Sports

More Than Just Football

If you know me, then you know how trying this week has been for me. Listen, I know. It’s just football. My favorite athlete of all time, Peyton Manning, has parted ways with my favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts. It pains me deeply to even type these words. I’ve been asked a lot the past few days by family and friends how I’m dealing with this. You see, Peyton Manning is more than just an athlete to me. He’s one of a very select few people on this planet I consider a hero. You can read why here. He has consistently carried himself with class and dignity, and constantly been someone worth looking up to.

The feelings I’ve had have been somewhat mixed. I keep having to reminding myself that it’s just football, but then I think about what this really means. Peyton and the Colts have been in my living room every Sunday for the past 14 years. Some of the most cherished memories I have in life revolve around watching a Colts game with my family. I wrote about that here. What this really means is that these moments will be no more, at least, not in the same way. Sure there is plenty to hope for in Colts land, but that’s not the point. There will never be another Peyton Manning. There will never be another lazy Sunday afternoon watching 18 put up 350 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Chiefs or Jaguars. Never another Manning/Brady showdown with an epic dramatic comeback. No more weeks of stress leading up to a playoff game. No more high fives and hugs to my brother and dad as we jump around the room like schoolchildren after watching our hero do what he does best. That’s what it really means. Sundays will be different now. Something that has brought our family together for my entire life has drastically changed. I know football isn’t what holds our family together, nor is it even necessary to keep it running, but it sure has enhanced it.

It will be quite strange seeing 18 in another jersey. It will be weird seeing the Colts without 18. I hope Andrew Luck is everything they say he is. I hope Peyton wins every Super Bowl from now until he retires and proves to everyone what Colts fans have known: that he is truly the greatest of all time. Whatever the outcome though, I’ll look back with such fondness, and to Peyton Manning I’ll forever be grateful. God bless you 18.

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The Platform

Anyone seen this Tebow guy? Who does he think he is?? You know, winning football games, being a great role model, and helping people out. I love a guy like this. He’s obviously not the best quarterback ever, but it’s all his other qualities that pay off for him.

Last week on the NFL Network’s Thursday night game, Tim led the Broncos past the Jets on a game winning 95 yard touchdown drive. It was quite impressive. What was more impressive though, were his comments after the game. Tim spouted off all the normal politically correct answers to all the questions about his ability, the criticism surrounding him, and his team. Then he said something that takes some maturity. He said although he loves football and is passionate about winning, what he cares more about is the platform that football provides and how he is responsible to use that platform to the best of his ability. He talked about his foundation, and how they were able to open a hospital in the Philippines, and how at the end of your life if all you ever did was win football games, then you really haven’t done all that much. His foundation’s mission is “To bring faith, hope an love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need”. These are simple words that carry a lot of weight.

Whether you share Tim’s faith or not, he has one thing right: helping those in need makes life worth while. Obviously not all of us have had the same opportunities as Tim. Not all of us can make millions of dollars that we can directly use to build hospitals and orphanages, or feed the hungry. Not all of us can give like we want to. What every one of us does have is a platform. Every one of us has the same ability to help those around us as Tim Tebow does. Just because it’s on a smaller scale doesn’t make it any less important. I’m not talking only about the homeless and the hungry. We all encounter people every day that need a little kindness in their lives. Whether you’re a CEO or make minimum wage, you have opportunities to do the same thing Tim’s foundation does. Not just an opportunity, a responsibility; a responsibility to love the platform more than what provided it. Maybe you can’t build an orphanage, but you can build a relationship. Maybe you can’t fill an empty stomach, but you can fill an empty heart, and that may be just as good.

My two favorite things

I love music. I also love motorsports. A weird combination, I know. In fact, the two worlds are so different that someone from one world would stick out like a sore thumb in the other. Trust me, I know. Fans of (good) music tend to be somewhat well rounded, intelligent, and have a good appreciation for the world around them. They also can be overly emotional, lazy, and a touch self absorbed. People in the racing world are blue collar hard working people. They’re incredibly resourceful. They love their families and have a rich appreciation for what the sport has provided for them, and what it means to their relationships with people. There’s also more than a few drunk rednecks..err Appalachian Americans. That said, walking into a theater to catch a great band and walking into the pits of a dirt track can seem so radically different, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

