It’s almost here; and it just happens to be the most wonderful time of the year.
No, I’m not a crazy southerner who has all of her Christmas shopping done yet. I am that other kind of crazy southerner…you know: the football-crazy southerner.
There’ll be hamburgers grilling and fourth quarters thrilling and yelling there out in the heat. There’ll be awesome pass stories and tales of the glories of pigskin games long, long ago.
I’m here all week, folks.
That is, until Thursday…when football season begins.
Football season is about as big as it gets in our household. I am pretty sure a big reason why I married my husband is because both of us were equally as passionate about our respective college football teams. I tend to pull for Auburn when they aren’t playing my Alma Mater, The University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!)…and Steven will pull for Georgia (painful as it is) when they aren’t playing Auburn. We only have one day a year that we don’t speak…and we don’t speak of that day until it is here.
For now, it is time to enjoy the beginning of the season…that moment when the NFL preseason gives us at least two quarters of what we can hope to see during the regular season from our team, the Atlanta Falcons. This week marks the start of the college football regular season and the dawn of a new era, beyond the BCS and into the four team playoff.
It is all very exciting. I love football, and not just because of my teams. I love football because if you look closely, you can find the stories that are better than fiction. Stories that touch our souls. These are the stories covered by Tom Rinaldi…you know, the guy whose sole purpose in life is to get you to cry during College Gameday. I still get choked up when I think about Rinaldi’s coverage of high school player, Jake Olson, a young man who lost his eyesight due to a rare cancer.
In an interview as a twelve year old, Jake Olson admitted that he, “fought so hard and cancer [won], but he was [going to] experience something that no one else could experience.”
Out of the mouth of babes: a twelve year old who understood the depth and complexity of 1 Corinthians 12:7, when Paul celebrates being given the “thorn in his flesh.” Instead of lamenting his cancer (or in Paul’s case, his ‘thorn’) he accepts it as something that others won’t get to experience. This cancer was his opportunity to live a life set apart from his peers.
As a sixteen year old, the only thing Jake wanted to do was play football; and he researched which position he could play in order to make that dream come true: long snapper.
That’s the type of player you want on your team. You want someone with fight, heart, determination, and above all else, a sense of total gratitude that he is able to walk onto the field and do what he loves. This is the type of player that, as Indianapolis Colts head football coach Chuck Pagano suggests, other players would “go into the mines” for.
Chuck Pagano knows a thing or two about fight, heart, determination, and gratitude every single Sunday. Mr. Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, would tell Pagano that he is the consummate players’ coach: the type of coach that “players would run through a brick wall for.” After all, his mantra, “WE WILL! WE CAN! WE MUST! WE HAVE NO CHOICE. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WE WILL OVERCOME. IT’S ALL IN THE PROPER STATE OF MIND,” permeated through the locker room as swiftly as he arrived in 2012.
Pagano retells his own narrative of the 2012 NFL season in his novel, Sidelined. His story touched all football fans, whether you wore blue and white or blue and orange. It was this moment right here that encapsulated the Colts unexpected season:
After Indianapolis Colts fans collectively groaned as they lost Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos after a frustrating 2-14 2011 season, it appeared their season would be equally as depressing as new head coach, Chuck Pagano was unexpectedly diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) immediately after their first regular season game…and there was no one more frustrated than the coach himself.
“In a sense, I had always wanted to be a head coach in the NFL,” Pagano admits. He is a man of strong faith; he had played by the rules; he had been in a mutually inviting marriage for years with his wife Tina. His dreams had all come true. And then he got the diagnosis.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m just so sorry.” Tina cried.
It was the only time Chuck allowed himself to cry; and then, like linebacker Robert Mathis said after the Colt’s 2012 pre-season loss to the Jaguars, Pagano decided that there would be no more “pity parties,” and that he would “man up…make corrections and move on.”
The ‘corrections’ Pagano discusses in the battle for his life were simply a change in his attitude. He wouldn’t cry, he would fight to make it to his daughters’ weddings. He would fight to be back on the sidelines coaching the Colts in the post-season. He would fight (and continues to fight) to hoist the Lombardi trophy. He would make a difference in the fight against, what he calls ‘this bully: cancer.”
Sidelined is raw, unadulterated recollections of a man with the wisdom that only someone who has faced death can acquire. He talks about how he never thought about losing his battle to cancer; a loss was never an option. His mantra came into play in a big way in his life. Ultimately, Pagano fights in a way that showcases the glory of God in a big way.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book are the inclusions of the ‘pep talks’ from Pagano’s close friend Kevin Elks.
Christ’s half brother James tells us to be glad for our adversity; to be glad for our suffering. It will teach us patience, endurance, and how to do long-suffering. To get close to God, you must get into the things that he’s into. And God is into the poor, the suffering, the lonely, and the sick. You will understand these things better now…
You were selected to be pruned. And you are going to be different than you ever were.
I suppose Elks’ suggestion that Pagano was chosen is at the heart of this book: Pagano chooses to see APL as a gift from God. Like Jake Olson, he began to look at his cancer as an experience that many others wouldn’t get to experience. He takes his diagnosis in stride and chose to become an inspiration for all who were fighting. Pagano chose to look at his illness as a gift and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others; which, coincidentally, the CHUCKSTRONG movement has raised over $2 Million to date.
Sure, I love a tailgate more than the next guy. But it’s the humanity of football; the heart and soul it takes to be successful on the field and off the field that makes the sport truly special.
If you love football as much as I do; if you’re a person of faith; if you’re fighting the good fight against anything where the odds are stacked against you, I highly recommend Sidelined. It won’t be long before you’ll buy into Chuck’s mantra, “WE WILL! WE CAN! WE MUST! WE HAVE NO CHOICE. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WE WILL OVERCOME. IT’S ALL IN THE PROPER STATE OF MIND,” just as his 2012 11-5 Indianapolis Colts did.
You can easily win a copy below. The giveaway starts tonight and ends September 8 (after the first MNF game).