Emotions remain great step toward success in life

December 30, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

Just when you think you have sports all figured out, it surprises you.

There are times that it all gets so routine. "Who won?" and "Who lost?" are still the age-old bottom-line questions. Nowadays, you can add "Who was suspended for breaking team rules?," "Who was arrested?" and "Who didn't play because of a hangnail?" to the list, but it's still routine.

To make some of these times even worse is some of the quotes.

"We really needed this win."

"We played well as a team."

"We were really focused."

Those are among the yawners you seem to get this time of year from players on teams building to the playoffs while trying to keep their remarks off opposing bulletin boards.

It changed a lot over the last week. Sports became dramatic theater again.

We got the chance to see how great athletes react when raw emotions are present.

The mark of a great athlete is someone who is outstanding most every time he steps on the field, but particularly under extreme circumstances.


A few really Cowboy-ed up in the month.

-- The most remarkable performance under strained emotions had to come from Brett Favre during the Dec. 22 Monday night game against Oakland.

The Green Bay quarterback produced arguably the best half of football in his career just 24 hours after learning his father had died of a heart attack or stroke suffered while he was driving.

One can only imagine the conflicting emotions Favre was feeling heading into the game.

Should he play through his sorrow while his family grieved back home?

Or should he harness the moment and play?

Favre chose to play in honor of his father, who was his high school football coach and the biggest influence in his life as a player and a man. Somehow, he kept his mind on the Raiders while remembering his dad as his biggest fan, one who would have wanted him to play and play well. He knew his dad would have wanted him in the game because the Packers still had a chance to make the playoffs and that Favre had a consecutive games played streak that proved his toughness and commitment.

Favre didn't just play ... he excelled. He threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in the first half to keep the Packers in the hunt. He did his job and went home and paid his respects, just like his father taught him.

He continued honoring his father on Sunday by coming back with little practice and guiding the Packers into the playoffs with some miraculous help from the Arizona Cardinals, who beat Minnesota on the final play of the game to slam the door on the Vikings.

Lesser players would have crumbled in similar situations.

-- It was tough to beat the theater that Sunday night's NFL finale between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The game was touted as Jamal Lewis' shot at NFL immortality ... He needed 154 yards to surpass Eric Dickerson for the all-time single-season rushing record.

As far as the season went, the game meant absolutely nothing. The playoff pairings were set. The Steelers were going home. The only thing Pittsburgh had to play for was to prevent Lewis from getting his yards.

The two teams took it to overtime before the Ravens finally won it on a field goal on their third try.

Lewis didn't shy away from the challenge despite falling short in his quest, to the relief of Dickerson, who watched the game on television in Los Angeles. Lewis was physical and aggressive each time he touched the ball - it was just that the Steelers' defense was that much better.

Lewis, along with the Ravens and Steelers, may have provided the NFL its game of the year.

-- On the local level, sometimes we take greatness for granted until it's too late.

Great men don't always play, sometimes they teach. And their teachings are the roots of making the future great for so many.

The future of so many athletes as players and people were shaped by the late Tom Balistrere. You can tell by how fondly the town of Waynesboro has remembered him in his far-too-untimely death.

He was a teacher in the truest sense of the word both on and off the court. He was a counselor and a confidant. He was a newsmaker and a storyteller. But most of all, he was a lifetime friend.

Coaches like Balistrere are becoming few and far between. This corner has named a number of them over the years, including Bob Starkey, Greg Slick, Mike Spinnler, Dwight Scott, Sheryl Wilkes, Dave Rogers, Denny Price, Tom Dickman, Kevin Murphy, Danny Kerns, Walter Barr, Monte Cater and the late Tim Cook. The new era was represented by North football coach Danny Cunningham this season.

By no means is this an all-inclusive list. Still, they represent coaches who have demanded a level of respect from their players while getting them to strive for personal improvement. They have and had the ability to make good teams great and average teams good. And they have a knack for teaching players the life lessons that last forever.

The best barometer of their success is that their former athletes come back to visit and talk with these coaches every chance they get.

Much like Tom Balistrere's charges did for the last time recently.

Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes tragedy to bring out the best things about sports.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-533-7131, ext. 2310 or by e-mail at

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