Monday, January 14, 2013

From these ashes a great power will rise

As a lifelong Notre Dame fan who attended the 2013 championship game which Alabama won 42-14, I was thrilled to see the photo to the left from the beach in Miami. ND is all in!

After the ND loss, many platitudes whirl around my brain this week, especially these five:

Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. 
This thought came to mind within the first five minutes of last Monday’s game. Both teams had the same amount of time to prepare for the game, yet Alabama, the victor in the 42-14 game, prepared better. Notre Dame hasn’t played in a title game in 24 years, but Alabama has been to the championship three times in the last four years. They knew what to do to prepare because they have won consistently at the top level of college football. ND can learn from their preparation shortcomings and alter accordingly when they return to the championship game next year (hey, I said I was an ND fan…I have hope!).

Life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it. 
At the beginning of the season, ND was not ranked. It ended the season ranked #1, with nine of its twelve opponents in bowl games. All of ND’s opponents are BCS teams, none are in the Division formerly known as II. Alabama entered the season ranked second, as the defending National Champion. Even with a schedule that includes three non-BCS-conference teams (called “cupcakes” by sports announcers) and only seven opponents who went to bowl games, everyone who pays attention to college football knows about Alabama’s recent domination of the game—and most, including me, respect it.

With all of that in mind, I was surprised to hear from fans who watched the game at their homes that the game announcers continued to call the game “humiliating.” Alabama was clearly bigger, faster, more talented, and better coached Monday night. Losing to them is not humiliating. (As an aside, did they call it humiliating when LSU lost without scoring a point against Alabama in the championship last year?)

I do not accept the banner of “humiliation” from the announcers. It was heart-breaking, humbling, and horrible. It was not humiliating, and I hope none of the current players who worked hard all year will look at it as such. Their perspective is up to them, and I hope they look back on this season and realize the impact they had on Notre Dame and its football program. They will have empathy for the disappointing performance in that game, but they will be appreciated for their impact on the community.

The most humiliating thing I heard from the television viewers was how one of the announcers, 73 year-old Brent Musburger, constantly ogled a player’s 23-year-old girlfriend rather than commenting about the game, teams, or sport. His employer, ESPN, acknowledged the offensive behavior and issued an apology. Only one organization had to issue an apology after Monday night’s performance: ESPN. That’s humiliating!

If life is mostly about how you take it, I say Notre Dame’s team takes the game as insight into the gap between it and the national champion. I say they take the season as a tremendous success!

Losses have propelled me to even bigger places, so I understand the importance of losing. 
(V. Williams)
ND’s players and coaches were very upset after losing to Alabama, especially considering how poorly ND played. Watch this video to see one of the players express his sadness: More than half of this year’s starters return next season, and they will remember the level of despair felt Monday night. If they never knew what losing felt like, they might not know why they should avoid it so much. Now they know, and they will remember. Feeling such pain often propels people to greatness beyond what they imagined before the despair.

It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up. 
Winners in all walks of life often talk about their defeats, yet they became winners because the defeats didn’t hold them back. Hank Aaron holds the MLB record for most career runs batted and most extra base hits, yet he’s also in the top 100 for most strikeouts. Thomas Edison has patents for hundreds of inventions that didn’t change the world like the light bulb has. Abraham Lincoln lost at least seven elections, failed at business twice, and didn’t get in to law school before he became President of the United States. No one reaches the pinnacle of his field without experiencing failure. Everyone who reaches the pinnacle does so by learning from the failed performance and moving forward. ND can do the same. ND will get up and they will rise from the ashes of Monday’s performance.

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. 
The 80,120 people who attended the championship game, along with the hundreds of players, coaches, and administrators with both teams, measured success one way: points. The team with more points would be the victor, and to the victor go the spoils. Everyone in the stadium knew that Monday night, including me.

But, success is measured in a variety of ways beyond the score of a game. Once the buzz about the game dies down and these feelings of sadness lift, many people will forget the score of the game. ND fans will remember the way this team came together this year. We will remember how the team’s attitude and spirit propelled it to victory when defeat seemed more likely. We will remember the names of players and will be glad to meet them, help them, and work with them in their careers after football. 

Real success in life does not come down to one football game, whether we won or lost. The young players might not realize it yet, but some day they will know what older people know: life is about more than football. ND’s players will go on to live successful lives of value because of their experience on this team. 

ND ranks as the #1 school for its graduation rate of athletes. Some schools do not consider the college degree essential to their athletes. Some do not honor the scholarship commitment made to all players who join their teams. ND considers its graduation rate important because ND knows about success in life and that it exists far beyond the football field.

I am no Pollyanna blind ND fan who has guzzled the Brian Kelly kool-aid for three years and expected to win the championship because of the luck of the Irish. I was furious with Brian Kelly within five minutes of the game, and I was shocked at the team’s performance. While I was certain the coach had worked hard in the last several weeks, I was mad he did not work accurately. We saw the previous coach work hard too, yet it didn’t pay off much. What has helped me return to a sane state following the heartbreaking loss is remembering that Coach Kelly learned from last year and changed this year. If he does that again, the team will succeed.

Now that this ND team knows what it’s like to play in the championship game and to play against the high-caliber Alabama team, they will know what to expect next season. Coach Kelly and the team have 230 days to prepare. Go Irish!

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