Month: December 2013

Finding My Team

We are 8-5.  Eight of the games have been decided on the final possession, and we are 5-3 in those games.  We are above mediocrity,  but miles from greatness.  I have said the right things, but have too often missed the tone.  I am struggling to find my team.

Teams are collections of people and thus imperfect.  A puzzle assembled around strengths while concealing weakness.  Strength against one opponent is weakness against another so the balance is fluid.  We have won our last two games, and I hope found a balance.

Mainly, we play as disjointed individuals and not a connected unit.  There has been a fundamental selfishness, likely rooted in a lack of experience and trust on both ends of the floor.  This must be accepted and owned to be overcome.  Though I have likely over emphasized this shortcoming at the expense of building a passion to play and compete.

We do not play for two weeks, but I am reflecting and we will be practicing during that time.  We will build on recent success and strive to find our identity.

Jaboo and Johnny Football

On Labor Day, I joined a few other euphoric Florida State fans in the midst of a 25/27 debut and proclaimed Jameis Winston the Heisman Trophy winner. Shortly thereafter, a handwritten notebook page of quarterbacking qualities authored by Winston circulated through the media, and it struck me that Jaboo was being positioned as the anti-Johnny Football, a charming country boy with prodigious talent and character beyond reproach replacing the spoiled brat with prodigious talent and dubious character.

Three months later, Jaboo became the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Johnny Football was the first, but this year he had only the fifth best vote tally. Jaboo is a deserving winner, but Johnny Football would be second in my estimation. This isn’t about the Heisman as much as it’s about how we perceive people in the public eye because as the season unfolded, Jaboo’s greatest competition during the stretch run to the Heisman wasn’t another player, but the prospect of a sexual assault charge against him. He was not charged, but 115 Heisman voters declined to vote for him and the incident will remain a reference point against which all his future conduct will be measured. He said in winning the award the child inside him died, and gave life to a man.

Men are complicated. They are not black and white, good or bad. They are vessels navigating the turbulent sea of life simultaneously close to capsizing and finding safe harbor. They are fueled by ambition and testosterone, tethered by family, friends and faith, and tested by competition and temptation.

Johnny Football put up over 500 yards of offense against vaunted Alabama in September, but lost four games down the stretch fighting injuries and incompetence on defense. He never shrank from the moment on the field, and my favorite image of this college football season was after he hurt his shoulder against Auburn and tried to throw a football on the sideline. As he started his throwing motion, the pain shot from his shoulder to his toes and likely the top of his hair. He couldn’t do it. He walked down the tunnel to the locker room, and was likely shot up with a pain killer and returned to the game to lead his team downfield for a potential game-winning drive. He was sacked on 4th and long. A & M lost, but Johnny Football became immortal for me.

He carried a weight all season. A weight of expectation that in the long months between games seemed to get the best of him. He was chippy and imprudent coming into the season, and that made many people want to see him fail. It gave us the need for Jaboo, the white hat to Johnny Football’s black one.

Johnny Football will likely, and hopefully, enter the NFL draft this spring. From that point forward, he will be measured primarily by his ability move a football team up and down the field and win games, especially in January and February. If he can do that, he will end up in Canton. If he can’t, he will be maligned for a time, but ultimately forgotten, but for a few college highlight videos.

Jaboo is stuck. He is not eligible for the NFL draft for another year. Instead, he inherits Johnny Football’s black hat. He will be burdened by expectation of on field greatness and scrutinized unlike any other player in college football. Every player in college football’s accomplishments will be measured against his gold standard. Anything short of what he has done this season, will be perceived as failure. Then he will follow Johnny Football into the NFL and be measured in the same manner.

For me, Jaboo and Johnny Football are transcendent college football players that should be appreciated for that talent without the need to read good or bad into their actions. They like all of us are flawed and prone to bad judgment, but unlike most of us their judgments are exposed for all of us to see and judge.

Praise for Jimbo

Florida State’s Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy last night. During his acceptance speech, the camera caught a teary-eyed head coach Jimbo Fisher. It was my favorite moment of the night. I like Jimbo, and have since he set foot on campus as offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting. At times, I have found his game plans flawed on the side of caution and his game management shaky, but he spoke a different language than Bobby Bowden, who’s jovial country bumpkin feigned humility had worn painfully thin for me under a recurrent tide of 2000’s mediocrity.

You can’t be named Jimbo and be without some bumpkin, but Jimbo spoke honestly of the present while projecting to the future. His football-speak sprung from a foundation of transcendent life lessons. He spoke the language of leadership.

He did not disappoint last night, “The true mark of a man is when you have your own individual issues, but you have a team to lead like a family, and he never let those get in the way of the rest of our players reaching their goals as a team. Just to know what he went through to get up there on that stage, sometimes as a coach It just hits you. To me, that’s why you’re in coaching, to watch them grow and achieve the things you know they’re capable of when there are odds against them. There’s no age limit on being a great player.”

This language is the tool primarily responsible for his success at Florida State where he has seamlessly taken over for a coaching legend without slippage in recruiting and while forging a stronger team culture bereft of mental mistakes and behavioral miscues so responsible for past failures. This team has been a joy to watch and the fruit of Fisher’s labor.

