A New Yorker's perspective on why Boise State could be America's Team
Let's get this out there right out of the gate. I'm a 39-year-old from New York. Born and raised to be a Yankee / Jet fan. I know it's a weird combo, but that's another story. Over the last 30 years I have experienced the thrill of my team winning the World Series several times and attending a ticker tape parade down lower Manhattan's canyon of heroes. But these days, I find I'm not as passionate as I once was for my beloved NY sports teams and pro sports in general.
Maybe I've grown tired of the wealth of the "ME FIRST" players that dominate the media headlines. All I know is the contract disputes, labor issues, the never-ending scandals, the players' off the field behavior and legal issues have all taken its toll. I have not watched a NBA game in some time for this very reason. While the NFL and MLB still play exciting games, this New Yorker has turned to a very unlikely source for the passion lost.
My passion these days is reserved for the months from September - January and the sport is drum roll please……College Football. Now draw a 200-mile circle around NYC and you will find slim pickings for this college football fan to be excited about. West Point is closest to where I live and I don't doubt the experience would be great, but it is tough for this fan to hitch his wagon to a team whose sole goal is to win 1 game. So I have gone outside the region to find my team. While I don't consider myself a front-runner by any means, team success was a key ingredient in the search for my team. And please no wishbone or power sweep football. I'm a fan of the NFL enough said. Please give me a sophisticated offense with mental toughness that pastes its opposition week in and week out with a take no prisoners approach on offense, defense and special teams.
Now, I already told you I was tired of the "ME FIRST" players so my team can have none of those types. Sadly many of the players that ultimately get drafted into the NFL possess this quality from early on since they have always been the biggest, strongest and most talented of the lot and inevitably it goes to their head, mostly because of the parasites that surround them. This unfortunately eliminates some of college footballs more elite conferences from my search whose teams typically have multiple players suspended at game time for a variety of bad behaviors. Many of these kids are there for the future dollars of being drafted so an education is not a priority.
So I need a team that churns out good kids that make headlines for the right reasons. I need a team of those hungry kids with the chip on their shoulder because they got passed over by Michigan, Florida, USC and many of college football's most prestigious programs. Did I mention that one of my favorite movies is "Rudy" so imagine a team stacked with Rudy's heart and better talent. Now to harness the energy of these kids that ain't used to being rejected, throw in a five-star home-grown coach that has done nothing but win (44-7 since 2001), by preaching good old fashioned values, combined with knowledge from the world's most historical philosophers to a team of observant players who by the way are actually there to earn a degree. I could go on and on and I know the suspense is probably killing all of you. Yeah right!
If this post appeared on a neutral college football message board site most college football fans would know where I was going and who the team was by this point. That's because this team no longer flies under the radar and is no longer taken lightly as an overachieving mid-major. Of course my team is your Boise State Broncos and the team I believe is destined to one day be America's Team.
To be America's team you at least need to be selected to play in a BCS bowl game and for a non BCS school like Boise State that means finishing the season ranked in the Top 6. Credit goes to SEC powerhouse Georgia for scheduling Boise State for their 2005 home opener. Georgia's head coach calls this year's Boise State team "…quite likely the best non-conference opener for the Bulldogs in the last 10 years." Credit also goes to Boise State for recognizing early on that in order to be the best you have to beat the best and if that means going into hostile territory with no strings attached then so be it. If Boise State can escape Athens with a win, beat a revenge minded Oregon State Beaver team and win their home opener against a very dangerous, high octane offense-minded Bowling Green team and continue on last year's accomplishment of going undefeated in the WAC a Top 6 finish may await. But to garnish America's Team status, Boise State must not only go undefeated in 2005 or 2006, but they also have to continue to win the way they have won by dominating the competition and continuing with a well-balanced offense that has lead the nation in scoring in four of the last six years. More importantly, they must continue to possess the qualities that drive neutral fans like me to their program. They are in order of importance, Coach Dan Hawkins and staff, Coach Dan Hawkins and staff, and Coach Dan Hawkins and staff. Oh yea and did I mention that crazy blue field.
