The Gridiron: Home of the Muse
Over the past several decades, many people involved with football have waxed philosophic on the meanings of things that occur on and off the field. Recently, I spent several enjoyable hours immersed in late-night research, uncovering a goldmine of football-related quips and quotes. I have selected the ones that I most appreciated, and have assimilated them here for you.
As Richard Linde (aka Malamute) wrote:
"As someone once said, sports are nothing more than the toy department, located in the department store of life."
There are different categories to break these into. First off we can start with coaches who have set a high standard for what it means to succeed. For coaches, I believe that there is a difference between the NFL and college ranks, in terms of mentality. Someone like Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, who said, "A good coach makes his players see what they can be, rather than what they are", can illustrate this.
Contrast this to the harsher realities of the NFL, depicted with this quote from Vince Lombardi:
"I don't build character. I eliminate the people who don't have it."
In panning for gold quotes, I had to sift through and discard countless quotes of people who depicted football as a game of Neanderthals beating each other up on a muddy field. It is true there is a high level of physical contact. However, I particularly liked this counter-argument from Don DeLillo, which framed the reality on the field:
"A lot of cynical people stress the violence. That's the smallest part of it. Football is brutal only from a distance. In the middle of it there's a calm, a tranquility. The players accept pain. There's a sense of order even at the end of a running play with bodies strewn everywhere. When the systems interlock, there's a satisfaction to the game that can't be duplicated. There's a harmony."
There is also a cynicism about players not being concerned with their studies. But there are many examples of players who make academics a top priority. There even exist examples of coaches of rival schools showing sympathy to the other when a crisis occurs to impede studies. Take Steve Spurrier, who in 1991 was talking to his Florida Gator fans about a dorm fire at Auburn that had destroyed 20 books. Said Spurrier:
"The real tragedy was that 15 hadn't been colored yet."
Sometimes a coach needs to utter the right words that help a player focus on what is important. As UW place-kicker John Anderson prepared to kick a field goal that could beat USC in 2001, coach Rick Neuheisel had a practical approach:
"I told him, 'don't hurry it, relax and enjoy this. This is what you are here for.' I smiled and then went back to feeling as nervous as I could be."
Washington won 27-24.
There are also strong lessons to be learned from people who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. I love this timeless quote:
"The day you take complete responsibility for yourself, the day you stop making any excuses, that's the day you start to the top."
So said OJ Simpson, once upon a time.
Other times, a coach realizes that his team has reached a certain level, and is deserving of accolades and acknowledgement. This particular quote from UCLA coach Bob Toledo illustrates this point well. His Bruins had just bludgeoned Washington 35-13 on national TV. Said Toledo:
"We needed to make a statement today, and we did that. I think we showed the country that we have a good football team. A lot of people questioned us during the first four games, but I don't think they'll question us anymore."
Soon after, his Bruins would embark on a four-game losing streak and end up not going to a bowl game.
College football is a game that involves recruiting. It can be actually reassuring, and even heartwarming, when a parent subtly (or not so subtly) interjects their influence into the process. They are present to insure that the proper lessons of life are being taught to their impressionable 18-year olds. As the parenting books say, it's all about consistency in what you tell them. Take Kellen Winslow, Sr. as an example. Winslow overruled his son when he wanted to become a Husky. Senior felt that Washington was not as culturally diverse as he would've preferred. Instead, he wanted his son to attend Michigan State, who employs Bobby Williams as their head coach. After a private go-round, he and his son compromised on Miami. Said Senior:
"I tell my son that you don't choose a school just because its head coach is black. But all things being equal, the fact that there are persons of color in positions of authority there, I get excited about that. I have no qualms telling you that if I were being recruited right now, I'd go to Michigan State or Stanford."
The game of football has certainly changed from the manner it was played thirty or forty years ago. With the blossoming of TV contracts 20 years ago, it has become much more of a "showtime" atmosphere. Players love to mug for the cameras, especially after quarterback sacks or touchdowns. UW coach Don James used to tell players who danced in the end zone after a touchdown:
"Act like you've been there before."
Others are a bit more colorful, such as Dennis Miller who was commentating during a Monday Night game:
"Big deal, so he scored . . . The last time I saw someone dance like that I had to pay her $20 and have my pants dry cleaned the next day."
Sometimes the players seem demonstrative in other ways, as again evidenced by Miller:
"Is it just me, or are the 49ers doing an awful lot of ass-patting today?"
Or last but not least (completing the Dennis Miller Trifecta):
"That kid's got an arm like Uncle Fester at an exhibition of Pre-Colombian . . . um, Christ, I lost it. I was going for something thick. So what's with the beard, Grizzly Fouts?"
Good save, Dennis.
Sometimes it seems like absolutely nothing can go right. Does anyone remember that place kicker from last year that tore up his knee while celebrating a winning field goal?? Or try this on for size: a quote from Mike McCormack , coach of the hapless Baltimore Colts in 1981. It was after the team's co-captain, offensive guard Robert Pratt, pulled a hamstring running onto the field for the coin toss against St. Louis. Said McCormack:
"I'm going to send the injured reserve players out for the toss next time."
Finally, the true test of a quote can be that it features someone inspiring to look to as an example. Said Coach Neuheisel of Marques Tuiasosopo, following the 2001 Rose Bowl:
"He is the absolute epitome of what a quarterback should be. He hurt his shoulder, he came back in there and said he could play. The rest, as they say, is history,"
The true test of a quote is whether or not it helps people better understand their circumstances, or inspires them to action. I really like this last one from Vince Lombardi:
"The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it."
After the devastating loss to Michigan, I'd like to see that one applied to this year's Washington Husky team.
Derek Johnson can be reached at email@example.com