It is the start of a new school year and with that, the start of another year of high school sports. Friday Night Lights are glowing throughout the Valley. Young men with great potential will develop into stars. Great plays will be made and highlight reels will be created.
I have a message for all of you student athletes who are about to make the next great play during interscholastic competition for the 2013-14 school year. As once said by legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, “Act Like You’ve Been There Before!” To make my point, I draw your attention to Barry Sanders, an athlete whose career ended before you even entered kindergarten but whose athletic abilities and approach to the game remain iconic to this very day for how to handle success.
Sanders best exemplified what it meant to “act like you’ve been there before.” During his Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions, Sanders became known not only for his exceptional athleticism and grace, but also for his humility on and off the field. He had the most dazzling moves ever seen on a football field and earned the right to celebrate his success through any one of many choreographed end zone dances. Yet when Sanders crossed into the end zone, he preferred just to hand the ball to a referee. Class, pure class!
But what if you decide not to heed this advice to “Be Like Barry” because the temptation to draw attention to yourself after making a great play overcomes you? As you make a spectacle of your accomplishment rather than acting as it you’ve been there before, at least “get there” (the end zone) before you celebrate. If you don’t, you may find that you have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by being a bit too impressed with yourself when you make that great play, similar to the following three athletes who allowed a moment of stupidity to make them infamous rather than heroic.
Dateline: February 17, 2006. XX Olympic Winter Games- Turin, Italy
American Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis was the reigning world champion in the Snowboard Cross and found herself at the second to last jump away from an Olympic gold medal. She had an insurmountable three second lead over her closest competitor. Apparently, the urge to celebrate her great accomplishment could not wait a few more milliseconds until she crossed the finish line so she attempted an attention-getting move known as a “method grab.” She missed and it caused her to fall. As she gathered herself just feet from the finish line, Tanja Frieden of Switzerland passed her for gold. Jacobellis managed to recover in time to win silver, but she will be known for what she lost rather than what she won.
Dateline: August 3, 2013. Summer X-Games, Los Angeles.
Australian Meghan Rutledge was comfortably ahead of two-time reigning X-Game Champion, Vicki Golden, in the women’s Moto X 12-lap race. On the final lap and just a turn away from victory, she pumped her right fist in apparent celebration of her inevitable victory. This act caused her to miss her landing and as she nosedived her bike, Vicki Golden passed her for the victory. Similar to Jacobellis, Rutledge was able to recover in time to win silver, but as the commentator said, Rutledge went “from the pinnacle of joy to the depths of defeat.”
Dateline: September 5, 2013. Denver, Colorado
Approaching the end of the record-tying performance of Peyton Manning, the Broncos lead the Ravens 42-17 with about 12 minutes left to be played. Second year Bronco linebacker Danny Trevathan recognized a play that had been run earlier from Joe Flacco to Ray Rice. Trevathan cut the route and found himself in possession of the football with nothing but 29 yards of open field and national television accolades in front of him. Just as the scoreboard operator was about to record his Pick-Six, Trevathan began his “Leon Lett-like” celebration two yards short of the end zone, tossing away the football and the lock on the Broncos’ victory. As Trevathan continued his would-be touchdown celebration, teammate Wesley Woodyard leaned down toward the loose football in the end zone and was hit by a Ravens player. The result? Touchdown erased, touchback Ravens, and ankle injury for Woodyard. After the game, Trevathan was quoted as saying: “That was kind of selfish and that’s not the kind of player I am. I have to learn from that.’’ He vowed that if the opportunity ever arises again, he will hold on to the football through the end zone and then hand it to a fan.
So, soon-to-be prep stars, act like you’ve been there before. Do it to honor Barry Sanders. If that is not a good enough reason, do it so that you do not join the firm of Jacobellis, Rutledge and Trevathan.