Posted by email@example.com on March 30, 2015
Everyone wants to be a success, right?
Everyone says they do. At least, everyone I know says they do.
But do they?
My wife, Mary, and I were foster parents for a number of years.
We had one foster child, a teen-age boy, who was intelligent.
A good athlete.
Very popular in school with other kids.
One of his biggest flaws was that he couldn’t handle success.
One day, we got a call from the high school.
This foster son of ours was a sophomore at the time.
The call from the principal was to tell us that our foster son had made the honor roll.
We were proud of him, and told him that.
A few days later, he was suspended from the basketball team for breaking a team rule that he knew would get him suspended.
He couldn’t handle success.
For him, it was because he didn’t feel worthy of success.
He had to keep constructing blockades.
He grew up in a culture that told him he would never succeed, would never amount to anything.
It was ingrained in him.
It was self-fulfilling … and he was self-destructive.
He needed to change his attitude, alter the way he looked at life.
He had it in him to be a good kid, and showed it by making the honor roll.
But that part of him, he kept tamping it down.
Scott Hamilton, the Olympic figure skater, once said, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
I never thought I’d find myself quoting a figure skater, but Hamilton was right.
My foster son was disabled by a bad attitude.
Of course, not everyone struggles to handle success for the same reason my foster son did.
Some people just haven’t known success, and don’t know what to do when it’s within their reach.
Instead of grabbing it by the scruff of the neck or giving it a giant bear hug, they let it slip away.
I’ve lived in Minnesota since 1984.
I moved here from New Jersey to cover the Vikings for the Star Tribune.
I did that for six NFL seasons before moving over to the Pioneer Press to become a columnist.
Over the past three decades, I have seen a number of very talented Vikings teams fail to live up to expectations.
Sometimes, the other team was better.
Sometimes, it was a dropped pass.
Or, a turnover.
Or, a missed field goal.
Or, 12 men on the field at the worst time possible.
Often times, though, it was simply this:
The Vikings did not know how to handle success, how to deal with success, how to accept success.
Many years, the Vikings have the physical tools to be a success. What they lack is psychological, not physical.
Anyone who is a Vikings fan will long remember the 1998 season.
The Vikings went 15-1 during the regular season.
It was Randy Moss’ rookie year.
And the Vikings set an NFL record for scoring.
Yet, when they had the chance to go for a game-winning field goal in the late moments of the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game, their coach, Denny Green, decided to have his quarterback, Randall Cunningham, take a knee, run out the clock and take their chances in overtime.
These Vikings had the most prolific scoring offense in league history and they were content to settle for a tie and hope to win in overtime.
Well, they lost the game in overtime.
And lost the chance to go to the Super Bowl.
They lost because their coach, and they themselves, did not know how to handle success.
And how about the 2009 Vikings? They’re driving for the game-winning score in the NFC Championship game and – hey, look – there are 12 men on the field.
Penalty. Lose some yards.
Then Brett Favre threw an interception, and then overtime and then the New Orleans Saints were on their way to the Super Bowl.
That Vikings team thought it can handle success. It was mistaken.
The 1987 and 1991 Twins, they had a handle on handling success and pressure.
Nobody outside of Minnesota expected that 1987 Twins team to do anything in the postseason.
But this was a young bunch, a confident bunch, a bunch of guys who didn’t fear success.
While it obviously helped to have a few extremely talented ballplayers such as Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, teams need more than extremely talented ballplayers to win the big game, or big series, with just extremely talented players.
Puckett and Hrbek gave those ’87 and ’91 Twins a mental outlook and a mental toughness that was contagious.
In Game 6 of the ’91 World Series, a game the Twins had to win or the Series would be over, Puckett pretty much told his teammates to climb aboard his broad back and he would carry them to a Game 7.
And he did.
In the third inning of that Game 6, Puckett made a leaping catch over the plexiglass wall in left center at the Metrodome to hijack a home run from Atlanta’s Ron Gant.
He then won the game in the 11th inning with a home run that landed in the left-center field seats.
Puck had done what he had promised.
He had done what he knew he could do because he didn’t fear success or shy away from it.
Instead, he embraced it.
Then, in Game 7 of that ’91 World Series, a man who knew how to handle success and pressure as well as any pitcher ever born, took the mound for the Twins.
Jack Morris pitched 10 magnificent innings.
As I said in a book I wrote entitled, “The Best Minnesota Sports Arguments” — still available on Amazon.com, by the way – “Michelangelo with a chisel in his hand in the 16th Century was no more impressive than Morris with a baseball in his hand on an October night in the late 20th Century.”
Twins manager Tom Kelly tried taking Morris out of the game in the ninth inning, but Jack basically told T.K. to get lost — he was going to finish this thing.
And he did.
And the Twins won the game 1-0 and the World Series four games to three.
And it happened because they had players on that team who preferred to apply pressure rather than succumb to it, players who relished grabbing success by the scruff of the neck.
They didn’t choke, as the Vikings have done over and over. And over again.
Those ’87 and ’91 Twins did what Robin Williams encouraged his students to do in “Dead Poets Society.”:
“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
When the opportunity is there, It’s much better to seize the day than to seize up.
(Posted March 28, 2015)