It all starts with Boise State's Head Coach Dan Hawkins. The casual fan can get a good idea of what type of man he is by how he answered the following questions posed to him by the media.
Q: What do you think separates a good coach and a bad coach?
A: The difference between average and good is pretty small. The difference between good and great is huge. A lot of coaches will say, "We're close" but it's not about being close.
A certain amount of humility is necessary. We all have egos, but there should be an understanding that you don't know it all and that you should always be willing to learn. The ability to blame yourself instead of blaming your players is also important.
To be a great coach, you genuinely have to care about people-to the degree that you might be willing to lose a game or even forfeit your career if it meant bettering some kid's life. I believe that ultimate leadership is servitude. I know you have to direct and lead, but ultimately you're a servant to your players and your staff. And if you're not willing to do that, I don't think you'll ever develop the kind of chemistry that's necessary to succeed.
Q: Have you formulated any goals for this year as in years past?
A: Many, but my top three are:
1. 100% Graduation rate
2. Be a national Powerhouse
3. Win a National Championship
Let's face it, this guy gets it. In a world of negativity here is a coach in the middle of Idaho of all places that understands what is right in the world and how best to get his positive message and philosophies across to his players. While talent is arguably God given, how that talent is honed and separated between the physical and mental parts of the game is where Coach Hawkins shines. Late in 2004 Fox Sports and CollegeFootballNews reporter Matthew Zemek wrote an article on how the psychology of sports is becoming more important at the Division 1 collegiate level. He went conference by conference and wrote the following:
Let's save the best for last shall we?
Even more than Mike Price at UTEP, this is the football team that, more than any other in America at the Division I-A collegiate level, affirms and validates the importance and centrality of psychology in college sports. Coach Dan Hawkins - whose desire to stay in Boise at the expense of higher-profile coaching jobs is a huge statement in its own right - is more serene, relaxed and free than any other coach in the country, with the possible exception of Pete Carroll at USC. Whereas Steve Spurrier (now once again a member of the college football coaching fraternity) has studied the ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu to get a psychological advantage before big games, Hawkins studies the same man to liberate the minds of his players within a positive motivational framework. Whereas many coaches - such as Spurrier himself - will use a negative motivational framework - i.e., telling his players what NOT to do - to get the most out of his team, Hawkins uses a much more positive technique in which he does a lot more esteem-building and personal empowerment. Empathic, affirming and praise-centered, Hawkins - a student of Eastern philosophy and Zen Buddhist spirituality (but who, unlike so-called "Zenmaster" Phil Jackson, doesn't dump a wife to marry the much younger and physically attractive woman in flashy Hollywood) - has used the serenity of Boise to create a program that, in its own sphere of competition, has been dominant over the past few seasons. No wonder Hawkins feels no pull to have to leave Boise for a sexier job. He is easily the reason why Boise State is the psychological colossus not just of the WAC, but of all college football teams not coached by Pete Carroll.
All you SEC fans reading this article are probably ready to vomit by now. You say your guys are bigger, stronger and faster, your weekly competition is better and by the way our coach is no slouch. For the last three years you have finished Top 10 and there is no way some success driven, psychologically motivated mid major is coming into our house and leaving with a win. You might be right, but I guarantee that just like Louisville, your team and your fans will come away with a respect similar to veteran SEC writer, Ron Higgins who was so impressed with Boise State's performance at The Liberty Bowl he wrote, "They just play with relentless confidence. If you score, they feel they're going to match you. There is no intimidation factor with them at all." Higgins believes the Broncos will carry that same mantra to Athens on September 3rd and so does this New York College football fan. Maybe I'll invite Governor Pataki over the house. Like me, he too is a huge Boise State fan! Go Broncos! Beat Georgia!