Dealing with my two mini-me clones

My oldest son wanted to get in and get out of the store. He couldn’t wait to try the running shoes on, make sure they fit like he expected, and get back home. The clerk asked him a few questions about fit and color. He grunted yes in response, got what he needed, and was done in less than five minutes.   

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My youngest son wanted to participate in the “whole experience.” He’s running track and field for his middle school for the first time and wanted to make sure that he took full advantage of the shoe-shopping opportunity. He wanted to try on every shoe in the store. And then he really wanted to get down to business and to compare Shoe A vs. Shoe B.

If I had let him, I’m pretty sure he would have grilled the sales woman on the weight of each running shoe, composite materials, and a host of other details. If he would have had his druthers, we would’ve turned the shopping trip into a day-long experience to check out other stores and the host of other running shoes on the market.

Talk about two different personalities.

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Selfish play

I’m not much of a betting man. When I was 8, I traded away a 1975 Roberto Clemente baseball card, now valued anywhere from $20 to $700, and I learned the hard way that betting and bartering have consequences.

However, I’ll bet a small fortune that come Sunday in Super Bowl LI one fortunate wide receiver or running back for either the Atlanta Falcons or New England Patriots will run a short corner route and leap up and make the game winning touchdown catch. He’ll thump his chest like he just beat the other team all on his own. He’ll strut and gloat over top of the defensive back on the ground, play some more to the camera, and then finally spike the ball.

It could be a star player or a player you’ve never heard of in your life. It won’t matter.

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Into each life some rain must fall

Whether or not you follow professional sports, it was hard to miss the Chicago Cubs swarming the field last Wednesday night and the happiness they brought to their fans.

Tears of joy flooded many player’s eyes as they jumped up and down like little kids. For all intents and purposes, they could have been a bunch of 12-year-olds who just won the local Little League Baseball Tournament.

In one magical moment, the Cubs had erased 108 years of frustration. A hundred and eight years of pain. A hundred and eight years of agony.

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The NFL: Thumbing its nose at fans

The National Football League sneezes and it coughs up tens of millions of dollars. The moneymaker that is the National Football League  kicks off its 97th season tonight, when the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Denver Broncos, take on the Carolina Panthers.

The NFL is as popular as ever. Last year, 205 million Americans watched at least one NFL game, representing 70 percent of the potential TV viewers in America, dwarfing  viewership for any other type of programming.

While exciting as it is to have football back, I found myself wondering if there is anything that could derail the behemoth that the NFL has become? I can’t think of much. However, I’m finding that the NFL seems to invent new and creative ways to upset its fan base.

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Passing the ball: Celebrating everyday sacrifices for the good of the team

We as a society celebrate athletic excellence: the last second shot, the game winning touchdown. We rarely celebrate the hard work and the behind-the-scenes steps leading up to the game-winning act.

The day after the Villanova University Wildcats won the NCAA National Championship over Goliath-like University of North Carolina, The New York Times detailed how Ryan Arcidiacono raced up the side of the court with less than five seconds with a plan in mind.

“He dribbled up the court thinking, ‘I’m going to shoot this!’ Then he took the ball — and passed it.”

Arcidiacono found teammate Kris Jenkins off by himself and passed the ball. Jenkins caught the ball and then let the ball fly in a perfect arch, swishing it through the net. Jenkins and the Wildcat faithful went wild, celebrating their first National Championship since 1985.

Most people rightfully so touted Jenkins game-winning shot. If Jenkins put up an air-ball or clanked it off the side, the Philadelphia media, social media, and all the people talking about the game at work and at the gym would be talking about something altogether different. Jenkins should be celebrated.

However, I must admit that I’m a bigger fan of the smaller almost insignificant moves that led up to Jenkin’s shot, most importantly that Arcidiacono gave up his own chance for immortality, instead opting to pass the ball.

In short, I’m a fan of the team player: The player who finds the open shot, rather than shoots himself; the football player who gives himself up to block, opening up a whole for a teammate to score the winning touchdown; the baseball player who puts down a sacrifice bunt, moving up a runner into scoring position.

I’m a bigger fan these workmanlike moves in normal, everyday life: The coworker who skips lunch to offer feedback on a draft presentation so that you can look your best in front of your boss; the friend who gives up their own free time to take you out to lunch and lets you vent over work or the kids; the mother who gets up early every Saturday morning to cart one son to play practice and another to track practice so that they can participate in an afterschool activity, let off some steam, and improve themselves.

I find these actions fascinating. In this day and age, where me is more important than we, where athletes seem to care more about the name on the back, then the name on the front, I love reading about these unselfish acts.

When asked about the pass after the game, Arcidiacono said, “I saw Kris was open and I just did what we do.”

I’m sure that most people will forget all about Arcidiacono’s pass in day or two. I won’t be one of them.

Who is the loser now?

I messed up.

Several years ago, I was competing against a coworker for a prized promotion. We both knew who was in the running and that it came down who did the best on a project that we had been assigned. Unfortunately, I made a mistake, an error, at the wrong time and I didn’t get the outcome I wanted.

