When Success and Shame Go Hand-In-Hand
Earlier this year I wrote about an experience that ruined what could have been a great high school baseball memory. The point of that story was how little things can ruin sweet experiences.
This story is about my senior year experience as quarterback on an intramural football team called The Nerds. At the time I didn’t know what the name “Nerd” meant, but assumed it was something vulgar like one of the other teams in our league, the Galloping Gonads.
The “sweet experience” was leading our team to the championship game. That game was the culmination of many years of street football and sandlot football that we’d played after school every day. I was one of the older kids in the neighborhood when we moved to a new development in Bridgewater. Being athletic and competitive, I played quarterback. If we had six kids, we’d play street football. If we had five kids, I would be quarterback on both sides. If we had a bigger batch of kids we’d go to the school and play tackle on the field there.
I loved the psychology of the game, preferring to have a weaker team so as to win by strategic playmaking as opposed to dominance. I had a good arm, good instincts and a competitive nature.
As quarterback I called plays and engineered a winning season that brought us to within five yards of the intramural championship. If we won that last game, we would have been the school’s champion team.
We were on the five yard line with time for one last play. I called an option, taking the snap and escaping the rush by moving to the left. I saw Tony Ruggerio wide open in the center of the end zone. But I also saw a wide open space in front of me, inviting me to make a dash for for the goal line. I went for it.
I’ve never been the fastest runner among my peers, and that day in the late afternoon sunlight, those five yards took a lifetime to cross. An unsuccessful sprint I might add, because I was nailed on the two. By not throwing and getting caught, I let everybody down with an impulsive bad decision.
Never mind that I’d brought us to victory’s doorstep with a very successful year that surprised nearly all of our adversaries. (It didn’t surprise us, of course, because we’d played so many years together and fine tuned a lot of very cool timing plays.) In that moment, however, I experienced what so many other athletes have experienced. Charlie Brown whiffing for the last out. Earnest Byner’s fumble at the end of the Broncos-Browns playoff game. Scott Norwood’s missed field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV. By comparison, my bad decision — actually a choke, since I was scared to throw for fear of a misfire — how serious was it, really?
Well, here’s how serious that decision was.
Ten years later I was visiting the old neighborhood. I’d long ago moved away and went back to see what had changed and what remained, and to see if I’d run into anyone I used to know. I don’t recall where it happened but I ran into Tom Dermody that day, one of the guys from our neighborhood who was on that intramural squad. He didn’t even say hello. Rather, his first words were, “Why didn’t you throw it?” This was ten years later. Not a greeting of “Hey, how are you doing? Long time no see.”
The irony is, that even with all that water under the bridge, I knew exactly what he was referring to.
I’ve replayed that decision way too many times in my mind. And I wish I could tell the guys I’m sorry. It’s hard to believe that I still feel bad about it when I think about it.
There are worse things I’ve done, people I’ve hurt or let down. Stupid decisions that I can’t undo, and I think, why does this bother me so much? I didn’t blow a Super Bowl. I didn’t accidentally shoot a fellow soldier in the line of duty.
Sometimes you let people down and no matter how hard you wish it, you can’t undo what you’ve done. So the task is to learn from your mistakes, to let go, and move on.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com on December 28, 2018.