I’ve actually been doing stuff….

While I haven’t been updating the blog as much as I’d like, life hasn’t been all Doritos and napping on the couch.  I’m writing a series of articles for the football booster club at my kid’s school.  If you run out of GOOD stuff to read, check me out here: 

http://www.calvarytouchdownclub.org/

 

Sports, especially football, and the kids I coach and watch play are a special passion of mine.  I hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as I enjoy writing them.

The FBU National Championship, Part 3: The Dog Catches the Car

After Southeast Louisiana we were ready to hang points on the board. So we did. Final score Northwest Louisiana 38, Arkansas 0. They were good sized kids but couldn’t match our speed and everything they did we had an answer for. PJ caught four scores. Slade was a magician running the option, sucking the linebackers up with play action then going over the top. The defense pitched another shutout and we just physically wore them down. It wasn’t Arkansas’ fault. Some days you just play a team that is flat out better and no amount of coaching or adjustments or half time pep talks will change that fact.

This was the game where heads began to turn, when we began to earn the reputation as a brutal, physical, outwork you until you quit team. Later on, when each of the Final Four teams had a highlight video made by FBU, the other teams had plenty of long runs, athletic catches, and timely interceptions. Our film looked like closed circuit TV footage of a bar fight.

Mike the HC gathered us around to explain what was about to happen. The next step in FBU’s “Road To the Dome” was in Kansas City, Missouri. Nine hours and 540 miles away. Our first game was Saturday morning. And it was Sunday. The longer Mike talked to the players and their parents the more the realization of what was about to happen showed on his face.

You have to get 32 players to the middle of the country. You have no budget. Most of your players’ parents can’t skip work on such short notice so there will be little adult supervision and support. You have to drive because it’s too expensive to fly. Ditto for renting a bus so that means the team will arrive in pieces in whatever transportation you can arrange. Half or your coaching staff will not be available because of prior commitments.

You have six days to solve all of these problems. Go.

Mike was the HC for a reason. I would have tried to pile 32 kids in my wife’s Saturn SUV and thought about food, lodging and bathrooms when our hypoglycemic players started losing consciousness amongst piles of their own excrement. Mike had a better idea- he started working the phones. Sal offered to drive his RV with Joe the OC and eight players (this was before Sal was “Sal.”) A player’s grandfather donated enough cash for Mike to rent a passenger van and carry another dozen players along with his wife Laurie who I am pretty sure gets her own condo in Heaven for putting up with twelve middle school boys for eighteen plus hours- not including pregame, postgame, and hotel hallway duty. The West Monroe parents, those who had bosses, told them that they were in a national championship football tournament and got whatever time off they needed. If there is Heaven on Earth for football I’m pretty sure it’s in West Monroe, Louisiana.

I rented a minivan, loaded three players, my wife, two coolers and enough caffeine to keep Lindbergh awake across the Atlantic and headed north.

Two rules for traveling with a team, doesn’t matter the sport. One, a hotel has to have a breakfast. Two, it has to have a pool. I was met at the reception area by a dozen or so soaking wet players and as I checked in I noticed the coffee and juice machines indicating a free continental breakfast. The hotel even gave us our own wing. They must have been the parents of teenage boys too. Good job, Mike.

Missouri in December is cold. Not Canada or Siberia cold but for a bunch of people that usually show for Christmas dinner dressed in shorts it might as well have been the surface of the moon. Our first opponent, Wichita, lived in the stuff year round so the home field advantage was definitely their’s. What made me even colder was the absence of game film. We had no clue about Wichita’s personnel, tendencies or even their base offense or defense. You know the feeling you get when you wake up in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place and you need to use the bathroom but you don’t know where it is? I kind of felt like that.

It didn’t help when Wichita came out and ran the ball down our throats and scored first. Double freaking wing. Got some undersized kids that are smart and disciplined? Run the double wing. It gives defensive coordinators irritable bowel syndrome. Unless a defensive coordinator happened to coach the double wing for five years, which I had. Felt like the briar patch was calling me home. We gathered the defense around after the first series.

Me: “Wherever the fullback goes, tackle him. Then everybody behind the fullback, tackle them. Questions?”

I’m no defensive guru. Can barely count to 11 and figure out the strong side from the weak. But if you just tackle the fullback in the double wing then the backfield suddenly looks like the parking lot at Disneyworld on Fourth of July weekend.

Northwest Louisiana 34, Wichita 6. But Dallas was up next. Fast, athletic. And with a few million people in the Metro Plex we were certain they had more than a few game breakers on the squad. I figured we had topped out.

As usual, I was wrong.

“I’m Not a Mind Reader, But I Did Go to Pharmacy School.”

