For The Crimson Tide, The Price Is Always Right

My first sports memory is running to my room and crying after Georgia lost a bowl game in the early 80s. Against my will, I’ve relived that moment pretty much every football season of my life since then.

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray stood eight yards away from victory. There were nine seconds left on the clock and Georgia had no timeouts. They were four points behind Alabama. A field goal wouldn’t do the trick. Georgia needed a touchdown and if they got it, they would play and likely defeat an overrated Notre Dame team for a national championship.

Murray threw the pass and it was deflected. Fortunately, Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley was able to grab the ball before it hit the ground. Unfortunately, Conley went down on the five yard line. The clock ran out and Alabama won the game along with yet another national championship a few weeks later. Georgia won the right to play some forgotten team in some forgotten bowl game.

As the defeated Bulldogs walked off the field, my son looked at me and cried. I wanted to do the same thing but I held it together, gave him a hug, told him that we’ll get ’em next year, and sent him to bed.

We didn’t get ’em next year.

On Sunday, February 5, 2017 the Atlanta Falcons were beating the New England Patriots 28 to 3 at halftime. My son was sitting next to me as we tried to come to grips with the fact that our team was actually going to win a championship. I saw two things on my phone while I waited for the third quarter to start. The first was a video of people at the Atlanta airport celebrating the soon to be official Atlanta victory. The second was the ESPN app on my phone that said the Falcons had a four million percent chance of winning. Eventually it would say that our beloved team had a 73 percent chance of winning. And then 40. And then zero.

The Falcons lost 34 to 28.

As the confetti fell, my sons looked at me and cried. I wanted to do the same thing but I held it together, gave them hugs, told them that we’ll get ’em next year, and sent them to bed.

On Monday, January 8, 2018, the Georgia Bulldogs were dominating the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Dogs were winning 13 to 0 at halftime and Alabama pulled their starting quarterback to begin the third quarter. Their new quarterback was a freshman who hadn’t played in a game for a few months. By all accounts, it looked like our next year had finally come. We were finally going to get ’em.

But it turns out that Alabama’s freshman quarterback who hadn’t played in a game in a few months was the second coming of Russell Wilson. He threw the game winning touchdown in overtime. As people in crimson and white stormed the field, I turned the TV off. I turned and looked at my son but this time he spoke before I could get out my old familiar saying. He was tired. Not physically, though the hour was late. He was emotionally tired. Tired of the same thing happening. Tired of falling just short. So was I. We both went to our respective beds where we tossed and turned and hoped that we would wake up to find that this had all been a terrible dream.

If they had a Price Is Right for sports fans, the Roll Tide contingent would be the guy who gets called down, nails the right price on the first try, gets to play Plinko where he wins $48 million, and then ends the day by guessing the price on the nose and going home with the new car from his showcase and the trip to Paris from the other guy’s.

My sons and I, on the other hand, are the guy who comes on down with tons of promise only to continually get snubbed by those evil souls who bid $1 or $301 just after our bid of $300. It’s like we’re forever destined to stay in the studio audience. No meeting Drew. No Plinko. No spinning the wheel. No Showcase Showdown.

But in a way, I’m thankful for this. Don’t get me wrong. I want our teams to win. I want to experience that joy with my sons. But they’re learning a lot from coming in second place. They’re learning how to deal with disappointment, they’re learning that their identity and hope are not found in a sports team, and they’re learning that the trophies worth having aren’t handed out. They’re earned.

I have a friend who went to a taping of the Price Is Right. She even got to come on down. But she never got to play Plinko. She didn’t win a new car. She didn’t make it to the Showcase Showdown.

But whenever I ask her about her gameshow experience, she lights up. For her, the experience was enough.

For my sons and I, watching good games and cheering for our underachieving teams is enough. For now, the experience will have to do.

Until next year.

Because next year, we’re going to get ’em.

 image credit

So Long, Coach Richt

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 9.46.16 PM

Mark Richt isn’t the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs anymore. I figured that I would say that someday. I hoped that I would say it after he announced his retirement while hoisting a national championship trophy. It didn’t work out that way.

Mark Richt inherited a very below average Georgia team. For years, the recruiting classes were great. But, for years, the teams were not. So the powers that be decided that it was time for a change. And that change came in the person of the young assistant coach from Florida State.

Richt’s impact was almost immediate. The words hobnailed boot are etched into the ears of Georgia fans because of Georgia’s win over Tennessee. The inexplicable string of losses to Georgia Tech came to an end. And eventually, there were SEC championships and a few national championship near misses. But, for all of his accomplishments, Coach Richt couldn’t win the game that mattered most. And that, in the eyes of many Georgia fans, meant that 15 years was long enough.

