Football has played a significant role in my life.
Twenty-five seasons worth and good Lord willing, still counting. Blessed with the privilege to play both high school and college ball. Coached youth and now coaching at the high school level. Its experiences and analogies fit into every aspect of my life. “Mesh point” is even part of my tag line.
So when the game’s lesson is compelling, I like to share it with you right here.
Now when I watch a game, home or away, I first immerse myself into it as a player. Then, my coach’s eyes begin to take over. Watching the box. Scrutinizing technique. Calling the plays. Foretelling adjustments. And a lot of talk directed towards the set or field. I really have to applaud my kids’ fortitude and perseverance for learning to endure game time when Coach Hahn is present.
Since game one of the 2018 season, I have been bitching about the fits and starts that came to identify the Bears offense. Not playing to their strengths. Too many three and outs. An over reliance on defense and special teams to change or maintain momentum. And a lack of finishing things in the end zone once in the red zone.
The first Sunday of the post season was no exception. And, I was in rare play-off form.
The game was a wonderful defensive effort punctuated by field goals and a sole TD for much of the game. It was a field position battle, with numerous three and outs for each team until well into the third quarter. That is when the Eagles began to figure things out and were moving the ball with purpose.
They were eating clock and I could sense things were shifting. And though he had scored all of their points at that stage of the game, I was growing concerned that Cody Parkey would have to win it in the end. Not so much that I did not think he could – despite his struggles with the left upright this season. My worry centered on margin of error. As time wore on, that window grew smaller. shrank. And my team was too young. It was not built that way yet.
My fears began to materialize. Possession for more than three plays at a time was increasingly problematic. The defense was solid but uncharacteristically error prone and exposed for a series. The level of pressure they were exerting on the offense was not what it had been all season. You could first see it – and then – feel it. And though the Bears finally put six on the board late in the contest, they could not muster the crucial two point cushion.
Those defending champs were on a mission. They responded with a touch down, sans the two-point conversion, giving them a tenuous lead with about a minute and change left. The Bears would have to respond with purpose to determine the fate of their 16 game 2018 season.
Now if I saw all this from the couch, I have to believe Cody and all of the players and coaches on the sidelines did too. They aren’t oblivious to the tenor and challenges of each play and series in the game, no matter their role. They know when momentum is with them, if they are being controlled and the magnitude of the margin of error.They are well acquainted with adversity.
You cannot shrink from it.
You have to grow into it. Lean in, embrace it, press forward, remain focused on the mission and stick together. As one.
If I saw these things since game one, I am sure Cody did too. These season long indicators were now pointing squarely at him and his leg. And though he already owned 9 of their 15 points, adding another three to the tally was well within his capabilities.
It was all coming together for that feared proverbial moment of truth.
With about five seconds on the clock, the margin of error ticked down to zero. The kick found the left upright – again – and the Bears lost. Fandom and media descended on Cody like the plague. He was mercilessly scorned, ridiculed, threatened with death – and memed – for letting his team and city down. And sadly, I took the easy route and followed the herd to grab a spot on the “you let me down” band wagon for the night.
Cody, on the other hand, displayed some rare character instantaneously from the abyss of despair. His “miss” crushed his team, organization and himself. Yet he faced the onslaught with courage, candor and commitment. He looked into the cameras, answered all the questions and addressed the world despite his anguish. Taking sole responsibility for the outcome.Though there were 52 others and coaches that had a hand in determining the team’s direction for the other 59:55 of the game, Cody stood up for all of them.
They knew they didn’t do their job to the best of their abilities. That this play call was a mistake. This penalty cost them momentum. Or I missed this block, tackle, route or hole.
They counted on him to carry the team and score 60% of the points when the execution was lacking all evening on both sides of the ball. Especially on the two point conversion that could have won the game.Then, as time wound down, another lack of preparation erased the margin for error. Somehow Treyvon Hester wasn’t accounted for or blocked.on the field goal attempt. He got the end of his hand on the ball.
And sent the 2018 season into the left upright.
Rather than shrinking from this awful moment, Cody grew bigger and poured himself into it. He faced down one of life’s worst brands of adversity: letting others down. He did it by leaning in. Embracing it. Pressing forward. Remaining focused on the mission. And sticking with his teammates. As one.
So perhaps they are young. And maybe his team is not yet built that way.
But one thing is certain.
He sure is.