Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pep Talk: "All The Way For This?"

Two decades have expired, but the clock has not run out. Kids not born at the time know about it. Historic. Most remember this moment for the catch, but a simple dude from Missouri who was present remembers, just as vividly, the drop.

It was an absolutely splendid late September day. Long shadows had begun to creep across the vast terrain of chewed up turf that was the scene of an epic battle. It’s known as the “Big House.” It sits on the University of Michigan campus. One of America’s great football venues.  Since expanded to more than 109,000 seats, at the time in 1994, if recollection serves, it held 105,000 football fanatics. On this day, most of them were cheering on the hometown Wolverines, who were seconds away from a fortuitous victory over the visiting University of Colorado Buffaloes. It had been a frustrating day for the talented team from the foot of the Flatirons. Opportunities squandered. Defeat appeared imminent.

The conclusion was one of the most dramatic in college football history. Six seconds remained in the contest; Colorado was down five and was 64 yards from the Wolverine goal line. There was time for only one more play.

Covering the game as the “Buff Guy” for Denver’s KCNC-TV, your scribe was standing near the goal line during a television timeout, I heard a female voice calling my name from the stands: “McIntosh!” screamed the woman dressed head-to-toe in Buffs black and gold, “I drove all the way from Colorado to watch this crap?”

The 1994 Colorado Buffaloes were really good. Maybe the most talented of the almost 20 teams I had the pleasure to hang around. In Bill McCartney’s final season before leaving the coaching profession to care for his wife and family, the Buffs finished 11-1, including a resounding thumping of a Lou Holtz-led Notre Dame team in the Fiesta Bowl. The only blemish? A bad performance in Lincoln against the Huskers. More than 20 players from a team that had the talent to win a national championship went on to play in the National Football League. One of them was quarterback Kordell Stewart.

Back to the point of all this. After empathetically shrugging shoulders toward the frustrated, and perhaps slightly inebriated, CU fan, attention returned to the field as play resumed after the television timeout. Everyone jammed into the fabled stadium knew what was going to happen. The strong-armed Stewart was going to drop back and heave the pigskin as far as the Louisiana native’s strength would allow. CU needed a miracle.

It’s one of my favorite moments from almost 30 years as a sportscaster. I never tire of sharing what it was like to experience an incredible moment at ground zero: Getting the protection necessary, including an excellent “chip block” from Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, the future NFL star known as “The Slash” launched a missile into the warm Michigan air. It refused to surrender air space as it arrived at the Michigan goal line, not 20 feet from where I was standing. As the hurtling football began its final descent, CU backup wide receiver Blake Anderson did an excellent job of tipping the ball toward the middle section of the end zone and into the waiting arms of a future first -round NFL pick, talented wideout Michael Westbrook. Touchdown Buffs! The Miracle in Michigan was born in CU’s improbable and quite dramatic 27-26 win over the Wolverines.

It was the catch heard ‘round the college football world and still ranks as one of the greatest ever. As the madness unfolded before me, I quickly turned toward the stands and looked for the woman who, seconds earlier, had vented angst in my direction. Where was she? Wow. There she was! She had dropped from the stands about five feet, and was lying on her back, unhurt and absolutely joyful, flopping around like a fish out of water on the stadium floor.

Ever heard 105,000 screaming fans go silent in a split second? That’s what happened in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 24, 1994. Everyone talks about the catch. I will carry it to my grave. So too, the drop. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is cool.

Recently, I had the pleasure to speak to the Buffalo Belles. It’s an all-female booster club for University of Colorado athletics founded in 1970. These fun ladies are still going strong. I shared this story and joked, “I know that woman must have been a Buff Belle!” They laughed and didn’t disagree.

The catch and the drop.

It’s a good reminder about life. It can often seem quite frustrating, right? Things just aren’t going the way we planned? We’re getting poked in the eye and it sucks. We are tempted to throw in the towel and surrender cherished dreams and aspirations. Don’t.