Richt was done in by the same thing that ruins almost every other coaching tenure. Unmet expectations. If you’re unfamiliar with the expectations that Georgia fans have for their head football coach before every season, here they are.

  1. Win the SEC Championship game.
  2. Win the National Championship game.
  3. Find some kid who looks just like Herschel Walker. Only faster. And bigger. And who shoots lasers out of his eyes at Auburn fans while galloping to the end zone for the seventh time in one game.
  4. Cure cancer.

Mark Richt failed miserably at meeting those expectations.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say that Richt exceeded expectations when it came to caring for and developing young men during some of the most important years of their lives. Sadly, most people don’t care about that sort of thing. They say that Richt would make a better chaplain than he does a coach. They say that supporting the man who brought the Dawgs to new levels is the equivalent of settling for mediocrity. In short, they say, “We want to be Alabama.”

And we probably will.

Sure, there’s a chance that our next coach could be the second coming of Nick Saban and have Georgia competing for a national title every year. But it’s more likely that we’ll become the Alabama of the late 90s. You know, the Alabama teams that only real Alabama fans cheered for. The teams that went through coach after coach in an effort to replace the Bear, even if it meant breaking rules. So yeah, we could end up being a lot like Alabama.

Roll Tide roll!

I was content with us just being Georgia. Maybe that makes me a mediocre kind of guy. Fine. I can live with that. Sure, I’d love to see Georgia win it all a few times a decade. But I don’t want Georgia to win so that I can find personal validation through a team.

Coach Mark Richt is the only Georgia coach that my kids have ever known. When I told them Sunday afternoon that he had been fired, they were confused.

“Why? He only lost three games!”

I didn’t know what to say to that so I just told them that some people expect you to win it all every year and are quick to get rid of you when you don’t. Welcome to the world of sports business/politics/organized crime, my sons.

Most of the experts are saying that Kirby Smart will be the Bulldog’s new coach. No matter who it is, I’ll still be cheering for the Dawgs. But it won’t be the same.

It won’t be the same because Mark Richt was more than just some loud mouth trying to convince injured young men that they weren’t really hurt just so they could add another win to his resume. He was a coach who cared an awful lot about winning. But he cared even more about the young men he was coaching.

Men like all-world running backs named Todd Gurley who called Richt, “The greatest coach of all time” when he found out about the firing.

Men like kicker Marshall Morgan who were reminded by Richt that one kick doesn’t make a life right before one of the biggest kicks of his life.

Men like walk on Chad Gloer who, when on the verge of being kicked out of school for missing too many classes, got a call from the head coach himself every morning at 8 just to make sure that there would be no sleeping in.

And even for the men who he didn’t coach. Men like Devon Gales who was seriously injured while playing against Georgia this season and was treated like he was part of the Georgia Bulldog family. Here’s what he had to say about Coach Richt being fired. “I am saddened to hear about Coach Richt’s firing. He is a wonderful coach, mentor, and man of God. He and the staff understand that football is about more than just winning, it’s about shaping, molding and influencing the lives of young men.”

There are an awful lot of folks in our state who have yet to learn that lesson.

Early on in Mark Richt’s time at Georgia, several players were starting to fight on the field. Bulldog safety Sean Jones saw it from the sidelines and headed onto the field to help his teammates. But Mark Richt cut him off. Standing in front of the NFL-bound defensive star, Richt simply held up his hand like a traffic cop. There was no screaming, cussing, hopping around or any of the other things that out of control coaches do to try to control their players. I’m not sure if he even spoke a word. But Sean Jones turned around and went back to the sidelines.

Sean Jones now helps Coach Richt with placing former Bulldog players with employers.

Losing a few more games isn’t what worries me the most about Mark Richt not being the coach of the Bulldogs anymore. The thing that really gets me is that maybe there won’t be an extended hand like the one that Sean Jones saw that one night. Maybe there won’t be a caring voice on the other end of the phone like there was when a suicidal former player called Richt for help.

A lot of coaches have won national titles.

But not a lot of coaches have done the really hard work that Coach Richt has done of molding young athletes into men of character and integrity.

And there is absolutely nothing mediocre about that.

 

Football Is Back!

4575519160_646ecce0cc_o

Another football season is officially upon us. You can already tell it in Atlanta, Georgia where last night there was a perfect storm of traffic all because of the arrival of America’s favorite pastime. Thousands of Falcons fans had traffic blocked for miles as they headed to and from the Dome to see their team find new and creative ways to embarrass themselves. In an effort to avoid all of that, many commuters chose to walk but it just didn’t work out as planned. The 13 Georgia Tech fans who went to see their team, ahem, play last night had sidewalks all jammed up with their Segway scooters. It was not a pretty sight. Thankfully, they were all able to make a detour to DragonCon where they had their pictures taken with that guy from Sharknado and Reggie Ball.

