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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, September 22, 2010 • Posted September 22, 2010

When Underdogs Prevail…

The average weight of monkeys is around 20 pounds. Tell that to football coaches whose teams face opponents that are vastly inferior, yet sometimes rise up to score shocking upsets.

The "monkeys on their backs" feel more like overgrown gorillas whose weight doesn’t lessen until other coaches suffer the same fate a week later, or when their own teams score wins.

Should red-faced coaches have open dates after stunning losses, they get to wrestle their gorillas for a minimum of two weeks….

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Such coaches are accustomed to being objects of name-calling, as well as having their heritage questioned. Some are accused of having played the game without helmets.

Uncle Mort, my 98-year-old uncle down in the thicket, has responded to similar accusations for several decades.

"Of course we played without helmets," he laughs. "The only helmets we knew about were worn in World War I."…

* * * * *

He called the other day, breathless after Virginia Tech, a 34-point favorite over James Madison University, was upset, 21-16.

"Can you imagine Virginia Tech losing to a cupcake?," he joked.

I reminded him that he had his "Madisons" mixed up. "James was our fourth president," I corrected. "Dolly makes the cupcakes."…

* * * * *

Because coaches know that wins rarely come easily, they hedge comments, trotting out predictable litanies of excuses. Fans hear repeatedly that "anything can happen in a game played with an oblong ball," and tire of the old line about "any team being able to beat another on any given Saturday."

Some of the best coaches are able to "sprinkle in" a few memorable quotes, some of which endure the test of time. Who can forget University of Texas legendary coach Darrell Royal, who coined dozens of great lines during his impressive career? One concerned passes—of three possible outcomes, two of them are bad—and he also maintained that "you don’t have to explain victory and you can’t explain defeat."

One of his quotes may have cost the Longhorns both a win and a shot at a national championship in 1961. The so-so TCU team was coming to Austin, and Royal joked that the Horned Frogs were like cockroaches. "It’s not what they eat and tote off, it’s what they fall into and mess up," he said. The Frogs, finding no humor in the quote, scored a resounding 6-0 upset win, knocking the Longhorns from their #1 national ranking….

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Some coaches—late basketball coach Abe Lemons and ESPN’s Lou Holtz come to mind—could have made piles of money in stand-up comedy…and enjoyed more job security.

When a star player hit a single bucket in an Oklahoma City University game against Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Lemons claimed his ace that day was "just two points better than a dead man."

Unimpressed with Abilene night life, he threatened to banish the players from their hotel rooms "until after 10 p.m." if play didn’t improve….

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A few mentors could win coaching multiple sports. One was the late Milton Jowers, whose entire college coaching career was at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State). One of the nation’s most respected coaches, Jowers returned to SWT after serving in World War II, where he would coach football and/or basketball for the next 26 years, including three seasons when he coached both sports concurrently. He won the NAIA basketball championship in 1960, and his 1963 football team was undefeated.

Never a fashion plate, Jowers showed up at games with sleeves rolled up, ready to go. One day, a colleague at Texas A&I bragged about the school’s "well-rounded sports program." At the time, A&I was nationally-recognized in football, but was unheard of in other sports.

"I’m not sure about the well-rounded part," Jowers joked, "Your track team rode to the conference meet on a motorcycle with a side car."…

* * * * *

The profession calls for thick skins; scars are inevitable.

The late Dr. Tom Spencer, long-time revered president of San Jacinto College, joked about his basketball coach’s "record": 301 wins, 43 losses and three wives."

Another coach, claiming that coaches "on the move" keep trailer rental firms in business, vowed to live only in houses with wheels on them….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.

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