Let what transpired long ago in the south end zone of one of America’s legendary college football stadiums serve as a constant reminder of the importance and value of fighting to the finish. Life takes detours. We know that. The journey has its fair share of unexpected twists and turns. Don’t give up. Persevere. Fight to the finish. While there are no guarantees such an attitude will ensure success, rarely do we achieve goals and overcome challenges without it.

On this roller coaster ride disguised as life, there will be moments of despair. There will be moments when we wonder, “I came all the way for this?”

A pile of sweat-soaked Colorado Buffaloes in an end zone. Nearby, one of their zealous fans deliriously down on the stadium floor, too. The catch and the drop. Personally, forever a reminder of the truth and power of fighting to the finish in every endeavor we hold near and dear to our hearts.

I hope it becomes one for you, too!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pep Talk: "We'll Never Get Booed For The Effort!"

The featured speakers had offered many pearls of wisdom but this one stood out: “Even when you stink, it looks like you’re trying.”

That statement drew a roar from the crowd gathered for the 2014 Alumni Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for the Raytown, MO., school district. Bobby Dernier, a standout major league outfielder and 1984 National League Gold Glove recipient, was the orator. Legendary baseball play-by-play announcer Harry Carey had offered the encouragement to the Cubs’ center fielder years ago.

Dernier, who played ten years in the major leagues with the Phillies and Cubs, had that wise gem dropped in his lap while sitting in the bar of a Montreal hotel. The slick-fielding, fleet-of-foot, keeper-of-the-outfield-grass was locked in an 0-15 batting slump. Carey ended his unintentional pep talk with, “You’ll never get booed at home with that spirit.”

The 57-year-old father of four and grandpa to six also shared other baseball stories that in reality, are wonderful metaphors for life. “You can fail seven straight times but then get three straight hits. 3 out of 10 in baseball is really good. You have to learn to persevere.” Amen to that buddy.

Honored as a “CUB Legend” earlier this year at ceremonies in Chicago saluting 100 years of baseball at the franchise’s historic home, Wrigley Field, Dernier continues active in the game through mentoring aspiring ballplayers. Not known for power, one of Dernier’s career highlights was leading off the 1984 National League Championship series with a homer against the San Diego Padres. Great moments aside, it was a humble beginning in professional baseball for this life-long friend. Back in the late 1970‘s Dernier’s signing bonus with the Philadelphia organization was only $1,500. The road to the big leagues had many twists and turns.

He had to learn to persevere. Mission accomplished. It’s the truth behind success in baseball, business, relationships, fitness or whatever endeavor. Most often, it’s those who somehow, someway, muster the resilience to keep trying even when, Carey’s words, “We stink.”

There were many reminders of key ingredients to success from other inductees on this day. Dr. George C. Gibson, a graduate of Raytown High School in 1963 - there are two high schools in the district, Raytown and Raytown South -  offered: “My experience growing up in this community taught me the value of serving others and always seeking new frontiers to grow as a person.” 

The father of three went on from high school to the Air Force Academy, distinguished himself in a long military career and now runs a thriving technology company while mentoring small business owners. The lessons the former collegiate football player - offensive lineman for the Air Force Falcons - learned in his youth, “serve and seek”, remain with him today.

Where might it be time for us to serve and seek? If you happen to be reading this and live in Denver, how about Victory’s “A Stronger Cord” (ASC) project? ASC needs fitness-minded, dependable and productive men. Our first target market is the Mile High City’s homeless male population. ASC surrounds these men, in workouts, with quality dudes in trying to rebuild shattered social networks. Families have disowned these wounded men, employers have fired them and these men, addicted to drugs and alcohol, have been associating with unsavory characters. ASC envelopes participants with a platoon of high-character men. The ultimate goal is to re-engage this isolated population with families, jobs and communities.

A Stronger Cord needs a cadre of men with a spirit like Gibson’s. Those willing to serve and seek. It starts with the workout.

