Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lessons From Football

I am not a football expert.  There, the disclaimer is firmly in place.  That said, I want you to know that I am "Nutts" about Ole Miss football.  I'm sorry, but that is an inside joke, and I suspect you'll only understand it if you are also an Ole Miss fan (or possibly an Arkansas fan - am I giving it away here?).

I did play a little football.  When I was a kid, we used to huddle outside the fence around the Ole Miss practice field hoping an errant football would get itself kicked our way.  I still had one of those practice balls until I was almost 30 years old.  We didn't buy footballs, we played with absconded Ole Miss practice balls.  Those unorganized kid teams were a lot of fun.  No coaches, nor referees, but lots of fun.  I played some in high school.  Would have played more, but I also had to work, and work often conflicted with games.  When I served in the U.S. Air Force, I played flag football.  Roughest game on earth, but it was the best team sport I've ever played.  Best team too, as we took our league championship, dominating other Air Force and Army teams.  In the championship game, we put up not only a winning score, but more than 500 yards of offense.  None of that makes me an expert.  It does make me, like millions of other guys, somebody with a love of the game, great memories, and at least a few heartbreaking disappointments.

Speaking of heartbreaks, I'll relate one.  When I was a senior at Oxford High School in Oxford, MS, we were running neck and neck with Starkville High School for the conference lead.  We played the game in Starkville that year.  We were losing the game, but I recovered a fumble close to Starkville's end zone.  A field goal would put us ahead.  You guessed it, didn't you.  We missed.  Unbelievable.  We lost the game.  Heartbreak.  Actually, I think the heartbreak was greater because a win would have made that fumble recovery a key play.  The loss makes that fumble recovery insignificant.

Mostly, though, football was great.  It's fun, it can be rough, but overall, there is little wonder that American football is the greatest sport in the world (all you soccer fans can just save your comments).  It's a game that offers up some great lessons for life.  I'll share a few that are meaningful to me, and invite anyone to offer others in the comment section.

1.  There is a reason you practice until you can't move.  It makes the actual game much easier.

2.  If you get knocked down, remember it's part of the game.  You're supposed to either get knocked down or knock somebody else down.  Get up.  The next play is about to begin.

3.  In a real game, the score means something.

4.  In football, there is room for some really big, strong guys and there is room for some scrawny, fast guys.  Whichever you are, play where you are needed most.

5.  You will not win every game.  You may not win most of your games.  There have been some teams that didn't win any games.  But there are never any teams that win that do not play the game at all.

6.  You will probably win some games you didn't deserve to win.  You will probably lose some games you didn't deserve to lose.  Deserving isn't the point.

7.  There will almost always be someone who is better at your position than you are.

8.  There will almost always be some team better than yours.

9.  Football is a game.  Repeat.  Football is a game.  This is an important revelation to both winners and losers.

10.  Football should be fun.  If it ever becomes something other than fun, you have lost the real essence of the game.

11.  On a football team, there is no such thing as an unimportant position or player.

12.  The best teams almost always have a great coach.

13.  Great players are best when they remember they are part of a team.  No great quarterback achieved greatness without others to run or catch the ball.  No great running back ever did it without big guys knocking other people down for them.

14.  A football does funny things in the wind, bouncing on the ground, or sometimes while you're holding it in your hands or arms.

15.  If you play on a team, play to win.  If you are a fan, support your team.  Do these things whether your team is winning or losing.

16.  If you win, be a good sport.  If you lose, be a good sport.

17.  If you are a player, you might make some outstanding plays.  You might also make some really dumb mistakes.  A lot of wins are made up of plays somewhere between the two extremes.

18.  Football can be frustrating.  Sometimes, nothing seems to work.  You must learn how to live through frustrations, otherwise, football will never be fun.

19.  Old football players usually have some great stories and outstanding advice for younger players.

20.  Cocky, arrogant players can sometimes back up their claims.  Sometimes they can't.  Listen less to cocky, arrogant talk and pay more attention to how they play the game.

21.  Football is a sport that teaches a lot about living life.  Pay attention and make some applications where needed.  Regardless of your football record, your life will benefit.