One of the best lessons I learned in football happened after a heart breaking loss in college. We were playing our rivals at home and it had been a really tough game against a great team. We had just scored with only 20 seconds left in the game to go ahead by 3 points. Now with 2 seconds left on the clock our opponents had the ball on their 40 yard line. Too far for a field goal, they had to go 60 yards to score. After our head coach called a time out, he put in a full prevent defense with multiple DB’s. Some of the DB’s just camped out on the goal line before the play started. As an offensive player I was on the sideline cheering with everyone in the stadium for our defense to close out the game and celebrate this win.
The play started and their QB scrambled and lofted a Hail Mary pass. It was the highest pass I had ever seen – it looked like a punt. It came down just outside the goal line and was tipped by several players and finally landed in the hands of a receiver in the end zone. They scored and won the game. We could not believe it… if you have ever experienced a loss like this you know what it feels like.
As our opponents celebrated I watched my teammates disappointment; heads down, some guys on their knees, some guys with tears, some guys with their mouths still open. As a captain I started on to the field after a few minutes to round up my teammates to shake the hands of our opponents. It was the last thing we felt like doing especially after a tough loss like this, but courage calls you to do the right thing.
One teammate couldn’t bring himself to shake hands and he was walking off the field towards our locker room. One of the Coaches, a rookie coach, called this players name (lets just call him ‘Peterson’). After coach called “Peterson” for the third time he added this comment: “Peterson, you’re a better man than that”. I watched my teammate stop, drop his head, and then slowly turn around and head back on the field to join us and shake the hands of our opponents.
I have used that simple message, ‘You’re a better man than that’ to this day to call out the better man in myself and to call out the better man in other players when they need a reminder to do the right thing – even when the right thing is hard.