On this special day six women and men were honored as the school district’s tenth Hall of Fame class. Another was Amber J. Lawson. A 1990 graduate of Raytown South - “Sexy and mighty, the class of 1990!” - Lawson has earned great acclaim in the entertainment world. Based in Los Angeles, the University of Missouri graduate is a producer and entrepreneur who currently programs and produces on-line content. A graduate of Chicago’s infamous “Second City” comedy theatre is best known as founder and CEO of Comedy Gives Back. She offered thanks to one particular teacher who believed in Lawson when Lawson didn’t: “Miss Sidens encouraged my talents to blossom. I picked up tools that gave me access to thinking anything is possible.”

This week, let’s take a cue from three Hall of Famers: Be open to instruction and believe in ourselves; possess a mindset of service to others while seeking new frontiers and, last but certainly not least, even when we stink, keep trying.

Trust me, we’ll never get booed at home, or anywhere else, for the effort.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pep Talk: "Get On Your Horse And Ride!"

“Hey this is pretty cool,” was an initial thought and comment to a revelation. Speaking at the very same time you’re thinking can be a dangerous occupation. It can lead to totally dumb statements. Been there many times. However, I don’t think that was the case during a recent Friday morning phone call with Patsy Sue Perry, my mother. I offered, “It’s the Alpha and the Omega.”

The feisty 79-year-old agreed. I love our weekly early morning chats that occur while I’m driving to Platoon. Mom and son have lively debates about many topics. We often take different stances when discussing pertinent issues. Not this time. Nope. While I was driving to meet up with a bunch of knuckleheads and challenge one another to grow stronger in spirit we were united. With contentment oozing from the voice tone, Patsy Sue muttered, “I can’t wait to go home.”

We were discussing a pending move to St. Joseph, Missouri. Located about 60 miles north of Kansas City. The city sits right along the rolling waters of the MIssouri River as it winds southward toward a connection with the Kansas River.  At that confluence, the “Big Muddy” makes a sharp 90-degree turn and heads east toward St. Louis and a meeting with the Mississippi River.

Growing up, your sports-crazy scribe spent a ton of time in St. Joe. My parents were each from the “Home of the Pony Express.” There’s a majestic statue downtown that tells the history of the infamous mail-carrying system that had dudes galloping horses through hostile territory from the Heartland, over the Rockies and to the West Coast in the late 1800’s. Brave men. Mom and dad grew up there and had many family members still living there. I spent lots of my childhood there playing with cousins and hanging out with uncles, aunts and grandparents. Good memories.

Now in the twilight of her interesting journey, the woman who gave me life is going back home to an active and vibrant community where she lived before moving to the Kansas City-area about five years ago. In fact, the mother of four is moving back into the very same high-rise community. Five years later, updated nicely and still populated with many of Patsy Sue’s buddies. It’s like the prodigal daughter is returning. When we walk into the place - right across the street from the Pony Express statue - mom’s greeted like a rock star.

Within easy walking distance are trappings desired in the golden years: a senior citizen’s center, medical facility, library, restaurants, bars, schools, post office and other important services I’m forgetting while writing. Oh, and there’s a couple of more powerful pulls to Patsy Sue heading back home: the nearby two houses where she grew up.

On a recent drive around the St. Joe neighborhood smack dab in its downtown area, we drove past each dwelling. I felt like the Morgan Freeman in “Driving Miss Daisy.” It was a sleepy Saturday morning in a town hard hit by the changing economics of America. Key industries long ago departed. The downtown streets were quiet. I would pull up in front of the house and mom would start sharing memories. It was moving.
So mom’s going home to where it all began. It’s the “Alpha and Omega” mentioned earlier that inspired this Pep Talk. Returning to roots with a cadre of services nearby, friends at beckon call and a spirit that seems to be upbeat about the possibilities. She’s excited about the future, rarely a bad thing for any of us, right?

But it takes guts. Moving at any age is a pain in the butt. Mom’s doing it again. A new frontier on an old and familiar spot. Heart warming. The mother who always kept my youth-league uniforms clean and organized is putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win. There’s a clear vision of the future. It is promising.

