An open letter to America’s Best Coach …
Please forgive me. I doubted. Just for a moment. I said in private conversations and – I can’t believe I did this – on the radio that LSU had a chance.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. And no, it’s not a coincidence I said it three straight times.
See, even though I knew better, I had that moment when I thought everything I had learned about sports and coaches and players and human nature applied to you.
But you are one-of-a-kind. That’s why you were the subject of a recent story on “60 Minutes.” They realized they had better come examine this species before it became extinct.
Pretty amazing that you have your own statue right outside Bryant-Denny Stadium and you’re still coaching. It won’t ever be taken down – unless someone decides that the statue needs to be bigger. That could happen, too.
Anyway, Coach, let me try to explain why I got all twisted in my mind and spoke that blasphemy. I’ve been a sports fan all my life. Grew up in Kansas City. Celebrated the Chiefs’ victory in Super Bowl IV, back when the whole Roman Numerals thing was quaint. I’ve been waiting for the second Super Bowl victory ever since.
I love the job Andy’s doing in Kansas City this year and the Chiefs and their 9-0 record are a happy surprise. But I’m also sitting around waiting for the other cleat to drop. Because I’ve been conditioned for disappointment. Many bad seasons and long ago that goofy-looking Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian kicked a game-winning field goal to beat my Chiefs in the longest game (a playoff game) in NFL history. On Christmas Day!
Santa Claus is a fake and Garo Yepremian is for real; that’s a tough lesson for a kid all at once.
So, Saint Nick – seems only right I address you that way now – I come at sports from a very negative place. Yes, I’ve got the University of Memphis basketball coach, nice young fellow named Josh, trying to teach me differently. He tells me, his players, and everyone else, to listen to the “positive dog” and ignore the “negative dog.”
Then there’s the pro basketball coach in town. Nice young fellow named Dave. He’s having a tough time of it in his first season. Hasn’t quite mastered “The Process.” Can’t seem to tap into the intangibles yet, to get his team playing hard every night, much less every possession. But then he hasn’t been to visit and observe you at work, as far as I know. That other guy, Lionel, he did come see you a couple of years ago and sat in on meetings, practices, everything.
But it’s not just what I lived with in Kansas City or experience here in Memphis. Look at baseball. The Yankees aren’t exactly the Yankees anymore. It has been more than a decade since that fellow Joe led them to three straight World Series titles. And all the dominance in the NBA? Let’s be honest, it is tied to players named Michael, Kobe and LeBron. No disrespect to the Zen Master or that young whippersnapper Erik, but it’s way different than college basketball where the best player each year receives the Wooden Award.
I know. Everything I have told you can be filed under one heading: “Excuses.” You don’t do excuses and you don’t allow your assistant coaches or players, or even the fans – thou shalt not leave home games early – to make excuses, either.
So I’m turning over a new leaf. From this day forward I will write about sports as though I’m writing for you, Coach. I will treat every story, every paragraph, every sentence and every word as though it has a life of its own.
Put up a big Merriam-Webster Dictionary made of brick and, by gawd, I’ll run through it.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.