Like a Champion

So this came out of a guest post I wrote on the Writers Alley yesterday title “What playing football taught me about pitching novel”. If you like football and are interested in ever publishing manuscript, you should really check it out.

One of my points was “Play Like Champions Today” and I ended with a brief caveat saying “keep in my that just because the agent doesn’t fall in love with you on the spot does NOT mean that you didn’t play like a champion.”

I finished that sentence and froze, suddenly seeing the truth of to something that had haunted me for more than 10 years.

Flashback to the year 2002. My sophomore year of high school. Our school had an illustrious football program, with 4 state championships and several appearances in the state title game.

That year we earned another trip to state. As an underclassman I didn’t see much playing time, but it was still my team. Months of practices and our fourteen week season had come down to one game…and what a game it turned out to be.

"Play Like A Champion Today" The message is the same, but I still think it would look better in Blue and White.

“Play Like A Champion Today” The message is the same, but I still think it would look better in Blue and White. Also photo credit goes to Joy E. Swearingen. (Thanks Mom!)

We came up against the Aledo Green Dragons, another perennial state qualifier. After three quarters of hard fought football, we went into the last period up by three touchdowns.

Then things got interesting.

After a bad punt, a botched long snap, a crucial interception, and a whole series of bizarre occurrences our lead vanished and we found ourselves going to overtime.

We got the ball first and scored immediately. Because of the High School football rules, the opposing team was guaranteed a possession in overtime. We tried and failed at a two point conversation, meaning our best chance to win was to keep Aledo out of the end zone.

We stopped their first two scoring attempts, but the Dragons found their way into the end zone on third down. All they had to do was kick an extra point and the state title was theirs.

Our entire sideline joined hands, trying to will the kick to go wide or come up short. The Dragon offense snapped the ball and our faces fell as the extra point soared through the goalposts, crowning Aledo as that year’s state champion.

I really don’t like telling that story. I still haven’t watched any film from that game.

What I like even less is the part where we made it back to state in 2003 and 2004…and we lost both of those games too.

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Me back in the “glory days” of my Senior year.

I started offensive and defensive tackle as a senior and had a heck of a year. I was even named to the All-State team. But after that last loss my senior year, I sulked back to the locker room, defeated. I refused to take my helmet off until the last possible moment, knowing that it was the last time I would wear it.

The weeks that followed each state title loss were brutal. Everybody was just so proud of us. “You had a really good season.” “You still have a lot to be proud of.” “Don’t let that one loss get you down.” All the while we were stuck chewing on the bitter taste of being “2nd Place”.

I haven’t played football in years. A lot of times, people are even surprised when I tell them about it. (They say I’m too nice.)

I’m proud of those days. Proud I got to wear that uniform. But there’s always that moment of hesitation. Almost a decade later, it still stings every time I tell someone that we made it to state three years in a row…and lost all three years.

“…it does NOT mean that you didn’t play like a champion.”

My own words sat there staring me in the face. I wanted to tell people that a one defeat does not make them a failure. Now I was being asked to believe that myself.

It’s easy to throw all our accomplishments and successes in with one big failure and label the whole thing a massive waste of time. But that it a lie that tries to rob us of what we still have.

The real take away from those years is much harder to quantify.

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My team mates and I taking down the ball carrier during the state title game in 2004, our last game.

 

Something in the life lessons learned when a senior, seeing his last chance to play, fights everyday to keep and earn his spot on the starting line up. The camaraderie that happens when 11 young men, who maybe didn’t get along the best during the week, work together and fight towards a single goal on Friday night. That’s what was really important from those days and even a disappointing end to a great season can’t take that away.

This minor revelation is less than a week old and I’m still sorting out what to do with it.

Maybe it’ll help me to think more fondly on the old football days and not get so hung up on those few losses. Maybe I’ll track down a copy of that game against Aledo and finally give it a watch. And hopefully I’ll be able to glean more lessons out of those incredible days and figure out how to go continue to go about about life…like a champion.

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