That’s why I prefer to watch the games at home. Just me, my wife and my kids. My young kids. My young kids who like to ask billions of questions. Here are a few that I’m sure to hear from them as the season wears on.

“Dad, why are that man and woman in that commercial sitting in separate tubs and holding hands?”

“Dad, why do people cheer for Clemson?”

“Dad, how is it possible for New York City to have two professional football teams and really not have any professional football teams?”

“Dad, do they give you free tuition at Florida if you wear jean shorts?”

“Dad, why can’t teams from Alabama just pick one mascot and go with it?”

“Dad, why do so many of Florida State’s players wear those electronic things around their ankles?”

“Dad, what is DeVry doing in the Orange Bowl?”

“Dad, is this ESPN or the Oprah channel?”

“Dad, why are Georgia Tech’s games played on the Oprah channel?”

“Dad, Notre Dame is 1 and 7. Why are they on TV and ranked number 3 in the country?”

“Dad, why is Ohio State playing against my soccer team this week?”

“Dad, shouldn’t they make the team that finishes in last place have to go to Washington D.C. and just send the champions to Disney World?”

If you need me over the next few days, I’ll be preparing my answers to these very important questions. In the meantime, enjoy the season, don’t throw anything and try not to laugh too hard and that dude in the yellow wig riding on the Segway. He can’t help it.

Oh, and Go Dawgs!

image credit

 

The Monday Morning Quarterback

There’s an unwritten rule about family conflict. You don’t let other people say honest painful truths to your family. Only you are allowed to say honest painful truths to your family.

This week’s edition of the Monday Morning Quarterback is written in that spirit. I am a Georgia Bulldog fan. They are my family, if you will. So that gives me the right to say a few honest, painful truths to the Bulldog Nation. Here goes.

If Georgia Bulldog fans devoted half as much energy to holding the federal government accountable as they do to trying to get Mark Richt fired, the last four U.S. Presidents would be in jail right now.

Remember this, Bulldog fans. Georgia was an average football team before Mark Richt showed up. The only thing that kept them from being below average was the fact that they somehow managed to recruit really good players. Really good players that played on 7 win teams in college and went on to win Super Bowls on their way to the Hall of Fame.

Several years ago, I watched an AFC Championship Game that looked like a UGA scrimmage. Players on both sidelines had formerly worn the red and black. And some of them were about to play in the Super Bowl. One of the commentators even wondered aloud how such talented players didn’t play on more successful teams in college.

I’m not trying to put down Georgia. I’m a fan, remember. All that I’m trying to do is bring Dawg fans back to reality. Take away the few years that Herschel Walker was terrorizing college defenses and Georgia is on level with Ole Miss. We are not Alabama. We never have been. Maybe one day we will be. But for now, we do more harm than good when we finish every year acting like our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has been stolen just because we have to play Nebraska in the Outback Bowl again.

Sometimes winning takes time. Especially if you do it without giving Corvettes and cocaine to new recruits. But all of the Georgia fans who are demanding Mark Richt’s head don’t care about that. They just want a championship. Well sure, they care about the, ahem, student athletes too. Just as long as those student athletes play for Georgia. And as long as those student athletes don’t approach them on the street once their playing days are over.

Just be honest, angry Dawg fans. You don’t care about the players. You don’t even care about the University. If you did, you would be thrilled to see the continuity that we have enjoyed and the improvement that we have seen. But what you really care about is yourself and being able to tell the Georgia Tech fan in the cubicle next to you that you won a national title more recently than he did. You. As if you were in on any of the planning or the plays.

I hate losing. Obviously you do too.

But settle down.

Take a nap.

Hug your wife.

Play with your kids.

And leave Mark Richt alone. He’s better than anything we’ve ever had in Athens.

But if you must get angry and stir things up, please allow me to point your attention to that big white house in Washington D.C.

Go Dawgs!

Watch What You Say At Chick-fil-A, Cuz

A Chick-fil-a manager has made a splash on social media because of a list of words and phrases he is forbidding his employees to use. Eric, the manager, doesn’t want his employees accusing each other, or customers for that matter, of having Ebola. He doesn’t want them referring to others as cuz or Felicia or claiming to be legally blind.

As you can imagine, the Internet has gotten its collective undergarments in a bunch over this. Eric is the bad guy. He’s taking away his employee’s right to free speech. He’s on the wrong side of history. He’s racist. He’s homophobic. Boo, Eric!

