On Monday, I had my heart broken. It was a painful experience and having my family in the room was all that stopped me from starting to cry. Swearing and whiskey were acceptable forms of sorrow, but crying was off limits. I had to hold back.
The Ducks did not win the national championship.
My mother tells me that I first went to Autzen Stadium when I was still in the womb. I grew up surrounded by University of Oregon fans, as most of my family had gone to school there. My grandfather lived in Eugene and we spent time there every summer. I got my undergraduate degree from U of O. I’ve had season tickets to Ducks games and have gone to single games since I graduated. I watch every game unless there is a major conflict.
In fact, a few years ago I wore an earpiece at a wedding that Meghaan was singing at. I only took it out to listen to her performance, and then I put it back in walked around the corner to a bar before the wedding was over to catch the end of the game against LSU. In that same wedding, I had a piece of green and yellow fabric that I bought at the JoAnn’s next to my hotel tucked into my shirt, in a really awful attempt at a pocket square.
I know you don’t believe that this actually happened.
But it did.
I love my Ducks. (Shoutout to fellow CHS alum Jamie Slade and Supwitchugirl for this Ducks classic)
And on Monday, they didn’t win a football game.
I’m being very deliberate with my wording there.
They didn’t win. But they didn’t lose.
Losing is a powerful idea. And, in my opinion, a dangerous term to throw around without caution. Especially with kids.
Let me remind everyone that college football players are between the ages of 18 and 24.
That means they are kids. Kids playing a football game.
As a teacher and a coach, I have to be very careful to not talk about losses. It happens more often in a coaching sense, as math doesn’t really come down to wins and losses. But math does deal in terms of success and failure, which is the same idea.
My first year as head cross country coach at Columbia River was a dream season. The boys went undefeated in league meets, with the league title coming down to the last meet of the year- the Camas Papermakers. We had always struggled against Camas, and this year would be no different. But our team was scrappy and we battled until the final step, defeating the Papermakers by an incredibly slim 7-point margin.
This Camas team was coached by Mike Hickey, who you may have heard of. If not, he’s the genius who has helped propel Alexa Efraimson to her status as a professional runner although she has not even graduated from high school. He is an incredible coach. So to coach a team that could defeat his was a HUGE achievement, in my eyes.
My boys went on to win the district meet that year. And then the regional meet. Finally, they took 10th at state, which was the best finish for our school in over a decade.
That season, we thought we were winners. And not without reason. We had achieved a lot, especially considering our top kid was hurt for the majority of the season.
But the next season, things were different.
We lost to Camas. And then we took second at the regional meet.
The boys talked about failure and disappointment. They talked about how they lost. And they said it like it was nothing.
I had to remind them that one meet or one month or even one full season cannot define you as a loser. You have to look at your entire body of work, and then decide if you are doing everything you can to be a winner. And based on what we had already done, we were winners, in the eyes of so many.
Some of them finally realized they were not losers. Not even close.
The same goes for the University of Oregon Ducks, and my personal hero, Marcus Mariota.
People talk about the Ducks and how they have not won a national championship.
If all you hope for is to be the absolute best in the world at something, you will always be disappointed. But if you try to be the best that you can be, you will always be a success. It may sound corny but it is so true.
Look at where the Ducks are right now. And look back at where they have been.
You can’t say that all that matters is a title. That’s a recipe for disaster. Especially if your kids are listening.
I think it’s important to stress that we all need to strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, and that means a lot more than having a job that pays you a lot of money or being a world champion or finding fame.
This last cross country season was our “worst” season, if you only look at numbers. The boys took 5th at the regional meet and didn’t crack the top-10 at state for the first time in my tenure as head coach. But it has been the best season of my career. I have never laughed so much or been so enthralled in what I have seen or heard from a group of skinny, stinky, nerdy teenagers. And to me, they are absolute winners.
Winning comes down to more than your record. And the Ducks and especially Marcus Mariota are winners. You cannot convince me otherwise.
Lela may never see the Ducks, or the Blazers, or her dad win a title. She may never win a single competition she enters.
But if I’ve done my job, she will know that she has never lost. Just as long as she always does her best.