For starters there’s the travel. Whether you’re rocking or rolling, there’s always a long drive in an oversize vehicle and a bunch of expensive stuff to unload when you get there. Then there’s the noise. Bone rattling noise. Whether it’s a bass guitar or a V8, bring your earplugs. I’ll likely be deaf by 40. Then there’s the biggest similarity of them all: the commitment. It takes a lot of resolve to head out on the road, leave your family for long periods of time, live on Taco Bell and McDonald’s, and follow your dreams. The struggle is the only constant. Every day is different, yet somehow the same. Whether you’re in California or Louisiana, Ohio or Florida, it’s truly an adventure. Usually you’re broke, hoping that the instruments that need repair or the tie rods that need replaced can just last one more night. You are always thankful for that night, and hopeful that the next one is better.

This is what makes it so rewarding. There is nothing like playing a great show to a full, responsive crowd. There is nothing like out running someone who has better equipment than you do. It’s the glory of it. The adrenaline rush. It’s a drug you can’t get over any counter, a drug I don’t want to shake. Musicians and racers do the same thing every night. They put themselves out there, for everyone else to judge. When you succeed everyone sees it, and when you fail everyone sees it.

What I love most about both paths is the journey. The unknown. That’s what makes it so sweet. No matter how driven you are to succeed, the path is fragile. I cherish every moment that I get to do what I do. Whether you’re a racer or a musician, you’re pushing the limits. Musicians explore the boundaries of art, melody, and the human soul. Racers push the limits of the human body, science, and bravery. All of these things are as noble as any cause since the beginning of humankind. Hopefully both will evolve with the times, but never lose the purity that makes them so enjoyable, and so important.

The Real Winners

Anybody see the Indy 500 this year? Rookie JR Hildebrand goes into turn four on the last lap with a comfortable lead. It was going to be history. Driving for a team that had finished 2nd three times, he was on his way to becoming the first rookie winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001. All he had to do was navigate one last corner. He had made 799 of them that day without issue, but that last one, it would prove to be a problem. Rookie Charlie Kimball was slow on the inside, and as JR tried to make the pass on the outside, the unthinkable happened. Thud. Straight into the outside wall. He could see the flagman waiving the checkered flag. How helpless he must have felt as he watched the man who had driven his car to those 2nd place finishes drive by and win the race. JR had blown it. 2nd place. Epic fail. Choke. Maybe the biggest choke in motorsports history.

I immediately felt sick for him. If that were me, I’d be on suicide watch for a few days. Then I heard him talk. He obviously grasped the scale of what had just happened, and yet, in the heat of the moment, had the presence of mind to apologize to and thank his team. As he stumbled over his words he found the right ones. He handled it with class and dignity.

I can’t really relate to the feeling he must have felt, but I do know what it’s like to get so close to something, only to have it taken away. My band, the Undeserving, has been so close to turning this hobby into a career for quite some time. We’ve been signed to a major record label, met and worked with famous people who are the best in the business, and had songs featured on the biggest shows on television. We were gonna make it; and then a series of unfortunate events happened. People we work with lost their jobs or quit, songs don’t sell like we hoped they would, and new people come in who don’t have the same attachments to us. The next thing we know we’re in 6 months of limbo waiting to hear if we’ll have a record or not, a record we put 3 years of our life into. It’s hard to not call that a loss.

I used to love Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. It used to fuel me during varsity basketball games in high school. I allowed it to shape my competitive spirit. The older I get though, the more it loses it’s truth to me. The reality is it’s easy to handle a victory, whether moral or material. It’s easy to hold the trophy and drink the milk in victory lane. It’s easy to have class and dignity when you’re on top. It’s losing that will make a man out of you. It’s losing that will make you see what you’re made of. It’s missing out on that promotion to a less qualified colleague, or losing your girlfriend to your best friend, or missing out on an opportunity that could change your life. How will you handle that? It’s really hard to win, but it’s even harder to lose gracefully.

Dan Wheldon won the Indy 500 this year. I’m happy for him. But it’s JR Hildebrand that has a new fan. He gave me a different perspective on things, an important one. Maybe sometimes, the losers are the real winners.

Where It Came From

This was written September 30, 2008.