But I say that Eric deserves a big hooray! We’ve all been in stores before where employees  fall all over themselves not to help you. And the one who loses and has to help you has the communication skills and business sense of a bucket of hammers. Eric is trying to stop that. Again, hooray for Eric! And we wonder why the Chick-fil-a parking lot is always full while the crowd over at Hardee’s is just a tad larger than what one would find during the 2nd quarter of a Georgia Tech football game.

Along with saying hooray for Eric, I think that we should carry this plan out in other areas of life. More leaders need to demand proper verbalization and respect from their employees. So with that in mind, and in honor of Eric, I’ve developed my own list of words and phrases that should be phased out in certain areas of life.

The Media

You shall no longer use the phrases boots on the ground, from Wall Street to Main Street, Breaking News, News Alert, Breaking Now or similar variations. I’m looking at you, Fox News. If even 15% of your News Alerts were actually worthy of your hype, we’d all be living in The Walking Dead right now. No one needs to hear a Fox News Alert about how Eminem said something meant to Anderson Cooper.

Church

The word, fine shall no longer be used in church buildings. When you go to church you will be asked how you are doing. This cannot be avoided. But the same old answer can. If you don’t like the question, just give it an honest answer and you probably won’t be asked it again.

Greeter: “Hi, Chuck. How are you?”

Chuck: “Terrible. I stayed up all night in a fit of rage after watching my favorite team, the Auburn War Criminals, fumble away a certain victory. To settle down, I spent a few hours listening to Ray LaMontagne on vinyl. That sent me into a bit of a funk and the next thing I knew it was 10:00 in the morning. I figured that this was as good a place as any to sleep so here I am. How are you?”

Problem solved.

Sports

Athletes, fans and coaches shall no longer be allowed to use the following words and phrases.

“One game at a time.”

“It is what it is.”

“I was misquoted.”

“I apologize to those who may have been offended.”

“Not guilty, your honor.”

“At the end of the day.”

“War Eagle.”

“Roll Tide.”

In other words, there will no longer be any sports interviews and ESPN will have to cut back to two channels and only show the games without their standard six hours of commentary and debate.

You can see my plan working already!

Eric, thank you for your example. Don’t listen to all of the naysayers. Continue to hold your employees accountable. Know that we are all behind you on this one. And together we will never forget one of the most important phrases known to mankind.

“Eat more chicken.”

Lessons from Notre Dame

If my memory serves me correctly, Alabama was a ten point favorite heading in to Monday night’s BCS Championship game.

Alabama won by 28 points.

Nice try Vegas.

No matter who you cheer for or if you even like football, there are at least two lessons to be learned from last night’s game.

The first lesson is that you can’t live off of past accomplishments.

Notre Dame has a very rich football history.  They’ve won a lot of championships, they have a powerful and influential base of fans and former students and they have even had a few movies made about them.  Not too shabby.

But none of that matters today.  On Monday night, Alabama wasn’t influenced by the fact that Rudy was a cinematic masterpiece that moved millions to tears.  Most of the players on the field last night weren’t even born the last time that Notre Dame football was relevant.

I’ve seen a lot of pastors and other leaders who have built a nice platform because of something that they accomplished in the past.  While that can be important, it’s not as important as what’s happening now.  The pastor with a story about the time that he spent the summer with Elvis Presley will see that the audience of people who care about those stories gets smaller every year.  The pastor with a story about what God is doing in his life right now will always be relevant, no matter how he’s dressed or what kind of music he likes.

The other lesson is that accountability matters.

This morning at breakfast my six-year-old asked me a very profound question.

“Dad, if Notre Dame got beat so bad, why were they ranked number one?”

I explained to him that Notre Dame did not belong to a conference and not belonging to a conference afforded them the opportunity to play an easier schedule.  My example for him was that it was sort of like his soccer team only scheduling games against a team of three-year-olds and then feeling like they’ve done something when they’re undefeated at the end of the season.

The point is that individuals, churches and organizations need people to challenge them.  Even when those challenges aren’t grounded in reality, they can still help you by making you firmer in your position or vision.  But sometimes those challenges will be of substance and, if you take heed, you will be better because of them.

When I was first starting out in ministry I would spend Sunday mornings before church talking with a man that I respected very much.  We talked about the Bible, sports and everything in between.  One day I told him a joke.  I thought that the joke was a bit crude but still funny.

He just thought that it was crude.

Instead of laughing, he told me something that I still carry with me.

“Jay, you can do better than that.”

Churches, organizations, individuals and yes, even football teams, don’t need yes men.  They need people that care enough to call them out when it’s needed.

Notre Dame had yes men.  Most of them are employed by ESPN.

I had a man who held me accountable and a few years after I told that joke, I named my son after that man.