I cannot speak for every location on the planet, but in Atlanta, dawn reluctantly arrived hidden behind dreary clouds. The pallor of the grey, misty morning matched perfectly the mood of my adopted city. Much in the same way the sun unwillingly started its trek across the sky, so too did the residents of the City of Trees struggle out of bed to begin another week. Mere hours ago the city was on the verge of universal celebration, but now the malaise threatened to stifle any laugh or smile willing to attempt an appearance. A collapse of epic proportions and the beloved Falcons turning victory into defeat in less than a quarter of an hour turned potential celebration into potent heartbreak . You could see the pain in the eyes of many the drivers slowly making their way into the heart of the city.
Initially, I had not planned on writing about the Super Bowl, but when opportunity knocks, answer the phone. I had instead wanted to write about some lessons gleaned from coaching my children’s soccer teams. The start of the spring season is rapidly approaching and last year’s teams have been on my mind lately. In particular, I had been thinking about my daughter’s Under 12 team. For those of you who did not manage to make any of the games I will give you a quick synopsis of the season.
We started out on fire, winning our first two games by a combined score of 16 to 1. As September faded into October the results faded as well. Over the next five games, we managed to win zero. Not a single one. 0 for 5. But, the results do not paint an accurate portrait of the girls’ effort. As the games progressed, our defense improved tremendously and our passing began to resemble actual soccer. The malady from which we suffered could best be described as lacking quality finishes. To put it simply, we could not score. I really enjoyed coaching the girls, they had a great team dynamic. They honestly just enjoyed being with each other, win or lose. However, it was a little frustrating not seeing them earn a positive result.
Thanksgiving approached, and so it was off to the end of season tournament. Even though we were seeded last in our bracket, I was confident. We had faced many challenges over the course of the season and I knew, in my heart, our team was better than our record. Our first game of the tournament kicked off under a bright, brisk fall sky. Sixty minutes later we were huddling up after a 2-0 (two to nil for you soccer aficionados) victory. Later that evening, under a cold, clear night sky, we finished the day with a 3-0 victory. As the final whistle sounded, the girls all ran together, knowing we had qualified for the knockout round. Though fatigued, their eyes shone bright with the joy of their triumph. Grins, ear-to-ear, broke only to describe a play or share a recollection from the day. Sweet was the taste of victory that night, and all the sweeter because of the journey.
In that moment, I was shown a truth about life. To try to attain victory means one must risk defeat. Truly experiencing the bitter taste of loss creates a counterpoint to the succulent flavor known as victory. To not make an attempt, for fear of the sting of loss, is not the answer. The solution is not to fear the hollow feeling of defeat, but to understand the necessity of the feeling. Don’t get me wrong, had we won every single game up to that point, we would have celebrated our victory. However, the losses, and the challenges, taught us one very important lesson. It instilled a sense of perspective. It gave us an extra drive to run a little harder for the ball, to push through the fatigue, and to find a way to finish.
Now, I know those are not the words fans of the Atlanta Falcons want to hear. Any attempt at encouragement will ring very hollow. The stock response for today: “There are no moral victories in the NFL.” But, that is not necessarily true. For starters, not a single fan played one second of football during the Super Bowl. Every Falcons fan feels disappointment, but they did not put their body on the line to come up just short in the most important game of the season. As much as Falcons fans were disgusted watching Tom Brady once more hold aloft the Lombardi Trophy, they did not have to walk to the locker room being covered by another team’s confetti. Following the game, the talk on AM radio was bleak. But we must all remember, having risked defeat, and experienced its bitter bouquet, when the victory finally comes, the joy will be exquisite.
The pain of defeat will fade, so instead remember the two glorious weeks of anticipation leading up to the Super Bowl. Two weeks of analysis and speculation, the reward for earning a spot in the final game. For perspective’s sake, Falcons Fans, there are four teams who have never earned right to play in the Super Bowl. And it is not as if this franchise is the only team lacking a Super Bowl victory. There are thirteen lucky franchises who have never been victorious in a Super Bowl. Even at 0 and 2 in Super Bowls, the team is not the worst. Two teams have tried four times and come up short. The Buffalo Bills even managed an astounding four consecutive Super Bowl defeats.
Many of those bleary eyed individuals trudging into work might decide to take the wrong lesson from the Super Bowl. They may want to give up and quit trying, because to try risks failure. But, the history books are filled with men and women who viewed failure not as an end point. They instead realized a failure is just a way to learn. In fact, failure is a very effective teaching tool. Should you accidentally succeed you might not learn the lessons needed to turn your first success into a multitude of victories. And when you try, and yet fall short, replace the hollow feeling in your gut with fire. Fill the emptiness with an intense desire to achieve success. Go forward in life with conviction, and when you finally reach the mountain top, when you have finally won your “Super Bowl.” take a moment to enjoy the view. Savor the sweet taste of victory, and know it tastes better because you truly understand the flavor of the alternative. And when you are done, look around and realize there are more mountains to climb. Remember, “You never fail until you stop trying.” Albert Einstein.