I love how college football brings out the best in players. Let’s take, for instance, the recent East Carolina win over Tulsa.
On the last play of the game, ECU trailed 49-45. Quarterback Dominique Davis, finishing off a brilliant first career start, threw a 33-yard touchdown with no time left to 6-foot-8 receiver Justin Jones — who is, by the way, a freshman.
Everything about the game was beautiful. It was the first game for new East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill, who is an ECU alum. (Also, how awesome is his name? But I digress.) That final touchdown was caught by a freshman. I could go on and on, basically recapping the game, but I won’t waste your time with that. (Sports Illustrated has that here.)
Above all, Davis’s performance just gets me excited. That last pass was legendary, of course, and amplified even more by what he told his guys just before he threw it: “Just trust.”
His whole day, though, was outstanding. Look at his stats. 27 for 46. 383 yards. Five touchdown passes. One rushing touchdown.
First career start.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” he said later.
You don’t say.
You know, there’s lots of people who find lots of things wrong with sports. There’s been this whole, stupid situation exploding over at UNC-Chapel Hill, and people are calling for the beheading of Butch Davis, and yada yada yada. It’s tragic, but it always happens: the bad people — whether agents, players, coaches, or pop stars — put a horrible bruise on everything for the good people. It’s why we have to get things like car insurance and health insurance and rental car insurance and … well, I guess it’s all about insurance.
And taxes. Man, do the good people get screwed on taxes.
But I say let’s celebrate the good times in college sports. In all sports. Yes, pro sports are becoming way too much about the money. They’re actually talking about not having the 2011 NFL season. I don’t know all the details, but I’m confident surmising that it has something to do with dollar signs. Rather, the numbers after one dollar sign.
Maybe kids like Dominique Davis should get a cut of the school’s profits, because, after all, they are the performers. It is difficult to turn deaf ears to those likening athletes to slaves. Of course, these athletes are most certainly not slaves. They can leave if they want. Some things in life feel more slave-like than others, and nothing more than college some days, but life, for most of us anyway, is hard, no matter the profession, and so is college, no matter the major.
For these kids, the countless hours of sprints and countless repetitions of lifted weights and countless drills … upon drills … upon drills … on top of conditioning and then on top of all THAT, school — it’s all about the five seconds from snap, to throw, to exhilarating, game-winning catch.
In that moment, all else is forgotten. It was for that moment they endured it all. That moment is their reward. Perhaps that pure passion is also their curse, something that makes them vulnerable to the sharks. If only that purity could remain steadfast, or even, eternal. If only they never knew what millions of dollars looked like.*
* But of course, they must provide for themselves and their families one day, and football is a deadly sport, and so they must haggle for the millions because the men who have the money are either too dumb or (more likely) too selfish to give them what they know they’ll need.
That pure, passionate pursuit of something….it’s a lesson we can all learn from. Life sucks. It’s really, really hard sometimes. But these athletes, they endure much, because they have a goal. Some people mock their goal. It’s easy to make fun of someone sweating and straining and bleeding and weeping and burning and fighting 200 to 300 pound men all just to put a pig’s skin on the other side of a line or between a couple of yellow poles.
But having and pursuing goals makes better men, better women, better sons and daughters, better lovers and brothers and sisters. Better human beings. Is any goal any less noble than any other, if pursued with integrity and honor and upright effort?
I say no.
The lesson: have goals. Good goals, of course. Ones that preferably make us and the world better, not worse.
Having a goal, having a mission, following a sense of purpose — it unites us with others, and it blazes crystal clear the truth of who and Whose we are, and it renders insignificant whatever differences exist between us.
That stands to reason. Although I don’t know Dominique Davis or Justin Jones at all, I can imagine that they’re probably not exactly alike. But for those five seconds this past Saturday, their differences didn’t even exist. If they forget whatever differences they have, and if they are just boys playing a game with an inflated, stitched-up piece of pork hide, then it seems like grown men and women should have no problem doing that.
This past Saturday, there was just the snap, and the ball in Davis’s hands, and Jones running, and then a ball thrown from one to the other, and then the sound of tens of thousands screaming like crazy.
Screaming as one.