Nov 20, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Jerry Mackey was, no doubt, elated that his Oneonta girls soccer team had just won the state Class B championship on a windy, wet Sunday night at SUNY-Cortland. But before he could celebrate with the girls he coached, he had a more important task at hand.
As anyone who watched that title game knows, Oneonta and Marcellus appeared headed for overtime, the score even at 1-1, when in the last minute of regulation the Yellowjackets’ Madison Miller sent what looked like a harmless long-distance shot at Mustangs goalie Emily Buschbascher, and the ball slipped out of Buschbascher’s grasp and trickled into the net.
In that single, stunning moment, one team gained a state title, while the other saw its dreams shattered. Yet as his Oneonta players rejoiced, Mackey ran the length of the field to where Buschbascher was standing, and offered words of comfort and congratulations.
Just by doing that, Mackey showed a class and dignity all of us could emulate. Just the same, the Marcellus parents, students and other fans in attendance stood out, too, in the way they cheered on their team despite their broken hearts.
This is when sports really turns worthwhile, and teaches something beyond the fun and games, the wins and losses. How a person acts in their moments of ultimate achievement says a lot about their character, and also conveys a sense of priorities that all of us can emulate when we go through our lives and face all of our ups and downs.
Go back to that famous Duke-Kentucky basketball classic in 1992. Yes, the Laettner shot, we get it, we’ve seen it thousands of times and we’ll see it thousands of times more, as if the magnificence of the entire game was something trivial and inconsequential, which of course it wasn’t.
But my most vivid memory of that game is not The Shot. It’s seeing Mike Krzyzewski, on CBS, first mentioning Kentucky’s marvelous performance in that game before talking about his own team.
After that, Coach K went across the court to the radio booth, where Kentucky broadcasting legend Cawood Ledford was calling his last game, then picking up a headset and telling the heartbroken Wildcat faithful just how great their beloved team’s effort was.
Perhaps that’s not the thing that gets replayed over and over and over, but it’s the best part of the story. When you know you’re involved in something special, simply acknowledge it, and appreciate the other side. That’s what Coach K did.
That was just as true during the 1975 World Series. Even in the middle of the epochal Game 6 between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox, Pete Rose was telling others that it was the greatest game he had ever played in.
Rose stuck to that story even after Carlton Fisk waved his 12th-inning home run off the pole to force Game 7. Of course, it helped that Cincinnati won the next night, but still, Rose had an awareness of what was happening and knew that it transcended the game.
So did Jack Nicklaus after battling Tom Watson at Turnberry in the 1977 Open Championship. When it was done, when Jack had shot 65-66 in the last two rounds and still lost to Watson by one shot, he went up to Watson and said that he gave his best shot and it wasn’t good enough.
And he smiled and congratulated Watson, just as he did five years later at Pebble Beach when Watson’s stunning chip-in at the 71st hole denied Nicklaus a record fifth U.S. Open title. He said, “You son-of-a-gun (perhaps I cleaned that up a bit), you did it to me again.” And again he smiled.
Much more recently, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs engaged in a seven-game classic to decide the NBA championship, not decided until the final minute of the final game, when the great Tim Duncan missed a short chance to put his team in front.
At the final horn, before the party started, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade made a beeline straight for Duncan and the other Spurs players, giving them genuine hugs and words of condolence. They knew that two championship teams were on the court. It was just that one of them had a few more points at the end.
If we follow sports, we root for our favorite teams to win. That’s understandable. And when those teams win championships, it’s only natural to jump for joy and gloat a bit. So often, we’ve waited a long time to feel this good.
Yet the best athletes and coaches understand the long, hard journey all teams and individuals take to climb to that summit, and that getting near to it, and not making it all the way, is as noble and honorable as actually reaching the top.
Certainly Jerry Mackey understood this truism as he made his way to Emily Buschbascher. His Oneonta team has earned the applause of earning a state championship, but he merits a standing ovation for the way he reached out in a moment of triumph, teaching us all something about sports – and sportsmanship.
Emily has no reason to feel ashamed, either. She was part of a championship effort, of which she can always be proud, even if the championship ended up somewhere else.