Out of the Woods: Making a point by missing one
Updated 6:19 am, Thursday, December 18, 2014
With the arrival of 2015, I am painfully reminded of a day 70 years ago -- in 1945 -- when I had the most devastating emotional experience of my life up to that time.
I was a running back on the Fieldston High School football team in Riverdale, N.Y. We lost out final game, 7-6 to Riverdale Country Day School on a missed extra point. In losing, we denied ourselves an undefeated season -- one in which in which we scored 186 points and gave up only 13.
We still won the championship, but with an imperfect record. In those formative years, perfection was still a realizable dream.
Even worse, it was the second year in a row that Riverdale ruined an undefeated season for us.
My teammates and I were so deflated and depressed that we openly cried in the locker room after the game. It was a crushing, emotional blow to our tender egos, to our pride and to our sense of invincibility. Looking back now after all of these years, I realize how long the path from complete naivete to wisdom gained over the decades can be.
I now realize that it can take a lifetime to learn certain lessons.
There are a number of variations on that quote, however, and the one I believe is the most meaningful is this: "The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination whether we win or lose, we have applied ourselves to the best at hand."
There are other football sayings that key off this idea. For example, "It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."
In any case, among the life lessons that I have carried with as a result of that infamous loss in 1945 is this: Step up and immediately and take responsibility for your own failures.
For years, we had blamed the referee for ruling that a knee of one of our running backs had touched the ground before he crossed the goal line, wiping out a touchdown. We complained that the game was "fixed." A photo in The New York Daily News showed that the runner's knee clearly had not touched the ground.
These excuses were put to rest 50 years later when our entire team held a reunion luncheon at Fieldston n 1995. It was our beloved coach, Joe "Doc" Wiedman, who put the blame squarely where it belonged. He had told one of our teammates during the intervening years, "You guys had a first down on the one yard line, and you couldn't get it across the goal line. You have no excuses, gentlemen. Live with it."
This story is absolutely true. The fact that we never gave up looking for excuses and refused to take responsibility came a little late -- but it was accepted by all. And this writer, of all people, feels an extra burden of guilt among my teammates. A giant mea culpa to all of them for this coming New Year!
You guessed it. I'm the guy who kicked extra points -- and who rarely missed. Except in that 7-6 loss to Riverdale. Now -- after all this time -- I feel better. As the Washington politicians love to say when they mess up: "I take full responsibility!"
Well, now it's my turn.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org