In Carolina Panther Quarterback Cam Newton’s world, I should have sulked and been a sore loser. I should have hit a wall in anger and made life miserable for everyone around me including my friend and coworker, who ended up getting the prized position.

I could be taking Newton’s words too far, but I doubt it. After critics questioned last week his behavior after the Super Bowl 50 loss, he said, “I hate losing. You show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” Newton said.

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I’m picking on Newton, but many high profile athletes today and even legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who first phrased the quote that Newton stole, have it all wrong. Yes, like them, I consider myself extremely competitive. I want to be the best at everything I do. I want to be the best husband and father. The best worker. The best writer. The best Monopoly player. It doesn’t matter. I like to win. When I enter a 5k race —  small or big, no matter the cause or charity —I want to beat every other back-of-the-pack runner like me that I can. I think that’s natural.

But losing and failure has its place. I would change Newton’s quote to say “show me a sore loser and I’ll show a spoiled brat, more concerned about themselves than the rest of the team.”

No one wants to lose. No one wants to put in countless hours of practice and preparation and walk off the field or conference room or court room with the emptiness that comes with losing. We all want to win.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way and many times there can be only winner. (And I’m not trying to say that I think everyone else who comes in next should get a “participation trophy.” I’m not saying that either.)

However, in my mind, the winner is the one who recognizes the lessons that comes with not coming in first. The winner is the one who recognizes where they need to improve, who gets back up on the bike or saddle and works double over the summer to get better, comes back prepared and battles to win the next Super Bowl.

To me those are the real winners.

medal-390549_1280Instead of Newton’s or Lombardi’s comments, I find solace in the advice of Olympic gold medal winner and civil rights and women’s rights pioneer Wilma Rudolph. She said: “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be champion someday.”

Or even Michael Jordan’s often quoted comment: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Our culture is obsessed with winning. We love our winners and love to trample on the losers. I get that winning is good, but Michael Jordan played on just six championship teams. Does that mean he was a loser, a never-was, a has-been, the other nine years?

I don’t think so.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if Carolina Panthers’ and Newton fail to understand why they lost against the Denver Broncos and improve on those areas, they’ll never win a Super Bowl with Newton as quarterback.

And by the way, that job I missed out on, I sought out the advice of mentors, former supervisors, coworkers and others around me. I got their critical input on areas that I needed to develop and I ended up getting an even better job six months later and succeeded in ways that I never would have expected. I learned from my “failure” and in the long run became a better person.

If that makes me a loser, then so be it!

Super Bowl 50: A get-together unlike any other

When the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers line up across from each other tomorrow evening for Super Bowl 50, a number of records will be broken. CBS expects 189 million people will watch the game in the U.S. and around the world and increased the average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl to a record high of $5 million (that’s $166,666 per second). Tickets to the game started at $850, but the average secondary market price — if you can get them — is running fans more than $5,000.

I love football.

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I’m a lover of a good story, so I love the stories, both big and small, that come out of the game each year. Who will win: power, speed, or the one who’s best able to outsmart the other? Or will it be the one who’s best at keeping their composure in the most stressful of circumstances?

This year the story lines are no different: Will Peyton Manning retire and walk away from the game at the end of the year? Will Cam Newton find a way to get past Denver’s number one ranked defense?

The media seems to go on-and-on with stories. Will Coldplay and Beyoncé live up to past Super Bowl halftime shows? Will the Left Shark from Katy Perry’s halftime show last year make another appearance?

But I’ve found lately that I’ve been thinking about the stories not covered. What if 189 million people were focused on something other than just a little brown pigskin? What amazing things could we accomplish? Think about it.

If we were able to focus those resources on something else, we could:

  • Focus people’s time and energies to curing cancer, AIDS, diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, etc., etc., etc.
  • Work together to end poverty and bring about world peace.
  • Get everyone in the U.S. involved in the electoral process and elect people of honor and courage instead of the foolish and contemptible presidential candidates from both parties that we have today.
  • Build enough homes through Habitat for Humanity in every large city in the country to take a big swipe out the homeless and low cost housing problem that grips so many cities.
  • Find a way to invent a wand and a spell straight from the book series Harry Potter that will clean my kitchen, make my bed, and complete my project at work with the mere flip of my wrist.
  • Find a way to invent a beer that tastes like a German beer or better yet a Guinness, but is good for you and has next to no calories compared to the limp tasting light beer that floods the market today.

I know, I know there’s plenty of things we could focus all that brainpower, but it’s a start. And yes, I know that I am dreaming, but I do take heart in the knowledge that the Super Bowl is one of the few events throughout the year that brings people together, no matter your race, religious background, sexual preference, both avid fan and nonfan more interested in watching just the commercials, and even rooting tastes.

The Super Bowl in many respects is very much a national holiday because even with all the hype and craziness, it brings families and friends together. Take away the turkey and the stuff and the Super Bowl is a miniature winter version of Thanksgiving.

So when the game starts on Sunday 6:30 ET on CBS, I’ll be glad that the New England Patriots are home (just like me) and I’ll be thinking of new ways to bring everyone together for “good.”

I’ll also be counting the days until the next Super Bowl, when hopefully the Philadelphia Eagles get their act together and win their first championship since 1960.

Go E-A-G-L-E-S.