I was watching the broadcast of the St. Louis Cardinals’ home opener yesterday — yes, I recognize that there are other sports besides football — and they were interviewing former Cards great Ozzie Smith. He made a point that I’ve never seen anyone else make at such an occasion.
They were asking him about the pageantry of Opening Day and the happy, feel-good atmosphere of the festivities, especially among the retired players assembled, and how much fun he must be having. I’m paraphrasing, but his response was something along the lines of, “Hey, I can relax because I don’t have to worry about hitting a slider or a curveball here in about a half-hour.”
I think he really nailed it with that quote. I go to pro days, all-star games, training facilities, and all manner of places where non-athletes love to hang out and be part of the throng. Very often, I wonder if the people dressed in their leather and expensive sunglasses really have an appreciation for what the players are thinking and talking about and going through.
Extraordinary athletes have a way of making things look easy. I guess that’s what makes them great. But that feeling of competing, and knowing what the price of failure is if you don’t succeed, is something not everyone knows. Most of us that have been ‘in the arena’ have come to the end of our playing days at times, but not all have known that urgency.
I wasn’t an elite athlete. My standard laugh line when I speak is that, as a walk-on linebacker at an also-ran school (Navy) in the late 80s, I may have been the worst player on the worst team in America. I always knew the end would come, and as a rotational practice player on a struggling team, I was living on borrowed time anyway.
I’m going to have the chance to attend a splashy party in Chicago the night before the draft in a couple weeks. It will be fun; it’s always great to take my wife to meet people I work with on a regular basis in a place where we can all relax and set aside the competitive juices. These events are a nice reward, but I don’t regularly attend things like this, partially by design. I never want to be the guy that forgets about the blood and sacrifice that these young men put into their careers.
You may never have played the game, and if not, that doesn’t preclude you from succeeding in this business. Still, if you’re really looking to climb the football ladder, please don’t do it for the parties, or the glamor, or the life. Don’t be ‘that guy.’ Make sure you’ll bleed just as much as your clients if they don’t make it.