Last Tuesday, as the setting sun darkened the tennis-ball green of the Schoellkopf turf, I stepped onto the field for my first official football interviews of the season. For the first time all semester I smelled football — we Joneses smell sports: Leather means baseball, sweat and wood means basketball and that night I smelled football. Cornell’s practice was winding down and I was set to meet with a few of the players as they were headed to the locker room. It was a setting worth remembering, but it wouldn’t just be the evening’s scent or the subtle night sky I’d take away from the experience.
The interviews went well (whatever that may mean, no one got a question wrong?) but as I walked home one player’s words stood out in my mind and I couldn’t wait to share them with someone, anyone.
My final of four meetings was with senior defensive tackle Bill Goodrich, a quiet guy by all accounts and not someone normally called upon to be a rousing leader on the Red squad. Regardless, the Sun had decided to go ahead and write one of our featured stories with a sort of “lead by example” theme on the silent leader for our football pullout.
My talk with Goodrich began with just a general conversation about his position and the several players used in the rotation at defensive line. Goodrich had all the right answers, brushing off my comment about the cast he wore on his wrist (“Whatever, I’m ready to go on Saturday”), commenting on the balance of senior leadership and young talent, and talking like he’d been doing this for years.
Then, I told him about the story we intended to write about him and only him.
For the 6-3, 260-pound senior this was an impossibility. Like a criminal caught red-handed, he insisted I had the wrong guy.
He decided the best way to make me see the error of my ways was to re-introduce himself. I insisted I knew his name and that, yes, he was the player about whom we had chosen to write our feature.
Immediately, Goodrich’s face took on a look of panic as he searched for the words he expected I needed. What the Ohio native didn’t realize was he had already given me plenty of perspective on his role for the team and the type of person he was.
Goodrich’s sheer modesty and genuine selflessness were more than apparent in his reaction to my simple declaration.
“He’s just a good guy who leads by example without having to say much at all.” — to quote everyone I had previously spoken to. This was the truth about Bill Goodrich and I had learned it over the course of a 15-second reaction to my comment.
While most Cornellians — ever so luckily — are not poisoned by devils of arrogance, a growing number of college athletes are being infected. Witness Florida quarterback Rex Grossman gloating wildly after last Saturday’s defeat of Tennessee (the Gators are 2-1, Heisman-not-so-hopeful, Rexy).
It’s a growing trend in all of sports — the quiet leaders of yesteryear are out and the boisterous Warren Sapps of the world are in. Screaming lunatics are more marketable and sell more tickets.
Aside: They also apparently sell more video games. Has anyone seen the commercial where various defensive NFL stars scream into mirrors to get psyched up for God knows what? If so, am I the only one who cracks up at Brian Urlacher’s “this is so ridiculous, I’ve been laughing for 43 takes now, just record the friggin’ thing” look? Priceless. I should do a column about football ads.
Anyway, leadership itself seems to be a fading concept in sports as talented championship-caliber clubs like the Red Sox and Rams struggle for success due to a lack of headship.
However, it is the Bill Goodriches of this world that can still make a huge impact for a team without anyone really knowing. Bernie Williams, John Stockton, and John Elway come to mind as these sorts of players.
As I walked back home that night I pictured the towering figure looking at me as if I’d just blurted out some secret he had asked me to keep, and couldn’t help but laugh.
I mean, how many athletes would truly react in such a way when told they were being featured by some publication? Randy Moss looked less upset when questioned about his steamrolling of a cop yesterday.
Interviews are many times laughable but this time around I had a whole new reason for joviality. It was a refreshing taste of pure love for the game and reminded me why I can still smell sports, and always will.
Archived article by Scott Jones