A great fighter will not live with anxiety like other men. There is after all endless anxiety available to him…His charm was lost in the declamation of his own worth and the incompetence of his enemy, yet his alchemy functioned. - Norman Mailer, The Fight
THERE is a scene in the boxing documentary on Muhammad Ali, When We Were Kings, where the American novelist Norman Mailer describes the pivotal moment where Ali has vanquished his arch-enemy and world heavyweight champion George Foreman.
>> Swans great Micky O'Loughlin speaks about Buddy below
Having sustained a brutal beating from Foreman for eight stinging rounds, Ali gains the ascendancy, quickly and with stealth. Known as The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali, against all odds uses the tactic now known as 'rope-a-dope'.
Essentially, Ali has allowed Foreman to pummel him by laying back on the boxing ring ropes, all the while whispering to Foreman to hit him harder. Foreman becomes exhausted and Ali, seeing his moment, unpicks Foreman, reducing him to an inert pile on the canvas. The frozen scene shows Ali hovering, almost willing Foreman to get up.
It's imbued with great pathos. Mailer said of the photograph taken: 'Ali was composed enough not to waste a random blow and spoil a shot that would last for eternity.'
For me, it is the clarity of thought that champion sports people are able to conjure.
Decisions made in a nanoseconds under immense, electric pressure. It's why we consume sport the way we do to bear witness to moments that make us gasp. I saw something approaching this in Sydney's clash with Carlton game at the SCG for the Marn Grook game.
At the centre of it was Lance Franklin. Yet unlike the super-charged power and precision that Franklin is, the master of this moment saw his composure rise enabling him to make the right decision at a time when Sydney needed him to do so.
"It's a blessing to be a proud Indigenous man and that's one thing I'll be teaching my kids."— AFL (@AFL) June 2, 2021
Watch more of Buddy Franklin's interview on #YokayiFooty at 8pm AEST on @NITV or the AFL Live App #AFLDeadly pic.twitter.com/7wOLy6NSnZ
Tracking a loose ball deep in the Sydney pocket in the first quarter Franklin gathered it like a stolen lemon. The angle, however, was too acute. He tried to open up the space up, but he became uncharacteristically unbalanced because of his speed. A smaller player, like Papley, with a lower point of gravity and the pivot point of a Paris to Dhakka rider would have been able to potentially correct, but Franklin had too much velocity and, like a plane with one engine gone, he could not chance it. Carlton was pressing.
>> Swans great Micky O'Loughlin speaks about Buddy below
A lesser player would have blazed and hoped for a score, but Franklin chipped a cheeky pass to Heeney in the goalsquare getting rid of two quality defenders in Liam Jones and Jacob Weitering in the process. The game's greatest showman, in this subtle, bespoke moment, displayed one of the games golden rules, selflessness. Franklin, like Ali, was not going to sully the aesthetic with a half-chance grubber. He was going to do what players like Polly Farmer did and bring others into the play.
I was at Optus Stadium in round 10, and Buddy rag-dolled the game so hard I thought the stands would fall down. At the SCG in round 11, the big Swan, played with only one thought. Win. Yet despite the different outcomes from these two games, the consistent feeling I have about Franklin is that he is the marquee player of the code and the game's most alluring, unknown enigma. More so than Dustin Martin. Buddy's like a character from the Clint Eastwood western, Unforgiven. He arrives, saves the town and like that, he's gone. It's plausible given his Drizabone deal.
I first heard of Franklin when he started playing for Hawthorn in 2005. My youngest sister asked me if I had seen him play. I had not. She went on to explain she had played netball with his sisters in netball development squads in Northam, the heart of Balladong Noongar country, having driven down from Dowerin some 70 clicks away. She implored me to keep an eye out as she could clearly recall a young, rangy kid looping around the netball courts with a football constantly in his possession. She recalled he would regularly take shots at the netball ring. Not just hitting the ring but slotting it. Enigmatic seems too subtle a term when describing Franklin. His enigma has its own postcode as his identity (a Whadjuk Noongar with a matrilineal line with the Kickett name) and celebrity coalesce which creates an alchemy that is backlit and is complete with an opening lick from a Tupac banger or Enter Sandman by Metallica.
For past teammate and opponent, the insights from Swans elder and newly elected Swans board member Michael O'Loughlin, it has been a fascinating front-row seat to the 'Buddy Show'. Like Franklin, he too has come from humble origins to carve out an immense legacy.
"For me he is a one of the genuine superstars of the game, up there for me with Goodes, McAdam, Long, Wanganeen, Matera and Farmer. When I think of Buddy I just conjure up a player who can invent something out of nothing. I also hear the ticking of turnstiles. Up here in a foreign market he has grabbed the attention of people who don't really know the code. You walk down Pitt Street and people know who he is. It's phenomenal."
O'Loughlin, however, talks of a man he has got to know and him as a person.
"When I got back to coach at the Swans Academy, the buzz was in the air. And let's be clear on this, we were all as surprised as one another he came to the Bloods. So over time, I've seen him grow from this scrawny kid into this, hardened, tough superstar. Very humble, never complains and gets on with being the elite athlete he is. He's also grown into his culture, and that for me is the most satisfying. He's connected into his heritage. The scary thing with his football is that he is not done yet. When he is on, he's the best in the business."
A quick dip into Franklins Instagram account shows Lance Franklin in many ways. Buddy the doting dad and loving husband. Buddy the family man cooking a bbq. Buddy messing around with teammates. Buddy the style icon. But perhaps the most important aspect is the voice he has from the platform. His agency points out issues around the Black Lives Matter movement from June 2020 – Support us when it's not trending the post implores. He raises Survival Day and promotes his Noongar nation. In this way, Buddy engages us on so many levels and brings us into the play, just like his teammates on the field, to embrace the thing that makes him who he is and the player he has become.