Youthful Joy

It’s a rainy fall Saturday afternoon in 1970. I’m 10 years old. My friend Chris and I are at my father’s furniture store in Ft. Worth. Rambunctious fifth graders jumping on sofas and beds. Skipping between dining room tables playing paper football. First one to 100 wins.

In those days, there was only one college football game on TV each week. On the radio is a UT football game. Probably Rice. Maybe Baylor. The Longhorns are defending national champions. Riding a 25-game winning streak that would reach 30 leading up to a New Year’s Day matchup with Notre Dame. Connie Alexander is vividly calling play by play.

The Longhorns coach, Darrell Royal, was renowned for his homespun sense of humor:

“Breaks balance out. The sun don’t shine on the same ol’ dog’s rear end every day.”

“He’s not very fast, but maybe Elizabeth Taylor can’t sing.”

“[TCU is] like a bunch of cockroaches. It’s not what they eat and tote off, it’s what they fall into and mess up that hurts.”

And, his most famous quote: “Dance with the one who brung you.”

It’s the summer of 2012. I’m 52 years old. Earlier this year, DKR’s wife announced the 87-year-old legend suffers from dementia. “Every day since Darrell’s diagnosis,” she said, “I deal with the stress of managing everything without my best friend at my side helping me make decisions.” I met Coach Royal a few times during my television career, and he was as warm and charming as your grandfather. It’s sad to think he doesn’t remember all the great things his teams did that made me into a lifelong fan.

Chris and I went to that ’71 Cotton Bowl together. Sat in the stands… by ourselves. I lost a bet when his dad’s Fighting Irish beat my two older brothers’ Longhorns. I paid him the nickel on the way to the car.

We attended grade school and high school together. Played at least 200 rounds of golf as kids. Shared a dorm room for a year at UT before he transferred to Notre Dame. After college, we rented an apartment for a few years. His younger brother John was the co-founder of our travel company, godfather of our daughter and my most trusted confidant.

I’ve learned a lot from the Anthony brothers over the past four decades. Here’s hoping I never forget all the wonderful memories.


Lessons Learned – #8

Here is the eighth most important thing I learned this year:

Wins Galore – Last week Sports Illustrated honored college basketball coaches Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski as its sportspeople of the year. I recently heard Coach K tell a story on Sirius XM about his 1989 Duke team. Christian Laettner had a bad turnover that cost the Blue Devils a game. Senior stars Danny Ferry and Quin Snyder immediately went over to console the freshman, who would go on to lead Duke to national titles his junior and senior seasons. “That’s collective teamwork,” said Coach K. “No blame. No criticism. No finger pointing. We always win and lose together.”


Brothers United

Tonight on ESPN, the Downtown Athletic Club will announce the 77th recipient of the Heisman Memorial Trophy – awarded each year to the ‘outstanding college football player in the United States.’ Right now, players you’ve likely never heard of are participating in the 112th renewal of a contest that best exemplifies what the sport is supposed to represent.

Go Navy. Beat Army.

Go Army. Beat Navy.

With all the bad news that’s surrounded college football the past year, it’s good to wrap-up the season with a matchup that’s rooted in tradition, honor and respect… and once upon a time some darn good football. Most people aren’t aware that during an 18-year period in the middle of the last century, players from the nation’s service academies won five Heismans: Doc Blanchard, Army (1945); Glenn Davis, Army (1946); Pete Dawkins, Army (1958); Joe Bellino, Navy (1960); Roger Staubach, Navy (1963). Success didn’t end there for these gridiron legends.

Blanchard became an Air Force fighter pilot and retired as a colonel. After fulfilling his military commitment, Davis played in the NFL. Dawkins was a brigadier general who led the 101st Airborne, earned his Ph.D. and – as a civilian – was vice chairman of Bain and Company. Bellino served 28 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve, then became a successful businessman. Staubach led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. In 2008, Roger the Dodger sold his real estate firm for hundreds of millions.

This year, as always, I’ll be watching. Not really caring who wins – don’t tell my former Navy fighter pilot father-in-law – just appreciating the teamwork, discipline and execution of athletes who know there are more meaningful things in their futures. Playing football for the academies (including Air Force) is most about learning to work with your unit to carry out the plan… which serves them well when they transition to young military officers.

Of course, after beating the heck out of each other for 60 minutes on the playing field, both teams will walk together toward the Cadets and Midshipmen in the stands for the playing of their songs. It’s a mutual display of admiration and acknowledgement that soon they’ll be fighting for the same side. There will be sadness for the team that comes up short on the scoreboard today – and a memory to last a lifetime.

Go Army. Beat Navy.

Go Navy. Beat Army.


Denying Eyes

The NFL draft begins tonight – which means a few young men barely of drinking age will wear $1,000 suits and smile broadly for the ESPN cameras, rejoicing that they are instant millionaires… and fortunate not to be selected by the Oakland Raiders.

A peculiarity of this annual rite of football passage is how personnel directors and draft experts often skip right past a player’s four-year record of success on the field and downgrade him because a 40-yard dash time was one-tenth of a second slow. Similarly, they’ll elevate someone who delivered average game results to near superstar status because he excelled in the 3-cone drill.

“Yeah, I know he set rushing records down there in Florida, but he’s too small to compete at the next level and he’s a step slow. He might have a brief career as a backup. That’s why we project a low second-round selection for Emmitt Smith.”

A similar approach for determining potential results occurs in our education system. This week here in Texas students are enduring the annual TAKS test – a standardized assessment that for some determines whether they advance to the next grade.

While the intentions are good – see what students know – there are two inherent problems with this tactic. First, teachers spend an inordinate amount of time ‘teaching to the test’ because they are judged on how well their class performs. Schools hold TAKS pep rallies throughout the year to motivate and encourage kids. Second, students miss out on the opportunity to broaden their learning, because, as one of our child’s teachers said, ‘There isn’t enough time for that with all this TAKS stuff.’

Instead of judging success on whether kids know the methods and tricks for answering multiple-choice questions, education leaders should measure how well their students are prepared for futures in this fast-changing world.

Once that’s accomplished, perhaps they will do away with the SAT as the biggest determining factor for college acceptance. From my experience – both as a graduate and the father of a student at the University of Texas – how you perform one Saturday during your senior year of high school has little to do with your ultimate success in college.


Lessons Learned – #2

The countdown of the Top 10 lessons I learned during 2010 is almost complete. Here’s #2:

Humility Dose– For a decade my beloved Texas Longhorns were a mainstay near the top of the college football rankings. This year, an ugly seven losses. Fallout? Offensive coordinator and special teams coaches fired; defensive coordinator resigned to become the head coach at Florida. Organizations occasionally face times like these. It will be interesting to see how Mack Brown handles his greatest leadership challenge.