pioneering ties with fox hunters and woolworkers have since become footnotes and the red brick surrounds of their suburban heartland no longer hold the strength to contain them, it is still clear that history still matters to the club that remains on a hiatus from making any.
Ahead of the Bombers’ sesquicentennial clash against Carlton last Friday night, the MCG’s many lights were switched off, with the only glow highlighting the club’s storied set of 16 premiership cups, sitting pedestalled on the surface most were earned.
Before the halogen globes would be reignited and the bounce to set a bitter rivalry back in motion, the red and black masses were stirred by a heartfelt soliloquy from Indigenous hip hop star, and loyal Bomber backer, Briggs.
The Shepperton native piqued the emotions of those clad in sashes and called upon a litany of icons to take retake their place in the spotlight for a deserved curtain call.
From sharpshooting duo Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas to the club’s contemporary father and son, Kevin Sheedy and James Hird, the architects of glory and fame raised their hands, collected their flowers and strode to the Punt Road goal mouth.
As the house lights lifted and the curtain began to raise, current-day captain Dyson Heppell led a call to arms, tugging fervently at his jumper as the ilk of Ramanauskas, Long and the Danihers stood shoulder to shoulder with Ridley, Laverde and Draper.
Ahead of tomorrow night's game, relive last week's epic pre-game.
— Essendon FC (@essendonfc) June 15, 2022
While the public rev-up had Lloyd ready to pull his kicking boots down off the hook, the final result remained predictable for Heppell and his band of beleaguered Bombers, with Carlton claiming the chocolates for the 127th time in what was the pair’s 251st meeting.
Essendon has been left to reside on the ladder’s 16th rung with their on-field output too blunt to cut any brand of mustard. However, bridging the past with the present on night’s like last Friday should always be welcomed - especially when the club has always had somewhere to hang their hat.
Yet, with a dearth of September success that will soon be able to walk into any bottleshop and bar with confidence, the ability to routinely lean on this hat stand in the hopes that it will produce in the present has just about run its course.
The 16 flags flying from their many masts will always mean that Essendon is relevant in any conversation concerning Australian Rules Football, but in spite of their history proving dearer than the price of a plate at Entrecôte, all evidence is pointing to it playing no part in helping add a 17th.
So, is there any need for the Dons to go flicking back through their annals now that the party is over?
With a history that stretches back to 1872, the Essendon Football Club is one of the oldest sporting outfits still operating across the globe.
Though their chronology of champions and championships is both cherished and coveted across any number of Australia’s axes, the Bombers’ brand is shrouded by worldwide powerhouses in the New York Yankees and the Boston Celtics.
In the same fashion as ‘Same Olds’, both the ‘Bronx Bombers’ and ‘Lucky the Leprechaun’s Lads’ have cast a shadow across their respective competition, sitting atop the Major League and the NBA’s respective trees when it comes to popping champagne corks and sparking cigars.
And akin to barrackers of the Bombers, despite their routine dominance and opulent trophy cabinets, both Yankees and Celtics fanatics have lived through championship droughts of more than a decade-and-a-half apiece.
However, unlike the jacket-waving, backward-walking, review-taking team from Tullamarine, the set of American powerhouses were willing to go directly against their DNA in an effort to reverse their fortunes.
Perhaps searching for familiar pages should be forgotten by those calling the shots at The Hangar, because as shown by those able to return the rain, rebirths and returns to prominence require parting ways with many threads of history in an effort to make more.
While the blood, sweat and tears of Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and ‘The Babe’ have seen Yankee caps become a staple of wardrobes right across the globe, much of the vaunted franchise’s ubiquity has been built off the back of a man who never once pulled on their pinstripes.
Ahead of the 1973 Major League Baseball season, a consortium led by brash shipbuilder George Steinbrenner parted with a $10 million (USD) figure to purchase the competition’s most storied side from national broadcaster CBS.
With the aim of breaking the Yankees' rapidly rising championship famine, the group crafted and implemented a blueprint for which they are now so widely despised.
After buying out his partners to take sole ownership in 1974, Steinbrenner essentially created modern free agency when he stumped up a fee worth over $18 million in today’s terms for mustachioed pitching ace ‘Catfish’ Hunter.
The spending didn’t stop there either, with Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield also brought across from the west coast on big bucks.
Yet, with an eccentricity that saw him hire and fire the same manager five times over 13 years – as parodied to acclaim on Seinfeld – ‘The Boss’ was not only prone to meddling but also placing folks offside.
Following his relationship with Winfield disintegrating after pot shots, pitfalls and money failing to part hands, the league suspended Steinbrenner from his ability to run the day-to-day operations in 1990 after he was found to have paid nefarious characters to dig up dirt on his bull in the box.
