During a recent baseball game between the University of Florida and Vanderbilt University, the Gator pitcher struck out a Commodore batter to end the 5th inning. In celebration, the pitcher stomped off toward the dugout, fists clenched and screaming as if he had just struck oil on the mound with his spikes.
Sports are humbling. Baseball in particular is a game of failure, and since it will be your turn to fail soon enough, you might want to show a little humility and a little respect for your opponent. You may want to act as if you expect to have success. Act as if you actually struck out someone before.
The coolest victorious moment that I’ve ever seen in sports did not involve any dancing, fist pumping, bat flipping, ball spiking, high-fiving, or primal screaming. Actually, I didn’t witness it, but discovered it in a photograph taken immediately after Alan Ameche plunged into the end zone to give the Baltimore Colts the 1958 World’s Championship in sudden death. This was the game that put the NFL on the sports map, and most football fans are familiar with this photo:
But it’s this photo (or my photo of the photo) that captures what cool is all about. There’s Johnny Unitas, the Colt quarterback, who has just led his team down the field for the winning score, in the lower right. Not only is he making no gesture, he’s not even heading toward his teammate, Ameche, who is still lying on the ground. Notice that the fans haven’t yet stormed the field, so this is immediately after the winning score. But, there goes John, just walking off the field. He expected to win. He did his job, and that was all the satisfaction that he needed. Of course, his generation was used to doing the job that needed to be done. Unitas’ teammate, Gino Marchetti was a machine gunner during the Battle of the Bulge. Colt defensive lineman Art Donovan served in the Pacific as a member of the Marine Corps and participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Then, there is this story sent to me by a good friend just last week:
75 years ago on this day, Stalag VII-A, the largest Nazi POW camp of WW2, was liberated by the US Army’s 14th Armored Division. Among The Liberators was my grandfather James Taibi, Staff Sergeant, D Troop, 94th Recon Squadron Mechanized, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions that day. “For gallantry in action near Moosberg, Germany on Apr 29, 1945. Leading his column toward the town Sergeant Taibi encountered entrenched enemy positions of unknown strength. Deciding to push on despite the increasing intensity of hostile automatic weapons fire, and without consideration for his own safety, he exposed himself to man his gun turret. In the ensuing fire fight, though wounded and despite waning consciousness, he continued firing, clinging to his gun, and account for fifteen enemy dead. Sergeant Taibi’s sheer courage and unselfish devotion to duty reflect credit upon himself and is in keeping with the highest military standards.” At the time of its liberation, there were 76,248 prisoners in the main camp and another 40,000 in Arbeitskommando working on factories, repairing railroads or on farms.
“. . . though wounded and despite waning consciousness, he continued firing . . .”
Kind of puts into perspective striking out a guy in the 5th inning.
I hold out hope that one day a high-profile athlete will make a spectacular play and then head off the field, the non-gesture starting a new trend. When you are so secure in your own talent that you do not need to celebrate it, then you are the coolest cat in the stadium. The only other thing as cool is if your sense of duty compels you to complete your job “or die trying,” which was not simply a figure of speech for Sgt. Taibi.