Tag Archives: football

All Madden

With MaddenI flew to Oakland and back last Tuesday to facilitate a half-day session on conflict resolution for a group of pastors. The Uber driver from the airport to the conference did not stop talking for the entire trip, and on the flip side the driver that took me back said exactly two words–Which terminal?–in the full forty-five minutes. In between all that was an unexpected and cool experience.

The meeting was held at a quiet hotel in Pleasanton. Pleasanton, as you might expect, appeared to be a pleasant little town, and I was told that the lovely hotel was one of several owned by hall-of-fame football coach/broadcaster and video game legend, John Madden. That was cool enough, but what soon became way cooler was that John Madden himself was sitting in the lobby and someone, somehow, had arranged for our group to have our picture made with him! I nearly ran down the stairs to get there.

My first television football memory is Coach Madden on the shoulders of his victorious team after the Raiders defeated the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, and I can’t even guess how many games that followed where I enjoyed having Madden explain and entertain. Like, “There’s a lot of letters in Ladanian Tomlinson.” And, “If your hair covers your name, I guarantee you you’re going to get clipped.” Classic Madden.  “Boom!”

He is 82 years young now and as nice a guy as I had always imagined. Same wide smile. Same great voice. Same wit and sense of humor.

Through the magic of television the voice of John Madden is one of the narrators of my life journey, and honestly, one of my favorites. Likable, funny, non-pretentious, honest, and approachable. He was always just himself — and one of us. The best part of his famous fear of flying that had him criss-crossing the nation on a bus was that he didn’t fly over anyone. He was down to earth quite literally.

On meeting him, I was surprised that I was surprised that all this was true in person. More specifically, I suppose that I was more relieved not to be disappointed. I admire real, down-to-earth people. Thanks for that, Coach.

#winning

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We live in a world of competition.

This weekend, a mind-boggling number of people will tune in to see who wins and loses when Jimmy Fallon hosts the Golden Globes a few miles down the road at the Beverly Hilton.  Since I watch more football than movies, I will be more interested in the winners and losers of the College Football Championship and the wildcard round of the NFL playoffs.  Whatever your fancy, there is a competition for it—just look at the ridiculous number of reality competition shows on seemingly every network, e.g., Cupcake Wars; America’s Next Top Model; Last Comic Standing; The Bachelor/ette; Whisker Wars (yes, that was a real show).

And why should it surprise us that a former reality show celebrity emphasized “winning” so much in his shockingly successful presidential campaign?

Our entire social order is based on competition.  Our justice system is adversarial with the thought that the fight to win will produce just results.  Our economic system is designed to pit businesses against one another so that prices are lowered and products are improved.  Our political system sets parties against one another to determine the will of the majority and promote compromise.  And sports and entertainment?  Well, again, just turn on your television.

We live in a world of competition.

Even if I thought competition was a bad idea, any attempt to speak against it would be a losing battle (Ha!).  Competition is apparently inherent to human existence, but it sure makes it hard to promote love for and cooperation with others in a world that teaches us to see each other as competitors.  What’s a blogger to do?

In 2011, actor Charlie Sheen had a public meltdown and in a series of bizarre statements famously declared that he was “winning” and created one of the more popular Twitter hashtags to date.  Unwittingly, he also may have solved my dilemma.  You can apparently redefine what it means to win!

So here’s my proposal: Be a winner, sure, but first pick a battle that is worth the struggle and then carefully consider how to calculate true success.

A Joyful Noise

seahawksA game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle should be on every NFL fan’s bucket list.  It is a beautiful stadium, sure, but it is the crowd that gathers there that makes it special.  The fans come decked out in the navy blues and neon greens that identify Seahawks gear, but they also come with knowledge of the game and prepared to deafen the opposition.

Most fans love offense, and Seahawk fans surely appreciate Russell Wilson and a good touchdown, but when their defense takes the field, the fans stand in unison and make themselves heard.  Every single time.  All game long.  It is crazy-making noise, at least for the visiting offense, but it is music to Seahawk ears.

The fans make an actual difference in the game using nothing more than their football knowledge and collective voice.  Because the visiting offense struggles to hear their quarterback’s voice, there are more “false start” penalties at CenturyLink Field than at any other NFL stadium.  This is intentional, of course, and if you don’t believe it, notice the thousands of fans sporting a Seahawk jersey with the number twelve and the name FAN across the back.  They know that they play an important role on the field as the proverbial twelfth member of their defensive team.