METH

What they say:

“Don’t give me the generic pain medication. It makes me sick. I want the brand name.”

What I hear:

“Hello, moron. Let me start off our patient-pharmacist relationship by stating that despite the fact that you went to school for seven years I believe you are an idiot. There are thousands of studies done by really smart scientists as well as the FDA showing there is absolutely no difference in quality between brand name medications and generic ones. I know you have not read any of those studies, if you indeed know how to read, because you are lazy and have no interest at all in expanding your knowledge of your profession. If you were really smart you would be like me. My back was “injured” as the result of a traffic accident during which, after a six pack or four, I ran a red light and was broadsided by a Wal-Mart delivery vehicle. But don’t worry about me, my lawyers say I’ll be fine. Meanwhile I supplement my income by “donating” my pain medication to needy individuals in the community in exchange for goods, services or cash. Mainly cash. Do not judge me- I provide a valuable service. Because I pay nothing for my medication because my lawyers say I don’t have to then my little enterprise is 100% profit. My clients are, shall we say, resistant to change, and the brand name medication has only one color and shape. With generics I never know what the pill will look like- and that’s bad for business. So just count to 30, or 120 or whatever my prescription is for, put the tablets in a bottle and try not to drool on yourself. I’ve got money to make.”

“Coach, You Need a Pound Puppy.”

I was complaining to my Dad the other day. My 8th grade son was given the opportunity to participate in heat acclimation drills with his school’s varsity football team. For reasons I cannot even begin to fathom he was less than enthusiastic. His school is by most standards very small, and his starting position has been solidified since, forever. My talking to him about his reluctance had turned into me talking at him, then yelling and he pretty much tuned me out after that.

Me: “He’s never had anybody pushing him. Never felt what it’s like to have another player breathing down his neck for playing time. Never felt that emptiness when you want to play but the guy ahead of you is just better. Never been cut. He’s spoiled by success and it’s made him lazy and entitled. I can’t talk to him.”

Dad: “The summer before my first year in high school we had football tryouts. A hundred kids my age so we knew some of us were going home. Well, we did our thing and the coaches ordered us up into the bleachers. Told us they’d call our name and if they did we were to go stand on the track. We didn’t know why we were supposed to stand on the track but back then if a coach said to do it you just did it or you didn’t stick around long. So the coaches are huddled around this clipboard and they start calling names and after a while they call mine. Coach Farrar was running the show and he had his head down looking at the clipboard and he happened to look up as I was walking by. He leaned over and said something to one of the coaches and that coach didn’t seem too happy but then Coach Farrar said to me, ‘Get back up there, son. We don’t want you.’ I didn’t know what to think about that. So they get finished reading off names and when they do Coach Farrar turns to the boys on the track and says ‘Thanks for coming out, but we just don’t have the room for you.’ Thing of it is, he didn’t know my name. All he knew was what he saw in that tryout and I promise you it wasn’t much. But I decided that whatever I did on that football field I’d do it so as not to disappoint that man, to reward that faith he had in me. Maybe the boy needs to hear that. Maybe he needs to understand that those coaches may not know him now, may not even know his name, but what he does, how hard he works, that starts to build trust and faith and that’ll pay off sometime down the road.”

I was 14 years old or so when I finally met Coach Farrar, although my dad had told me the stories. Coach had left high school by then, teaching and coaching at a local university. As a baseball coach and professional scout my dad gave him a call and asked would he be willing to look at his son’s swing and maybe give him a pointer or two. Ten minutes with the man and I understood why my dad was so fond of Coach Farrar. He did what he could for my swing and as we were leaving, said something to me that I can hear word for word almost 30 years later: “Your dad,” he said, “was one of the best players I ever coached.”

The 120 pound senior. The defensive back with the blown out knee. Coach Farrar had seen talent over the years but he decided that something was more important than talent. Desire.

I call them “pound puppies.” They are players without the ability or talent to match the heart and dedication. A pound puppy is so happy to be playing that they will do anything they are asked. Pound puppies make the best teammates. A team of pound puppies can become champions.

My dad was a pound puppy. So was I. My son is not. His ability is something I could never match and it’s why I talk past him a lot when it comes to sports. Our experiences are divergent.

As a coach I am bothered by the fact that there are a lot of pound puppies sitting at home. Kids that weren’t “run fast jump high” and were overlooked. Dedication can’t be timed. Heart can’t be measured. You have to seek it out. And you have to know what you’re looking for. Coach Farrar saw it in my dad. Coaches saw it in me as well over the years. McDowell. Frazier. Worthen. Groll. Names to you. Giants to me. Men I would have run through a wall for. Still would.

Pound puppies are like that.

If She’s 70 and Wearing A Tanktop, Make No Attempt At Waxing Philosophical

She thrusts a mostly intact prescription order in my face.

