The Right Attitude is Never SidelinedWritten by James T Harris
My #2 son is a senior in high school. Last weekend, his football team won the biggest game in school history. Watching the joy on his face – the pure adrenaline – was wild, especially in light of how the game went for him.
He had just finished playing the worst game of his life.
But despite not doing well individually, he was truly overjoyed. Teamwork in action... Attitude in action.
We love football in our family. Watching and playing America's true pastime is one of our great passions. My two sons and daughter grew up watching Packer football in Wisconsin. The Packer parties that took place in our home were epic. For years, the only QB my kids ever knew was Brett Favre.
The name "Brett Faaaaaaaaaaavre!" ringing through every room and every hallway is something they heard every weekend during every football season for 15 years. Throughout their years in primary, middle and high school, they all heard me say the same thing thousands of times:
"Attitude is everything – and teamwork!"
Without having an official family motto, that's probably it right there. They heard it from me, and they witnessed it with Brett Favre – playing every game, sacrificing his body for his team. The cannon-arm of a quarterback and the soul of a lineman. Relishing the opportunity to block for a running back as much as throwing for a touchdown.
One time my daughter was kicked by another player in a soccer game. She went down and was slow to get up. When she did, I yelled, "Brett Favre plays hurt!" To which she replied, "I don't care!"
Our house in the old neighborhood (which we called the Urban Mayberry) used to be Packer Central. During halftime, the front yard became the Frozen Tundra as neighbors and friends all engaged in "touch" football. The only kid who would violate the no-tackle rule – big head first, hands wrapped around ankles – was Oliver, my #2. A friend of Oliver's big brother was once overheard saying, "I don't want to be tackled by Oliver." We thought the friend meant Oliver's older brother, but the friend clarified... "No, I mean Oliver! He hits hard!"
Carefree, fearless, wild-yet-smart... Those characteristics all describe #2's style of play. Most of all, smart. As QB, in his Pop Warner league, he called his own plays, from the shotgun, using the nicknames of his players. The nickname his teammates gave him was Tonka. As in Tonka truck, built tough and hard to break. It was years later when I found out that he could actually read the defenses and call plays accordingly.
When we moved to Arizona in the summer of 2012, #2 broke his thumb the first week of football practice. He had it casted and was back on the field only missing a single day of practice.
"Attitude is everything – and teamwork!"
The first season, he proved himself a quick study and played both sides of the ball. Over the last four years, the team's extraordinary coaching staff has collectively molded these young men into something special. Last year – after a team vote – they decided to move up a division. It was a bold move for a small school. No one took them seriously. They're a small Christian school... Unheralded... Unproven.... Untested...
But they had the attitude. And they had teamwork.
That's what made last Friday's game so big. After dropping their first game of the season, the Pusch Ridge Lions ran off five straight wins, which set up the showdown with the undefeated powerhouse of the section – on their homecoming.
After a good start, the Lions were only down by 4 points. Then, in the third quarter, lightning struck and my son did something so obviously wrong that it took my breath away. As a defensive back, he bit on a fake handoff and got sucked into a play that left the wide receiver completely open for an easy 40-yard touchdown pass. I yelled his name out in disbelief!
His mother asked me, Did he just do that? What just happened? All I did was point at him and say, "look." His body language said it all. #2 was slapping the side of his helmet. He was hitting himself for a boneheaded play. His shoulders dropped. He was deflated.
I wanted to get his attention. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him to let it go.
"Attitude is everything..."
His team received the kickoff, scored and started to get back in the game... A few plays later, lightning struck again. Different play, but same result. Open man on #2's side of the field...touchdown. My groan was audible, and my focus was singular. I saw nothing else but #2. He was in disbelief. He was playing scared.
At that point, I left the bleachers and headed down to the field. I actually was considering the unthinkable. When I coached youth football, I had a rule. Parents never cross the chalk line.
Once when I was coaching #2's team, he was having trouble breathing during a game. We pulled him to the sideline to catch his breath. A few minutes later, one of my fellow coaches tapped my shoulder and pointed to the spectators. His mother was feeding him a hotdog. That incident almost led to a divorce.
Would I dare violate my own rule? Would I be that parent who crosses the line?
My freshman daughter was working the sideline as part of the athletic training staff. Maybe if I got her attention, I thought. Later, she would tell me that I should have known better – that she wouldn't have done it if I had asked.
I didn't grab her attention. I did know better.
As I helplessly paced the length of the field, oblivious to everyone around me, I found myself praying: "Father, let him remember everything that I taught him. Father, tell him to let it go. To play carefree. To do his job. To trust his team."
At the half Pusch Ridge was down 7-3, they fell futher behind in the third quarter but managed to claw their way back into the game with hard-nosed defense, a few gravity-defying offensive catches, and some spectacular runs bringing the score to 21-17 in the fouth quarter. It all came down to "The Drive." With five minutes remaining on the clock, Pusch Ridge orchestrated an 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown with 1:33 left on the clock.
They were winning. 24-21.
But storm clouds were gathering. The opposing team knew they had to go to the air, and they had already burned my boy twice. As the 7-0 powerhouse – with homecoming on the line – started moving down the field, my heart sank and my stomach tightened.
No one wants to see their child get defeated and deflated, especially on a potential game-winning play. No one wants to see a son get his spirit crushed. In that moment, I thought about how the Father must have felt as he watched the Son. In the garden. Before the Sanhedrin. Before Pilate. On the cross. That's when I sobered up. That's when I realized that I was where I was supposed to be... Praying. On the sideline.
When I looked at #2, I saw the difference. He was no longer deflated, but he wasn't daring the quarterback to come his way either. He was simply poised. Confident. With energy that seemed to be crackling off of him. He seemed...ready.
Then it happened.
Attitude, teamwork and ability – all intertwined on a field of green. Lightning struck again – but this time Oliver was the one striking. The receiver flew by him at first, but my son played it smart. The pass was underthrown, and as they both went for the ball, Oliver knocked it away.
Game. Set. Release.
A prayer. A boy – becoming a man. And an attitude.
A few things crossed my mind as I watched the celebration. My son's team had bailed him out. He wouldn't have to wear the loss. So I was thankful. But I also realized that others on his team were whispering in his ear. "Let it go..." "Just do your job..." Keep your attitude up." As one of the coaches told me later that evening, "We had him, Dad. We had him all the time."
It is truly special to watch the things you believe in play out in front of your very eyes. As I write this, the season is not over, and little Pusch Ridge is poised well in its newer and stronger division. But win or lose, the mantra is the same.
"Attitude is everything – and teamwork!"
Radio talk show host, conservative commentator, Beautiful Man. James T. Harris is the Ring Master of The Conservative Circus heard on 104.1 FM KQTH