John Madden – a class act

John Madden passed away yesterday. People outside the United States may not know this exuberant and larger than life man. But, he was a superb professional football coach, a groundbreaking football announcer and an innovator in a football video game.

He made the game simple for us without talking down to his audience. He was colorful with his sounds and drawings to define what was happening. And, people loved it – but they loved him more. He did not use arcane terms to define things and just told you what was happening and how it happened.

Fellow announcers, coaches and players have all described how genuine he was. Three stories can shed light on this. One of the things that precipitated his retirement was a vicious hit one of his players made on an opponent named Daryl Stingley which paralyzed him. This kind of hit is now illegal in football as the intent is to injure. Madden visited Stingley daily in the hospital as the injury occurred in Madden’s home city.

Another story is Madden was scared to fly. So, he would travel across the country in a Winnebago leaving days before a game. Madden would visit with people along the way. This endeared him even more. He was truly an everyday person.

The final story is he was a player’s coach. He told you what was expected of you – show up for practice, pay attention and play hard. Those were his rules. He did not care about what you looked like or wore. No dress codes, just play and practice hard. One of my favorite lines of his is “In my experience, when you practice well, you usually play well in the game.” 

It was said Madden was well-read and did his homework for each game. Fellow announcers would commend him on well he knew the players in the game he was announcing. The time on the road allowed for this.

Madden may not have looked the part, but he truly was s class act. 

Celebrating success with too much gusto concerns me

Watching the Ryder Cup, which every two years pits twelve US golfers against twelve European golfers in team competition, it continues to concern me over the lack of sportsmanship the match has devolved into. Dating back to the late-1990s, the televised competition has created a fervor of fans cheering the mistakes of their opponents. There was a time when Jack Nicklaus picked up the coin of Brit Tony Jacklin marking a ten foot putt to halve a match resulting in a tie, but those days are long gone.

But, I must confess, when I played sports, trash talking was something I just did not do. I was taught taunting an opponent is just poor form. As my basketball coach used to preach to us, the way to get back at an opponent is to win. The way to get back is not let them score. I mention the last point as it takes more effort to play defense, so to shut down an opponent from scoring brings satisfaction.

I know the crowds in team sports and some competition want to see demonstrative theatrics. They want to cheer success, even if it is for only one play. Yet, one coach used to say, if you are going to draw attention to your successful play, should you not draw attention when you mess up? Look what I did, I missed a tackle.

With that said, I do love offensive linemen in a football game. Usually, they only get attention when they mess up. It could be a penalty for holding or missing a block that leads to a tackle for a loss. On the flip side, these linemen are the reason games are won and lost. Yet, they don’t get the same upside notoriety when they are doing their job well. Their running backs and quarterback get the glory when they are blocking their opponents.

Mind you, it is OK to be happy with a successful play. But, the baseball term used is “you do not want to show up your opponent.” It is better not to rub it in a pitcher’s face that you just hit a home run, as you may have to face him or her again. One famous football running back used to say when he scored a touchdown, act like you have been there before. Of course, the fans want to see more. Maybe this is why drunk fans should steer clear from the other team’s fans.

I recognize I am old school. What I wrote runs counter to what is being done today. To me, it promotes this we/ they mindset on too many things. It has bled over into tribal politics. Fans are too invested in winning, that they don’t realize what is truly at stake. When politicians are too invested in winning than governing, we all lose.

Weekend warrior wisdom

Now that pro and college football (the American version) have started their new seasons, watching, betting, imbibing, overeating and playing by those who are less talented at the game will begin. Here are a few truisms of which to be mindful as we watch the games.

Monday comes early for Sunday drinkers watching football.

Fantasy footballers need to be wary of those who use multi-variant regression models to select their players. Bet what you can afford or don’t bet at all.

Tuesday comes early for Monday drinkers watching football.

A football is not round so it bounces in peculiar ways. Remember that when you wager.

Football players do not get that big and strong without chemical help.

The best of football helmets will not prevent the brain from rattling around in your head when hit on the field..

For every Tom Brady who plays that long, there are thousands of players who won’t make four years in a football career.

There are two halves to every football game. Do not celebrate victory before it occurs.

Finally, college success does not automatically translate into pro success – the pros are bigger and faster and the significant majority of college players from the bigger universities will not make it to the pros.

Enjoy the seasons. Don’t drink and drive. Wager wisely.

Push-ups, Sit-ups and Sprints

When Herschel Walker was asked at the University of Georgia about his weightlifting routine, he had a curious response. He said he had never lifted a weight in his life. For those of you who do not remember Walker, he was an extremely well muscled and fast running back for the Bulldog football team in the early 80’s.

When he was asked how he got so big and fast, he responded “Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints.” He went on to say when he was a scrawny young kid of about ten, he asked a gym coach how to get bigger, stronger and faster and the coach responded with the same answer as above.