It was 1992, here I was in the grandstand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was almost 7 years old and I was getting my first taste of Indianapolis 500 qualifying. This was the first time I had been to the track for an actual event. I still remember the exhilaration I felt when a car drove past me at 240mph for the first time. I remember the smell of the alcohol (fuel not beer), and if you went and sat in the corner, you could smell the rubber burning off the tires. I remember the energy of the crowd as drivers like Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Mario Andretti came out to qualify. I was hooked. Roberto Guerrero broke the track record that year with a speed of 232.480. The poor guy crashed on the parade lap before the race.

This year was special though for another reason. This was supposed to be AJ Foyt’s last race. Some internal team issues in the weeks before had led to AJ announcing his retirement, effective immediately. He did decide, however, to take one last set of hot laps. I will never forget the crowd’s standing ovation when he took to the track. He was a four time 500 winner, a racer’s racer, a legend, maybe the greatest driver of any kind, ever. This was the last time Tom Carnegie would call his laps. I have this image in my head of AJ waving to the crowd on his cool down lap and even at 6 years old, I had some sort of grasp on what I had just witnessed. Possibly the greatest driver ever was done racing, and I was there for his final laps.

17 or so years later, I still feel the same way when I experience that speed, danger, and excitement. My childhood dreams of winning the 500, (Daytona or Indy, or both) I’m guessing aren’t going to happen at this point, but that’s ok with me. I know these things aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. God didn’t put me here to race and I understand that, and I know that beating 15 other people in an online race doesn’t mean I could drive a real race car. But in a world where corruption, politics, and money rule, there’s something simple and pure about getting from point A to point B faster than anyone else, and I hope that it always stays that way.

What It Means To Be a Fan

This was written January 26, 2010, the week before the Super Bowl.

Yesterday morning I awoke around 8am, came downstairs and turned on Mike and Mike on ESPN2, which is normal for me. As I started into my normal routine of feeding the dogs, feeding myself, and getting ready for the day, I stopped to listen to a story being read on the show. It was about a man in New York, who is a life long Jets fan. He was in his thirties, and had little recollection of the Jets lone Super Bowl. As the AFC Championship game approached, he drove out to his father’s gravesite. His dad had just recently passed, and he was the biggest Jets fan around. He talked of his childhood memories of watching the games with his dad, hearing stories about Joe Namath, and Don Maynard, and watching John Riggins run the ball. As he set a Jets hard hat on the gravestone, he realized that this is why they were fans. This was why they devoted countless hours into something essentially meaningless.

Hearing this story sure struck a chord with me. If you know me, you know I love my sports teams. I take it very seriously, too seriously, especially the Indianapolis Colts. I have so many similar memories from my childhood. I vividly remember Kordell Stewart catching the go ahead touchdown in the 95 AFC title game after running out of bounds, and running back in, robbing Jim Harbaugh of a Super Bowl berth, then seeing Aaron Bailey drop the hail mary bomb in the end zone on the last play. This still stings. I remember 3-13, and I remember all those awful losses to the Patriots in the playoffs. But most of all, I remember my dad talking about watching the games with his dad. I remember hearing about the great Johnny U, and the 1958 Championship game, or the loss to Joe cool and the Jets, or beating the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, and Tom Matte and Burt Jones. What I wouldn’t give to watch a Colts game with my grandfather. He would have loved to watch Peyton Manning throw the football. There are so many similarities to his beloved Johnny U; it’s like history repeating itself. This year my grandmother, who has now been a widow for 15 years, received a replica Unitas jersey for Christmas. I could see it in her eyes how much she missed my granddad. All the memories from the years they spent in Baltimore and Indy together, raising their family, and watching the Colts on Sunday seemed to come back for a second, all triggered by holding a blue shirt with a 19 on it.

Three years ago, we gathered in Indianapolis to watch the big game. I will never forget that day as long as I live. I honestly remember very little of the actual game. What I do remember is being with my family. I’ll never forget hugging my Aunt and Uncle, who just days before had unexpectedly lost their only son. We cried and together wondered why it had happened just a few days before the game; a game he had hoped would come his entire life. I remember the cheering and the tears, as our boys in blue ran out the clock on the Bears. I’ll forever cherish the picture we all took together in our Super Bowl championship garb, and the celebration of our dear family members life the next day.

So as I prepare to travel back to Indy again for the big game, I feel that I’ve learned something. Sure, I hope we win the game; I’ll be devastated if we don’t. What I hope for more than anything though is meaningful time spent with my loved ones. At the end of my life when I look back I’ll know one thing: the game itself is meaningless, but the moments, memories, and bonds it creates surely are not.
Go Colts.