Six in Six

Tonight marks the end of a six games in six days run for Bryson Pink, and I am celebrating with a retro re-cap.

Wednesday night Bryson starts at left wing for the Winter Springs Bears against Lake Brantley.  He is very active and the team plays some good soccer for the first twenty minutes.  Aesthetically,  it doesn’t get any better, but the Springs earn a much-needed 3-1 win.  Bryson logs 52 minutes on both wings and as a holding midfielder.  
Shortly after 9pm, we are on the road to Bradenton for Super Y Nationals with FC America.  The always reliable Mike Kemp has secured the hotel room and leaves our key on top of his right rear tire in the parking lot as he is apparently prone to falling asleep before midnight.  We arrive at 11:20pm, find the key and find Mike awake celebrating a minutes-old North Carolina win over top-ranked Michigan State.  Bryson passes out before making much of a contribution to the conversation.

6:00am the alarm sounds, and Kemp is standing on the foot of my bed.  I feel violated.  The hotel breakfast is a monumental disappointment as the processed eggs are filled with cheese and there is no crispy bacon or chocolate milk. 

We reach the fields by 7:15am, and find ourselves on an isolated field pitted against the tournament favorite BW Gotchee from New York.  Our team is a shadow of it’s former self having lost seven players to Academy soccer.   Within the first five minutes it is obvious we need to park the bus in front of the goal and play for the draw.  The strategy held for 45 minutes before falling to a three goal charge that substantially impaired our ability to get out of group play.

The 8:00am kick off left us with plenty of time to kill.  We had lunch and watched a few games.  The highlight was our impromptu invasion of the new IMG football complex to kick field goals and run some routes.   We hit Applebees later that night for some food and laughs.

Friday saw the sun rise just before we did for another 8:00am kick off against a team from Washington DC.  They were average and we built a 2-0 lead midway through the second half.  A mishandled shot and an own goal during a disastrous three minute stretch doomed us to a tie and mathematical elimination.

We drove back to Orlando after the game so I could work and practice with my basketball team.  Saturday we drive back to Bradenton for our final group game against a team from Maine thay we drew last year at Nationals.  The game started with a dubious penalty to the Northerners, but we equalized a minute later before grabbing a lead later.  The game seemed destined for a victory until our second own goal in as many days tied it at 2.  The result stood.

On Sunday, we were back at IMG for a consolation game against a team from Virginia.   We started with the life of a corpse and trailed 2-0 after 15 minutes.   We pulled one back before the half, and mor importantly seemed to be bossing the game.  We added two more goals in the second and held on to win 3-2 after a series of near-misses by our opponents.

Tonight, Bryson was back in a Bears uniform for a 4-0 win over Seminole.  He played 65 minutes in midfield,  and did well.

Tomorrow practice at 3:45pm.  Soccer life.

What is a Great Game?

On Monday night I returned to Winter Springs for the first time since being unceremoniously fired with my Lake Howell Silverhawks for a clash against my good friend Logan Malmberg.  We played a back and forth game where neither team led by more than five points.  In the end, we had the ball down two with six seconds and a chance to tie or win, but turned it over. 

Winter Springs 54 Lake Howell 52.

My guys fought hard and as we left the court that night, I felt we had lost a pretty good basketball game.  That general feeling held until I watched the video.  We turned the ball over 26 times, surrendered 21 offensive, missed 15 free thows, shot 25% from three point range and failed to execute in several defining sequences of play.  For their part, Winter Springs turned the ball over at an alarming rate, shot poorly (necessitating the 21 offensive rebounds) and missed several free throws that would have put the game out of reach well before the final six seconds.  Ultimately,  it was a game decided more on mistakes than execution.

The same should be said of yesterday’s Iron Bowl.  In the immediate aftermath,  I received several texts and my twitter timeline exploded with “great” and “awesome”.  I was sick to my stomach with the result and the flashpoint analysis.

Alabama missed two field goals and had a third blocked leading up to the final minutes.  The field goal unit fiasco induced Bama to bypass an otherwise chip shot 27 yard field goal that would have given them a ten point lead.  They were stuffed on fourth and one.

Auburn responded with a genuine bit of brilliance on the tying 35 yard option pass for touchdown.

Alabama ran two draw plays to reach the Auburn 39 with one second left.  Having already disregarded his kicking game the on previous possession, I fully anticipated a hail mary pass that would win the game for the Tide or send it to overtime.  Improbably, Saban sent out the deplorable field goal unit to try a 57 yarder.  Auburn dropped a player to the endzone to field the kick if it fell short, and we all know what happened next.

In the context of the game, I felt it was the stupidest call in football history.  After a night of fitful sleep, I recede only slightly.  The liklihood of the Alabama field goal unit kicking that field goal was minimal, the risk of a return on an attempt of that distance was real, and the Alabama field goal unit was ill-equipped to cover such a scenario.

In total, the brilliance of the two fourth quarter touchdowns is not offset by the ineptitude and faulty decision making that ultimately determined this game preventing it from being a great game.

Great games occur when competitive pride and precise execution under duress meet.