You know how many fans will say that "Exile on Main St." is the Rolling Stones' best album? Rolling Stone, the magazine, ranked it seventh on their all-time rock and roll album list … other hip arbiters of rock and roll rate "Exile" very high as well. There are circles in the world where if you DO NOT call "Exile on Main St." your favorite Stones album, you are looked at as a bit of a poseur.
What makes this interesting is this: "Exile" does not have a single hit on it. Eighteen songs, and the only song that a marginal music fan MIGHT know is "Tumbling Dice." They also might not know it. The casual fan might have heard "Let It Loose" somewhere along the way, but probably could not place it. The song "Plundered My Soul" -- which was part of the 2010 re-release -- might have been a more successful single than any song on the album itself.
"Exile" is an album Stones fans love not just because it's great, but because in part -- I would argue -- it's an album Stones fans own in some deeper way. It hasn't been corrupted by popularity or annexed by car commercials or overplayed to its very roots. It hasn't become public domain like the album "Some Girls," with all its hits on it -- "Beast of Burden" and "Shattered" and "Miss You" and "Respectable" and the rest. "Exile" is, in some ways, still a real connection between the band and the people who love them most.
This sort of connection really exists only among the truest fans. No self-respecting Springsteen fan would ever say that Springsteen's best album was "Born in the U.S.A." even thought it was, by far, his most popular. "Born in the U.S.A." had seven Top 10 hits in the U.S.A. -- three of them also reached the Top 10 in Great Britain. Do you know how many other Top 10 hits Springsteen had in both the U.S. and Great Britain? One. "Streets of Philadelphia." That's it.
"Born in the U.S.A." is a crazy outlier in popularity for Springsteen. It's like Norm Cash's 1961 season. And yet, as mentioned, any Springsteen fan who ranked it in his or her Top 5 Springsteen albums -- heck, Top 10 -- would be viewed with wariness. A much more correct answer would be "The Wild, The Innocent the E Street Shuffle," a much rawer album which didn't have any hits (the much beloved "Rosalita" didn't chart) and didn't sell squat. Or "Darkness on the Edge of Town," which is so dark that it actually has the word "Darkness" in the title.
This is what it is to be a fan. Your deeper knowledge separates. You dig beyond the obvious. Beatles fans might pick "Revolver" as the band's best album -- none of the Beatles' mega-hits are on there. Ask a huge Martin Scorsese fan to pick a favorite movie, and you can all but guarantee they would never choose one of the best-selling ones -- "The Departed," "Shutter Island," "The Aviator" or "Cape Fear." Not a chance. It would be "Mean Streets" or "Goodfellas" or "Raging Bull" or "The King of Comedy." I've had J.D. Salinger fans explain to me why "Franny and Zooey" is much better than "Catcher in the Rye." Kansas City Royals fans will tell you their best team was not the World Series winner of 1985 or the pennant winner of 1980, but the 1977 team that lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. A good friend who is a Chicago Bears fan always tells me that 1986 Bears defense was significantly better than the 1985 Bears defense -- he often points out that in 1986, they held teams to two touchdowns or less in 13 of their 16 games (it was 10 of 16 in 1985).
All of which leads Brian to say: For real Urban Meyer observers, THIS SEASON probably will be his "Exile on Main St."
This will be the one that will be the legendary year -- more than anything he has done before, more than anything he will ever do again.
It's a fascinating thought. Meyer's career is already absurdly brilliant. He took over a Bowling Green team that was, well, Bowling Green -- 2-9 the year before he arrived -- and promptly led them to eight-win and nine-win seasons. He went to Utah, promptly led the Utes to their second ever 10-win season, then an undefeated 12-0 year, and along the way he concocts this new kind of offense that, many believe, was this off-brand version of the spread offense that every team in America would soon run.
Then he went to Florida and, despite health issues and uncertainty issues and burnout tendencies, led the Gators to two national championships and went 13-1 three times. Then he left for a year off and some time with family.
Now he's at Ohio State, where you would expect the Buckeyes to be a dominant force for as long as he decides to stay.
And yet -- I suspect this year will stand out as Urban Mayer's masterpiece among the aficionados. This is in part because the Buckeyes are on probation, so we will never see how they might have fared against Alabama or Notre Dame or any of the other national title contenders. The fact that the Buckeyes will not win any trophies this year adds to the mystery and intrigue of their undefeated season.
It's also in part because of just how magical this season really was for Ohio State. Look:
• Braxton Miller and Devin Smith connect on 72-yard touchdown pass with three minutes left and held on with a last-minute interception to beat California.
• Miller and Smith connect on 63-yard touchdown pass to take the lead on Michigan State and run out the clock in the final three minutes for a one-point victory.
• Ohio State withstands an absurd and furious Indiana comeback -- the Hoosiers score with 1:40 left, recover the onside kick, score with 1:05 left and nearly recover ANOTHER onside kick. Buckeyes win by three.
• Ohio State scores a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion with three seconds left against Purdue, even though its star quarterback, Miller, has been knocked out of the game. Backup Kenny Guiton also leads the Buckeyes to an overtime touchdown and a victory.
• At Wisconsin, Ohio State forces a Montee Ball fumble at the goal line with about three minutes left in the game and wins in overtime again. "A team that refuses to be beat won't be beat," Meyer tells reporters.
• On Saturday, the Buckeyes overcome two separate four-point deficits in the second quarter, take the lead midway through the third quarter and shut out rival Michigan for a five-point victory. Michigan had 60 yards of total offense in the second half.
There's another thing: These Buckeyes are being punished for violations committed by Jim Tressel and players on previous teams. Meyer and these players had nothing to do with it. There's a sense of unfairness about that. And so, every victory for this Ohio State team carried a little bit more emphasis. Every victory was, in some way, a strike against authority. The Buckeyes' undefeated season was defiance against powers beyond their control -- that's a story people cannot get enough of.
In 1988 and 1989, an unknown assistant coach from North Carolina, Roy Williams, took over as the coach of Kansas. The team was on probation after winning the national title and the fleeing of coach Larry Brown. Williams led that team to a 19-win season. In time, Williams' teams would reach seven Final Fours, win two national championships, and win almost 700 games (he should pass 700 this year). But I think there are many longtime Williams fans who would say that he never coached better than he did that first year, when everything was against them.
I don't have any idea how this Ohio State team would fare against Meyer's best Florida teams -- probably not well. And I suspect that, with Meyer firmly in place, the Buckeyes will have amazing teams in the years ahead. But I think this is the one that will be seen as his tour de force.