I hope and pray it becomes everything she desires. What’s your vision of the future? Is it clear? Promising? I sure hope so. If not, dare to dream of something different and take immediate action. Be like the brave mail carriers depicted in the impressive statue in downtown St. Joseph, Missouri. Or, be like my mom. Get on your horse and ride!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pep Talk: "Harvested Fruits And Goosebumps Too"

“Hey Mark,” joked the sharp-looking lady. “You got the priorities out of order. First and foremost, we like to have fun!”

It was a parting shot at what had been a wonderful luncheon with the Buffalo Belles. It’s a women’s booster club for University of Colorado athletics. This simple dude from Missouri was recently blessed to deliver a Pep Talk to the ladies at their kickoff luncheon. The group was founded in 1970 and continues to thrive. The ladies are a hoot.

In a former life, as a sportscaster at KCNC-TV in Denver, I had the pleasure of being “The Buff Guy” for the station. For almost 20 years, a lucky dude was embedded inside a football program that enjoyed much success from 1988-2005, including a 1990 national championship and a 2001 Big 12 Championship. I hosted the coaches’ shows of Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett. I’m still close to many players, coaches and their families of the era.

Back in the day, I also hung out often with the Buffalo Belles. There are no bigger CU fans than these women. We were always at the games together, them cheering and me reporting.

We had a grand time over lunch with a theme centered on three wonderful attributes of the group of cool gals: They are united in support of the university’s student/athletes, coaches and staff; they are die-hard fans willing to “fight to the finish” in rooting for the Buffs and as mentioned earlier, they love to have fun along the way.

Can you imagine? How many “teams” would benefit it they had a booster club behind them that was united, unwavering in support, and enjoyable? Home? Work? Neighborhood? Church? Non-profit? School? Dang, where could I sign up for a gig like that? It’s real easy to talk about the importance of that terrific trio - unity, support and fun - but far more difficult to execute. Life gets in the way of our best laid plans, right?

Emotions still stir when sharing the “One Heart Beat” story from the 1989 Colorado Buffaloes’ football team. I use it often when speaking about the importance of unity. It was cool to tell the story to a crowd that included many who had experienced the moment as well.

There was a light mist falling from the sky that late September day in Seattle, Washington. Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus was jammed. It was one of the weekend’s best college football matchups: Undefeated Colorado on the road against coach Don James’ Huskies.

The media build up before the game centered on the Buffs mental state. A week before, in an incredibly emotional service, the team had said goodbye to its captain, leader and quarterback, Sal Aunese. The senior had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the Spring of 1989 and succumbed quickly. Everyone wondered how the Buffs would react. Would it be such an emotional drain that victory on the road against a quality team in a hostile environment would be too much to expect?

Right before kickoff, the public address announcer asked the sell-out crowd to rise for a moment of silence in honor of the 21-year-old who left behind an infant son from a relationship with the head coach’s daughter. From a journalistic standpoint, really from any viewpoint, it was compelling stuff. As soon as the crowd rose, each and every member of the Colorado football family knelt on one knee and pointed skyward in honor of its fallen comrade.

Folks, while writing about this moment that transpired a quarter century ago, it still gives me goose bumps. I’ll never forget standing on that field with the light mist falling and thinking, “It’s like tears coming down from heaven for this team.”

How did the Buffs react? Well, they went out there and just kicked the Huskies’ butts. The team went on to win every regular season game, rose to #1 in the country and played for the national championship against the Lou Holtz-coached Notre Dame Fighting Irish. At the Orange Bowl that year the Buffs lost a chance to win the school’s first national championship in a game they should have won.

The 1989 Colorado Buffaloes motto throughout the year? In honor of Aunese? One Heart Beat.

Everybody checked their individual agendas at the door. Egos were not welcome. Behind Aunese’s replacement at quarterback, Darian Hagan, and a host of talented athletes who would later play in the NFL, these young men put together what was arguably the greatest season in school history. The Buffs did share a national championship the following year with Georgia Tech, but it was not without controversy, considering one of their wins was the now infamous “Fifth-Down Fiasco” at Mizzou.

