I love team sports. Playing, watching, coaching, it doesn’t matter. Mostly, I love what team sports show us about our character and who we are as human beings.
The two NFL conference championships played last weekend were thrilling to witness yet both turned on individual mistakes. In one game, a kicker missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds to leave the Baltimore Ravens just short of the Super Bowl. In the other, a punt returner twice fumbled away glory for his team, the San Francisco 49’ers.
Read any commentary you can find about how those two teams handled themselves afterwards and you will be suitably impressed by the pride, maturity, kindness, and solidarity that the players and coaches demonstrated. Their positive behavior reminds us that amidst all of the high profile, high-flying, highly-paid, professional athletes are lots of really good young men and women.
Which reminds me of a story about two of them…
Back in the 90’s, when the Redskins were regularly at the top of the football ranks (and I was a huge fan), I was riding my bicycle literally thousands of miles each year. I wasn’t a fast rider, but I was a strong one that could easily do twenty miles of commuting on a weekday basis and fifty miles or more on weekend days.
One nice spring afternoon as I was riding home from work—on a route that passes close to the Redskins training facility—I was joined by two big men who dwarfed me and the bikes they were riding. I knew instantly who they were, but rather than get overwhelmed by their fame, I did what all good cyclists do. I let them grab a wheel and then I paced them over the next four or five miles.
In my mind I was giving them a good, hard workout, but since I couldn’t see them I had no idea whether they were even breathing hard. It certainly would have been easier on me to draft behind them, given the size difference, and it would have been simple for me to take a back seat given their celebrity, but it was a unique opportunity for me to take as the ride leader and I took it.
When we reached my turn for home, we stopped for a moment. I reached for a handshake not knowing what else to do or say because I’m terrible at brushes with fame.
“I’m Art,” said one, “and this is Monte. Thanks, man.” And we shook. And we went our separate ways. That’s it. No show. No brush off. No attitude. Just two good guys I now sort of know.
Art Monk, wide receiver, NFL Hall of Fame, Class of 2008. Monte Coleman, linebacker, selected as one of the 70 greatest Redskins of all time in 2002, the team’s 70th anniversary.