I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan for forty years and couldn’t be happier this season but was happy to join voices with my Seattle University daughter and Seahawk Nation to create the roar that drove the Carolina Panthers nutso last Sunday evening.  The temperature was in the upper 30s but the decibels were up so high that they pulled out the Richter scale.

How great would it be for your life to come with fans like that, people who respectfully cheer your successes but stand and scream Home Alone-style at those who try to defeat you?  Fans of you who wear your jersey and consider themselves on your team?

Good luck with that.

Instead of holding your breath for a stadium full of personal fanatics, might I suggest becoming that sort of devotee for others who need it?  And doesn’t everyone need it?

It’s Lonely at the Top, but It’s Not Always Quiet

1My first Los Angeles Rams game came with a free helping of déjà vu when the crowd transformed its booing of starting quarterback Case Keenum into chants of “We want Goff” in reference to Jared Goff, the rookie backup quarterback hoped to be the future of the franchise.  Goff never saw action, but the fans did their best to get him in the game.

I say déjà vu because my wife first gave me NFL tickets in 2006 for a Monday Night Football contest in old Texas Stadium with my great friend, Dave, which happened to be the game when Tony Romo replaced starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, after the crowd spent much of the first half chanting Romo’s name.  It was a little awkward for Cowboy Nation that night, not to mention Romo, when his first pass was intercepted after he ran on the field to deafening cheers.  Romo did go on to a great season, however, but I don’t think that would matter either way to the fans in Los Angeles chanting for change a decade later.

It’s lonely at the top, but it’s not always quiet.

Me, I’ve been a coach and a preacher and a dean, three professions that encounter a healthy share of critics, and I know well the convenient criticism that someone else would have made a different and better decision.

I once read that the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated are in some drawer tucked away in the bowels of the Smithsonian, and that among the assorted items is a newspaper clipping that complimented the sitting president, which is particularly interesting once you remember his unpopularity at the time.  It seems that even a great leader like Lincoln needed to remember that his efforts were not entirely unappreciated.

As I sat in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a week ago with my lovely wife and listened to the disgruntled fans voice their disgruntled-ness, I thought about what poor Case Keenum should do.  Backpacking across Europe is an option, as is a noise-canceling helmet.  Instead, I suggest that Mr. Keenum keep an encouraging note in his pocket and continue to give everything he has to his work—I don’t think he has to go so far as to avoid the theater.

Reality Check

vr

Virtual reality is all the rage, and an interesting phenomenon for sure, but reality itself is weird enough for me.  Last week’s business trip provided plenty of proof.

For instance, while watching baseball in a New York City hotel I saw a commercial hawking Chia Clinton and Chia Trump for twenty bucks a pop (Trump is winning that race 79% to 21% at present).  This was immediately followed by a commercial promoting an online dating service just for overweight people.  I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but the point is that people do.  A few days earlier, I visited the president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, which is crazy enough, but also had the chance to hold Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame ring before it was presented to him at Lambeau Field yesterday.  Who needs virtual reality?

But the best part of the crazy business trip was connecting with Jon Wood, an old college roommate, who seems a little unreal in the one-of-a-kind sense but appears to have us all beat on what it actually means to be real.

Jon never meets a stranger.  No, you have no idea, Jon never meets a stranger.  He talks to anyone.  And everyone.  I’m sorry, but I can tell that you don’t get it.  He talks to EV-ER-Y-ONE.  No exceptions.  In the less than twenty-four hours I spent with Jon last week, I met multiple members of a country club, the entire staff at Diamond Deli, work colleagues at Bridgestone Americas, his elderly barber (no haircut, just stopped in to say hello), a friend that staffs a parking lot in downtown Cleveland, the bartender where we stopped for dinner, and every staff member at a Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game (who got a fist bump from Jon whether they wanted it or not).  Half of the people met Jon for the first time, while the other half met him with a massive smile as if he was their very best friend.  I know Jon, so none of this surprised me, but each time I am fascinated by his approach to this precious life we all get a chance to play.

Jon is a successful attorney with a wonderful family and much to admire from any vantage point, but what I admire the most is that to Jon every human being he encounters is someone with boundless dignity and worth getting to know regardless of appearance, age, income, race, education, or any other category that normal folks use to decide whether someone is worthy of interaction.