United. One heart beat. It worked for a football team. It will work for us. Join a group this week and be like the Buffalo Belles. Pour heart and soul into the effort with unity, support and fun. It will not be easy. It will require great sacrifice. But the fruits harvested will sweeten our lives forever, and probably give you goose bumps too.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pep Talk: "Up Periscope!"

“My mom passed away just about an hour ago.”

It was an awkward start to the conversation. You could see the wince in his eyes. “Would you like to reschedule?” was the first thing blurted from my brain. “No. There’s nothing I can do at this point. Might as well work.”

After a prayer for his family and some talk about data storage on the Cloud, we ended up talking a lot about life. “I wanted to join the Navy and become a nuclear technician.”

My eyes widened. “You wanted to serve on a submarine?”

I’ve always been fascinated with submarines, but would dread being underwater for so darn long. “How long do those folks stay submerged?” was my next question. “Days? Weeks? Months?” Too claustrophobic for a newfound devotee of the Food Channel. Darling fiancĂ©e has me hooked on the show “Chopped.” Ever seen it? Anyway, back to the story, from the big grin on his face you could tell he’d have no problem staying underwater longer than Moby Dick. Unfortunately, life got in the way of his best laid plans.

“Ramming my car into a concrete pillar at 70 miles an hour ended that dream,” he said. A horrific car accident just a few weeks from the storyteller’s high school graduation - fell asleep at the wheel - required six months of recovery. It also left physical scars. A military career was no longer an option.

We continued to talk about submarines. “What attracted you to living under water?” was my next offering. “All those Navy movies I watched growing up.” Apparently being submerged for lengthy periods of time, no pun intended, really floats his boat.

The events of life can submerge us every once in a while, right? As our conversation continued I learned this computer whiz is a single parent with two autistic and non-verbal children who communicate through gestures. Wow. This dude’s experienced a lot: Accident. The unexpected challenges of child rearing. Divorce. Life defining moments that require us to dive deep within ourselves to muster the strength to carry on, despite the obstacles. This man was so impressive in how he has endured.

It ain’t easy for sure. You’ve all been there, too. It’s a fact of life. It’s a roller coaster.

But just like the submarine or whale, we must eventually surface. We can’t stay down there in the murky depths forever. Well, I guess we could, but we all know that’s not in our best interests. We would drown in despair.

Our conversation was wrapping up when something Mr. Submarine said triggered a remembrance of something muttered to me a while back. Another buddy and I were talking about the importance of confidence. Not cockiness. Not ego. Confidence. Defined as “a feeling of certainty, self-reliance and boldness.” Can you imagine? If we all could consistently exude certainty, self-reliance and boldness? Holy smokes, bartender, another round for everybody. Non-alcoholic if desired. It would be good to possess confidence according to that definition, right? Please say yes.

Anyway, back to the point. This other buddy, Billy Mac from Hackensack, said something about a month ago that just knocked my socks off. Now, a conversation that starting with a loved one’s passing, shifted to personal adversity, weaved through a little business, the importance of perseverance and submarines allowed the following statement to surface from cranium: “Confidence is a submerged quality that allows talents and gifts to surface and be utilized in unique and excellent ways.”

My mind races to the men enrolled in Victory Production’s “A Stronger Cord” project. We’re trying to deliver them to Denver’s labor force as fitness-minded, dependable and productive men. It starts with the workout and confidence - certainty, self-reliance and boldness - ASC’s platoon is a good place for them to grow stronger - mind, body and spirit.

Life will submerge us. Often. That much we know. It’s a question asked during each live Pep Talk presentation. “Anybody’s life gone exactly the way you planned?” In ten years of asking that question, maybe, one or twice, somebody has raised their hand. It’s rare, for sure. We are going to have those “What the hell is going on around here?” moments.

It happens. The big question becomes, “What happens next?” We must, eventually, look through the periscope. We gotta look around and have the guts to say, “Time to surface.” Breathe in the fresh air. Scan the horizon. Chart a new course.

Who was it? Thoreau? Didn’t he say, “Advance CONFIDENTLY in the direction of your dream? Live the life you imagine?” He’s right.

Up periscope!

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