What he did not tell the young Walker is how many. So, while watching TV, Walker would do push-ups or sit-ups during the commercials. He said it got to where he was doing about 1,000 of each routine every day. Then, he would go out and do sprints until he dropped.

Walker may have been the finest high school and college football ever to play a down. When I lived in Atlanta, I saw footage of Walker in high school. It is not an exaggeration to say the majority of times he touched the ball, he scored a touchdown, often playing only 1/2 the game as the score was so lopsided. The Hall of Fame quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, said in a guest sports news appearance, wherever Walker decides to go to college, the team will be an “immediate contender for the national title.” Georgia won the national title in Walker’s freshman year and he won the Heisman Trophy for the best collegiate football player.

Walker’s pro career was successful, but he did not stand out as much as he did in high school and college. I think he came up against equally talented athletes, so the margin was smaller. His positives were his strength and speed, but pro football longevity is predicated on elusiveness as well, which he did not need as much in the amateur levels.

Nonetheless, he was a significant player. He was also very humble and polite. Let me leave you with one telling story. After his career was over, a couple was stuck in their car as it was wrecked and rolled over with smoke coming out of the hood. This large African-American man was jogging by, so he immediately went over, realized the dilemma and ripped the door open helping the couple to safety. Then he ran on once he knew they were OK.

He never said a word to anyone what he had done, until a reporter asked him about his role in helping the couple. He shyly admitted he had helped them. He was called Superman by the couple and press.

Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints. We can always better ourselves. I am not saying do 1,000 of each, but a few each day would not hurt. The key metaphor is we have the power to make ourselves better, be it through physical or mental activity. It can be as easy as doing a few push-ups or sit-ups with each commercial.

The more I practice, the luckier I get

One of the better golfers and competitors of any era was a diminutive man from South Africa named Gary Player. He held his own against the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer winning nine major championships.

During one of his major wins, a reporter asked Player about a lucky shot Player had hit during the round that day. Player responded, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

This straightforward answer applies to many things in life. Whether it is golf, basketball, baseball or another sport the more you practice the luckier you will get. But, it applies to music, art, school and work. The more time you practice, the luckier the outcome.

Golf is as good a metaphor of life as there is. In essence, playing golf is managing your mistakes. By practicing, the mistakes are narrowed. In other words, you can more easily find your golf ball in the realm of play after a shot the more you practice.

Very few golfers practice like Vijay Singh. Singh was a very good player, but made himself a great player through outlasting anyone on the practice tee. Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winning football player made himself bigger and faster by doing over a thousand sit-ups, push-ups and wind sprints each day. That is not a misprint. Larry Bird made himself a better shooter by shooting countless shots  after team practice.

Per Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” The Beatles became better musicians by playing seven sets, six nights a week in Hamburg, Germany. To keep their sanity, The Beatles had to learn and play new songs.  Joe Walsh, who had many hits as an excellent guitarist and member of The Eagles said, the more you play the less awful you become.

So, practice and practice some more. You may get luckier or, at least, become less awful.

The bane of my youth – stadium trips, line drills and gassers

People who have participated in high school sports will likely know these terms, even if they referenced them differently. While my children are more artistic and musical than me, I spent my youth on some ball field or gym floor. So, I became well acquainted with training tools known as “stadium trips,” “line drills” and “gassers.”

Stadium trips required concentration, as you did not want to fall (which I did), especially coming down. At the end of practice for cross-country or before a football season might start, we would be required to run up and down the bleachers of the stadium. If you think about most high school fields, the stadiums are fifty or sixty rows high. So, a stadium trip would constitute one run up and one run down. A coach might say do 30 stadium trips and then hit the showers, e.g. This would be a phrase you would learn to love and hate. The hate part is obvious. The love part is you knew practice would be over.

The same could be said for line drills. They usually were done at the end of basketball practice, so you knew it would soon be over. Line drills are, in essence, a series of growing sprints from the baseline (end of the court) to the closest foul line and back, then to half court and back, then to the other foul line and back and finally to the other baseline and back. The key to making good time is to slide into the line and using your hands to set yourself back up and return. It was not uncommon for the coach to make it a contest, where the winner of each line drill would get to leave the court sooner. So, the key would be to win early.

But, nothing was as bad as something we called gassers. I mentioned these before, but when training for cross-country, after running a three-mile practice run, we would rest and then end practice with gassers designed to make you faster. For my foreign readers who are on the metric system, please forgive the reference to yards. We would start with two 880s (twice around the track), then do four 440s, and finish with eight 220s. The 220s would be killers as you would round the turn and feel like someone slapped you as you finished each race. Living in Florida, I vividly recall awakening in the middle of the night to cramps in my legs, with my parents running into the room to see what was all the fuss.

So, remember these survival tips. Pay attention on the downward half of a stadium trip, slide into the lines on line drills, and drink water before and after gassers.