Sunday, January 23, 2005

Team success

I’ve always been a sports guy. Growing up in a small town, sports were my salvation. Baseball allowed me to acquire confidence by giving me a pursuit where I excelled, particularly in high school. Being competitive, athletically-built and possessing a right arm that allowed me to throw a white sphere past most boys my age, allowed me a good measure of success through my high school years.

After high school, my experience with the realities of big time sports at the college level brought me face-to-face with what happens when you no longer can perform due to injury. Looking back, much of my desire for cooperation and community comes from my experiences of team sports. The learned sacrifice that is so important for the success of one’s team—acquiring the ability to put aside what’s best for the individual to coalesce into a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts—I know it sounds corny, but I’ve seen its success firsthand over the years of playing and later, as a coach.

Over the past few years, I’ve lost interest in much of what passes for professional sports. While I coach a group of college-age baseball players every summer, I couldn’t get excited about this year’s Red Sox finally putting away “the curse” and winning the World Series. The same is true about basketball and hockey. While I followed professional football and the old Boston Patriots when I was as young as eight or nine, I have lost interest in pro football over the past decade or so. Occasionally, I’ll read an article in The Globe about the team and its recent successes. I am aware that Coach Bill Belichick has assembled a team in the truest sense of the word. The current Patriots play old-time football and embody the concept of self-sacrifice that I speak of from my experiences. That’s not easy to do in a world of professional sports that has been overrun by corporate interests bastardizing the simplicity of sports that we learned as children.

On Friday, I drove to visit my son at college. He attends Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, which is about 10 miles away from Gillette Stadium, the home of the Patriots. I had never driven through Foxborough, or had seen the stadium up close, so I got off the Interstate a few exits early just to drive by the complex where the Pats play. Like so often happens, I have become intrigued by the historical machinations of how the team came to be located out in this remote area of Massachusetts—Foxborough is basically a drive through community on U.S. Rte 1—between Boston and Providence. In the early days of the Patriots, they were based in Boston and even played their games at Fenway Park from 1963-1969, before relocating to suburban Foxborough.

I say all of this to introduce an article in today’s Boston Globe about Willie McGinest, who plays defensive end for the Patriots. The article highlights the humility of a man who plays a sport that prefers flamboyance and celebration to quiet acts of sacrifice. It shows that regardless of the culture around us, dignity and humanity can still flourish. This gives me hope, in light of our dominant culture that seeks to extinguish those very elements from our DNA.

The sucker in me for human interest stories will probably have me sitting in front of my TV tonight. I’ll be watching the actions of #55 for New England, as they play Pittsburgh in this evening’s post-blizzard contest in the Steel City.

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