Thoughts from a Recovering Big Fan

A new movie is opening called Big Fan. It is about a guy who lives and dies with the New York Giants football team. I don’t think I was ever quite that extreme but I confess that I have taken my teams way too seriously over the years. My mood for the week was often dependent on how the Browns and Buckeyes did that past weekend. I have fantasized about my arrival at the Pearly Gates.

Saint Peter: Welcome Dave. Tell me about your sports teams.
Me: I am a fan of the Cleveland Browns, Texas Rangers and Baylor Bears football.
Saint Peter: Hey Job! We have one for your group!

The Rangers and Bears may be ending some of the suffering in the very near future but it has been a tough road. Recently another one of my teams has contributed to my malaise. The Ohio State Buckeyes have not been on a real good roll when it comes to big games. That is an understatement along the lines of Jon and Kate may have a few issues. The Buckeyes lost consecutive national championship games and got embarrassed last season against USC at the storied Coliseum. I was there with dear friend Ed (an USC fan) for the carnage. My main concern by the second half was for the health of the Trojans mascot horse Traveler. He gallops after every score and it was a hot evening in Los Angeles. I knew my Bucks were in deep trouble when I saw Traveler getting oxygen on the sidelines. The Ohio State cheerleaders decided to salvage something from the evening by getting their pictures taken with Denzel Washington.

This weekend the rematch with USC is going down in Columbus, Ohio. Some people are saying this game is a must win. As I get older I think there are fewer and fewer “must” wins. World War II was a must win. This is a football game. Some are saying the very reputation of the Big 10 is on the line. The blood pressure in the Buckeye state is at dangerous levels. Others are saying that the always opinionated Buckeye Nation will be calling for Jim Tresses firing if they lose again.

What I am about to write is pretty much a no-win for me. It will sound to some like rationalization. Others will think I have gone soft and need to watch a little Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights and memorize his quote “If you ain’t first you’re last!”. I hope the truth is that life and some of the hard hits it doles out has given me perspective. On a recent plane ride home I read Coach Tressel’s book entitled The Winner’s Manual: For the Game of Life. (All of the proceeds from the book are being donated directly to the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library Renovation Campaign)The book details what Coach Tressel teaches every player at Ohio State. It is a book full of wisdom and insight. Tressel addresses difficult issues like the national title losses and the demise of star running back Maurice Clarett. He is most poignant when he shares the impact of having a young man paralyzed in practice and another player shot and killed while he coached at Youngstown State.

Coach Tressel writes this in the forward of the book.

What does it really mean to be a winner? Are there certain qualities that winners inherently possess that make them natural difference makers?

How can you measure such a thing?

(This book) is my attempt not only to answer these questions but also to distill the heart of a nearly four-hundred-page handbook I have been handing out to my players on the first day of spring practice for more than twenty years.

We call it The Winners Manual—a personal playbook for success, filled with insights on what it takes to be a winner in the game of life from some of the greatest coaches, athletes, writers, thinkers, and leaders in the world. We developed it to help our athletes become the best players and people they can possibly be.

The principles in this book have been passed down to me from my father; from coaches I have had the privilege of knowing, working with, and competing against; and from hundreds of former players, who have taught me a great deal about success, adversity, winning and losing, hope, love—basically, the stuff of life.

I think you’ll find the information in this book is not so much about football as it is about life and what it really takes to succeed—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and professionally.

I read through these wonderful principles based on values that, sadly, many now consider old-fashioned. I thought of how fortunate these young men are to have this chance to learn how to succeed in every area of their life. Not all of them get it. Some are focused only on playing on Sundays. Some will get it later because of the seeds planted now. But I will say this before the big game at the Shoe. I am proud to have this man at the helm at Ohio State. No matter what happens with the final score I know that Coach Tressel is building young men that will make a difference when they are no longer can play football. I know that many other programs are doing that as well. And I know that some are not. Friends close to the OSU program tell me that Coach Tressel is genuine in how he lives out what he teaches and preaches.

Athletics have been used to teach spiritual principles since the beginning of Christianity.

Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (I Cor 9, NLT)

Paul realized that you run to win but there is a bigger race to finish. Coach Tressel gets that even if some “big fans” do not. I am proud to be an Ohio State fan. I am proud of Coach Jim Tressel, his integrity and his steadfast faith in Christ. I am proud of the players who work so hard to represent the school. I hope they don’t worry what guys who can’t jump off the couch without pulling a muscle have to say. Run to win this weekend but never forget the real prize is eternal.