Her:     Will it take very long to fill this prescription?

Me:     That’s one of life’s imponderables, isn’t it?  Speaking strictly in evolutionary terms, filling your prescription won’t even take a fraction of an eye blink.  However, relevant to your present condition the duration may in fact feel to you much, much longer.  I believe Einstein explained it best when discussing his Theory of Relativity- when kissing a pretty girl, an hour seems like a minute.  When in the dentist chair, a minute seems like an hour.  Unfortunately, the mitigating factors in fulfilling your request- third party issues, quantity of medication requested, current staffing levels and availability, the possibility of equipment failure, even sudden weather occurrences- prevent me from answering your question with any sort of confidence.

Her:     I didn’t understand a word you just said.

Me:     I know you didn’t.

Welcome Back, Captain.

 

derek-jeter

 

 

Derrick Jeter is 39 years old. Nine months ago he broke his ankle. His net worth is conservatively estimated at $125 million dollars. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer. The New York Yankees are 49-42 and 6 games out of the AL East lead. He is movie star handsome, respected by his peers, and adored by legions of Yankees, and even a few Red Sox, fans. Why go through a rehab stint when it would have been so much easier to call a press conference and call it a career? What is he thinking? Why not walk away before you’re pushed out? Ego? Stubborn pride?

No. Like another New York legend, Frank Sinatra, Jeter is doing it his way.

I have expounded on what makes Jeter special at one point or another during every Yankees game I have ever witnessed, and sometimes during Sportscenter or MLB Tonight highlights. Class. Leadership. Attention to detail. Commitment to team. Unwillingness to give up or give in. On the field he exemplifies what athletes should aspire to. Off the field too. The fact that A-Rod has played so many games next to Jeter and is still A-Rod says everything about the Yanks 3rd baseman you would ever not want to know.

Two of my top three modern day athletes have retired this year. Brian Urlacher, by his own admission, lost his desire and because of the man he is chose to retire rather than hang around and sleepwalk through a season for a paycheck. Ray Lewis’ body gave up on him- too many Sundays of leaving it all on the field had left him with nothing more to give.

Jeter can still play. And he still wants to. And he is with an organization and a manager that will allow him to play until he can’t anymore. That’s repect. That’s loyalty. And whether or not you like the Yankees you must admit that’s pretty rare in today’s sporting world. Would the Yankees let any player dictate the terms of their exit? Probably not. But Jeter, like a handful of sports legends, has earned the right.

And when the Captain can’t help the team he’ll be gone. His way. And baseball won’t be the same for me.

The Personality of a Bedouin

“I can have oodles of charm when I want to.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

I am not really that personable, although I fake it well. Most of us have a very shallow well of personality from which to draw from and mine is more shallow than most. Consequently I must treat my personality the way a Bedouin treats his water at an oasis- ration it, use it only when necessary, and don’t waste it on activities that do not provide an immediate reward. The majority of the people withhold their personality in this way, the exception being the extreme extroverts, the “life of the party” types who I have not and will never trust. I believe they are insane. Hitler was an extrovert. Did you know that?

beduin

My wife is an extrovert, and while she is the mother of my children and I love her so much it is physically painful at times, she is insane. The more people she is able to talk to the happier she is. As much as I can be in awe of anyone, and for a variety of reasons, I am in awe of her. However, it is this ability to interact with others without becoming exhausted that awes me the most. She can show up early for a party, make a crowd feel important and vital, and three hours later be going stronger than when she started. Me? Thirty minutes in and I’m camped out at the bar. It is a well known party trick for those physically incapable of engaging in conversations for more than five minutes at a time to chat with people as they wait to refresh their drinks. If the bartender is worthy of a buck a round then I only need to be sociable for five minutes- one fairly specific topic of conversation before they are off again and I’m left to recharge. Unless they want to do shots, and shots are the single most important reason to avoid camping out at the bar during wedding receptions and high school reunions.

bar

Before you get the wrong idea, I really do like people. But like LASIK surgery, social situations leave me feeling like my eyeballs are being sucked out of my head. But I do like people. For brief periods and under the right circumstances. Much to my wife’s amazement nobody can really tell if I’m faking enjoying or if I’m actually enjoying, and it’s probably for the better that this is so, lest I never get invited to parties and my wife has to talk to me all of the time. Nothing is more disconcerting to her than ten minutes of me in a social situation, animated face, witty anecdotes, expressions oscillating between amazement or concern or amusement as the flow of talk dictates, only to turn away from the conversation and immediately adopt the flat affect of a lower functioning autistic. I make sure I lock eyes with her in these moments, the wrung out emotion a triumphant gesture of an indomitable will.

Then, a bee line for the bar.