With the Ohio-born blowhard’s fingers removed from the pie, the Yankees – by then in the midst of a 12-year World Series drought – scrapped their policy of luring high-priced imports in favour of drafting and developing talents such as Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and the now legendary Derek Jeter.
And six years later, off the back of starring roles from this quartet, the most loathed team in world sports was back in their rightful place, at the top of the mountain.
12 years later and 330 kilometres up the road, the Boston Celtics were forced to undergo a similar parting with the past in an effort to reclaim their own seat at the summit.
After a diabolically poor 2007 season in which blue-chip forward Paul Pierce was left to run an offense on his lonesome, the 16-time champions flipped the script on their entrenched identity by trading wildly in the off-season rather than hitting the draft.
While only six members of the team were afforded the right to ‘run it back’ in 2008, amongst the nine new members of the side tasked with snapping a 21-year streak without success were Hall of Fame members, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Though the franchise’s fanbase was obviously in raptures with the work of general manager Danny Ainge, head coach Doc Rivers was forced to find a way in which the trio of alpha dogs could share the kennel by barking in unison.
In spite of the phrase remaining one that is tough to succinctly translate into English, Rivers described the African-born ideology that was at the heart of creating the club’s selfless identity.
“A person is a person through other people. I can’t be all I can be unless you are all that you can be,” the current 76ers boss stated told Netflix cameras in 2020.
With ‘The Big Three’ willing to pass up pieces of the pie in favour of feeding one another and buying into the selfless mantra, the Celtics turned a 24-58 record into a 4-2 finals win, allowing their most recent championship banner to fly from the Garden’s rafters.
Though tangential, and possibly tenuous, both of these particular titles paint a clear picture, even born-to-rule franchises have to swallow some pride to reclaim the whole lot.
But can any of these lessons be applied by the Bombers?
And if so, which avenue is the one worth walking down?
A double down on fostering kids like the Yankees of the 90s or a decision to plough the fields and sell the farm like Ainge and Rivers after the turn of the century?
Given Essendon has hit the past seven drafts and trade periods with fervor, bringing names such as McGrath, Ridley, Smith, Saad, Stringer, Shiel, Wright, Caldwell, Cox and Perkins, it is clear that the club has already had a bob each way.
So perhaps taking the plunge into the free-agency pool is the next logical step in to help provide their roster with some much-needed grout.
Having dipped their toe into the frame after luring Jake Kelly away from the Crows at the end of last season, Adrian Dodoro’s list management team almost certainly has an eye on this year’s crop which includes Daniel McStay, Jordan De Goey, Alex Pearce, Jack Gunston, Angus Brayshaw and Karl Amon.
And with stark voids to fill across each third of the ground, the prospect of any of these names donning the sash next season should be welcomed.
Although implementing many facets from Essendon's history books will only seek to hinder their efforts of today, there are elements that must be brought back if the Bombers are to take flight at any stage soon.
Irrespective of the fact that neither the Yankees nor Celtics have had to contend with anything similar to the upheaval involved with Essendon’s drugs saga, if the former powerhouses of the competition are to reclaim their crown, the need to rekindle their past brand of arrogance is verging on desperate.
While they too are yet to snap their even lengthier flagless spell, Carlton has reprised their previously standard level of smugness, even if their silverware stocks haven't been bolstered since the mid-90s.
And even with their own generation of irrelevance still fresh in the minds of the masses, the Blues' ability to best the Bombers last Friday was indicative of where each former powerhouse currently stands within the competition.
Sure, Essendon were able to throw a few jabs early and create a few nice riffs from stoppage, but eventually, the side who has committed to reclaiming what is believed to be theirs showed them up with the arrogance of a best man rocking a paisley suit.
All of this must be used as motivation, as for the vast majority of people that voted for the first time at the most recent federal election, the notion that the Bombers once reigned supreme is starting to sound more ludicrous by the round.
Although both the Yankees and Celtics have found themselves back within trophyless dry spells that stand at 13 and 14 seasons respectively, both sides are currently on the precipice of snapping them, with New York holding the best current record in the majors and Boston battling Golden State for their latest Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Despite the likelihood of the Dons stepping up and claiming their 17th flag at any stage soon appearing slimmer than Plugger at the present, even if those currently under Ben Rutten's watch are reticent to flex the club's underworked muscle of vanity, they need not be as the deeds of those from days gone by have afforded them every right to.
Notwithstanding the truth that nostalgia has many wonderful qualities that allow bonds to be forged and already existing ties to solidify, spending too much of today drifting through yesteryear is also a sure-fire way to get nothing done.
But with their next fixture back on Broadway against a club that they used to fleece for fun for so many decades, the stage has been set for Essendon to actually prove the best parts of the past can still help alter the present, even if just for a week.
While the Dons' road to Damascus is sure to have numerous twists and turns up ahead, they could do a heck of a lot worse than to follow in the footsteps of fellow giants instead of continuing to spin in circles.