Who knows, I might end up the biggest fan of virtual reality, but as I sit here today and see pictures of people wearing goofy googles the size of car batteries reaching out for something that isn’t there, I vote for Jon’s approach of experiencing reality by actually seeing everyone he meets with eyes (and heart) wide open.

This Could Be Our Year

After some time apart, which we both agreed was a good idea, Football Season has come back into my life.  We are both excited.

My team of choice hails from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and is known as the Razorbacks, or more colloquially, “the Hogs.”  Well, team of “choice” is probably wrong: the Razorbacks are mine as my alma mater and as a natural born citizen of the State of Arkansas.  I bleed Razorback red.  (Sure, everyone bleeds that color; I’m just proud of it.)

This could be our year.  Okay, we all know that it’s not going to be our year.  We are (generously) picked in the middle of the pack in just our half of the conference.  Five of our twelve games are against preseason ranked teams—and we are unranked.  And I should admit that it has never been our year, at least not since 1964, which was the year the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty.

But watch out Louisiana Tech!  Razorback Stadium will be rocking on Saturday afternoon, decked out in blazing red and calling the Hogs, and Razorback Nation including fans from Fayetteville to transplants in of all places Malibu, California, will tune in and dream that somehow, against all odds, this turns out to be our year.  Knowing that it won’t.

So what exact flavor of stupidity is this sport?  It seems to be an annual recipe for national depression redeemed only in part by a shared hatred of Alabama.  Oh, but it is not.  Most definitely not.  No, in the pursuit of the lofty prize that only one (darn Alabama) will receive, we will experience the most amazing moments.  Guaranteed.  Every year.  I have never experienced a Razorback national championship football season, but I was there for the Miracle on Markham in 2002.  I was there in 2007 when we took down top-ranked LSU in Death Valley in multiple overtimes.  What memories!

There is one lesson that I tried to instill in my daughters using my very best fatherly-advice voice: Have a goal in life and go for it, but don’t get too caught up in the destination.  Wonderful things happen on the journey toward our crazy dreams.

#WPS

A False Sense of Security

Rolling Stone did a great piece on why the NFL sacked Roman numerals for Super Bowl 50, and if your team ended up with the L yesterday, you can just think of it as a big old Roman numeral instead. (Too soon?)

Super Bowl 50 mostly made me feel old since I remember most of them. I was a football fan and a churchgoing kid in the 1970s-1980s, which was a terrible combination on Super Bowl Sunday.¹ Our church had Bible classes at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, followed by a 6:00 p.m. worship assembly, and it was clear that we would go straight to hell for missing either. I lived in a house directly across the street from the church building, so my friend Jamey and I would run across the street² in between class/worship to get a Super Bowl update from my non-churchgoing dad. It was torture at the time, but it makes me smile to remember me/Jamey/Dad and the breathless fun of being a kid.

My dad played football in the 1930s when players wore leather helmets with no facemask. Crazy, right? Recently, I heard some lawyers discussing football’s concussion scandal and someone suggested returning to those days. Super crazy, right? This deranged lawyer tossed in some actual facts (sneaky!) that contact sports like rugby (sans helmets) have a much lower incidence of brain injuries, which if not concussed, takes about half a second to understand: A false sense of security is a dangerous thing.

Well, going helmet-less should never happen to American football, but that’s not where my brain is at today.³ I’m thinking about the other equipment we wear to protect our minds and our hearts that unconsciously liberates us to act in ways that damage us even more.

Like, I won’t let anyone know my weaknesses, so I drive myself harder and harder (you can’t hurt me!) until, well, my weaknesses are pretty undeniable.

And, I won’t let anyone know my failures, so I set out to prove how successful I can be at everything (you can’t beat me!) until, well, I fail in spectacular fashion.

And, I won’t let anyone know my loneliness, so I endear myself to so many people (you can’t ignore me!) that I end up not connecting to anyone.

Among others.

Maybe I should take off the old football helmet. That may force me to consider how my daily actions truly impact my tender mind and heart.

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¹ Arguably a terrible combination period, although I have stubbornly held on to both.

² I never was clear on the state of our eternal souls if we were hit by a car while crossing the street running away from the church on Super Bowl Sunday. Post-law school, I think our mens rea would have protected us, but then again, who would have been out driving on Super Bowl Sunday anyway?

³ Pun? Irony? Terrible writing? All three?