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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Why–For One Sunday–The Vikings Reminded Me of TLC

I played college football at Gustavus.  Quarterback.  I was just good enough to have the opposing team believe they were never out of it as long as I was in the game.  And I was, on at least one occasion, voted – I’m sure of this – the opposing team’s MVP for the day. (That was the day I threw two touchdown passes to win the game.  Unfortunately, the official stats called them “interceptions returned for touchdowns”).

During my college career, I also had one major concussion from a blind-side hit, and my coaches sent me back out on the field, completely confused – not so different from my regular state – because that’s what you did in the early 80s. I have since blamed every mistake I’ve ever made in my life on that concussion, so it has served a good purpose.

Here's a young me. It is about the same time as this story, but it's not quite a football helmet. Actually, that may have been what we wore for football helmets back then. That would explain the concussion...I just don't remember.

Here’s a young me. It is about the same time as this story, but it’s not quite a football helmet. Actually, that may have been what we wore for football helmets back then. That would explain the concussion…I just don’t remember.

Though it is a brutal game, and knowing what I know now I would steer a child away from football, I have to confess, I am still drawn to it for it for it’s strategic qualities.  Football is like playing chess, with the opportunity to blow out your ACL at the same time.  So, yes, I did watch the Vikings Sunday.  Lose to Seattle.  On nearly the very last play.  On a blown twenty-seven yard field goal.  For those of you who don’t know what missing a twenty-seven yard field goal is like, it’s like standing at the edge of Lake Superior to throw a rock in the water.  And missing.  It was heartbreaking for fans (well, not Seahawks or Packer fans), for players, for coaches, and for all of our moms, because moms never like to see us sad, even if it is for something as insignificant as a game.

So what is this doing in a tennis blog?  Because it was the reaction to that blown kick that most interested me.  I know what it’s like to feel like a pariah. No one wants to look at you.  Talk to you.  Sit by you on the bus.  When you are the “goat”, people keep their distance lest they be tainted by association, or say something they will later regret.

Blair Walsh, the Vikings kicker, was – and is – devastated.  But he took responsibility.  He said flat out, “It’s my fault.  I don’t care if you give me a watermelon hold, I should be able to put that through.  I’m the only one who didn’t do his job.”

But inside the locker room, that’s where the story gets intriguing.

I will simply let his teammates’ own words and actions speak.

Adrian Peterson, star running back who fumbled earlier in the game to set up Seattle’s go-ahead score:  “We would have, without a doubt, won, if I hadn’t fumbled.”

Jeff Locke, who held the kick for Blair Walsh, blamed himself, not Walsh, for not having the football laces faced the right way for Walsh, saying his job is to give the kicker an ideal picture before the kick and “that picture is not laces staring at him in the face.”

Kevin McDermott, who snapped the ball, tried to take the blame from both Locke and Walsh, saying “It’s my job to snap it to Jeff and have him catch it with the laces facing towards the goal post.  When Jeff caught it, they were facing towards Blair.”

Brian Robison, defensive end, defended both Walsh and his miss: “You can name a hundred things that could have changed the outcome.”

Harrison Smith, star safety: “Blair has stepped up big for us and won games for us in the past.  I’m not going to abandon him now.”

Every player had the opportunity to ostracize and blame Walsh.  Instead, they lined up to support and console him.

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At Tennis & Life Camps, we believe your character is not just shown when your teammate wins, but when they lose.  We teach in doubles that after every single point, you immediately go to your partner and do four things:

  1. Smile  (it changes everything, even our physiology)

  2. Eye contact (it establishes a powerful bond of trust)

  3. Encourage (just a word of “Good try!” or “No worries!” or “You’ll get the next one” or “I think that blonde up in the bleachers really likes you” – just seeing if you’re still reading)

  4. Touch (a high five or fist bump or arm around the shoulder…).

And you do these four things especially when your partner goofs up.  Because they need you when they make an incredible shot, but they really need you when they blow it.

So, I consider the heartbreaking loss of the Vikings a thing of beauty.  They are building a culture of taking responsibility for their own mistakes and supporting each other no matter who else makes one.

I found out what kind of a team they are.  A team I would want to play on.  (Other than that concussion thing).  Because they would have my back, whatever happened.  Like we hope being at TLC has been for you.

Maybe we can get a couple of them as instructors next summer.  They don’t start training camp until late July…


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