"Walking on the sidewalk, roundball under my arm … "
Dateline: Mountain Top
May 24th, 1992.
The day that changed my life.
I was in a 1991 BMW 318is driving into the sky. Television Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the top of the summit, overlooking the city of Pittsburgh was my new job, my new television station.
I came to produce local programming, news, features, pretty much the normal stuff of my career up until then. Brought here by a guy named Mark who I worked with at KFSN in Fresno back in the early 1980s.
Never been to Pittsburgh, just drove up from Miami, had the "Beamer" loaded with living stuff until my family could arrive. Walked in the door that day, a Sunday actually, Indy 500 on all the TV sets in the newsroom, hugs to Mark, handshakes to all the others, went into an office and talked about what Mark wanted me to do at his station.
I remember sitting in a chair looking at the photos and awards on his wall, pictures of the family on his desk … been probably 10 years since I saw them … him … always surprised that people had growed. So I was sort of listening to what he was saying, sort of not, until he said four words that jumped out at me, slammed me upside the head.
Changed my life for the next two decades.
When Mark said this, " … oh … and sports too."
Sports … I have to cover Sports … the Pittsburgh Steelers … the Pirates … the Penguins … Pitt … huh?
Had this been said while on the phone in Miami, the "Beamer" never would have left the driveway in Coral Springs.
Other than following the Buffalo Bills, I had never for a second cared much about Sports. I would watch some Daytona 500 … some Indy 500 … an inning or two of the World Series … nothing of college anything … nothing of hockey anything.
And to my new boss, Mark, I said exactly this, "I don't care about sports."
And to me my new boss, Mark, said exactly this, "You will."
Twenty years later this year, I know … Mark was right.
I still don't care about sports.
Won a bunch of awards covering it for these two decades now, but sports is not up high on my list of caring about things.
What I do care about though, are the athletes who play the game.
I also care about "The Game" no matter what the game, because it is "The Game" where you get to measure those who play it.
"The Game" is a measurable moment in time, and it is this measurable moment where you can take the measurement of those who play it.
And it is that measurement, where you learn of human nature, where you learn of what makes the man, what makes the woman, what makes us as a species tick.
I have been there when championships have been won.
When athletes succeed.
And in those moments, in that measurement, lies life.
We live on the 50-yard line. We learn at Center Court.
In 20 years of doing this, Mark was right, I have come to care about sports, but not of the score, or the outcome so much.
I have come to care deeply for the moments, for the measurements, and what we can learn from those moments, and measurements, about life.
Life on the 50-yard line.
Life at Center Court.
Where most of us live.
" … everybody knows how you play is who you are … "
"Sorry db for calling you a bit late, got lost in getting my tackle all set … for The Classic, you know."
The face on my phone is that of KVD … Kevin VanDam. He's won The Classic four times, you know.
"Dude, do you know that you have caught one and three quarters Toyota Tundras in fish (he's caught some 8,000 pounds of Bass, the Tundra weighs 5,050 pounds or so – you do the math)."
Sort of puts it all in perspective right there.
This is the next thing I say to KVD, and if you don't believe me, ask him when you see him. I say exactly this; "No offense dude, but you don't look all that tough."
I know he is tough because he laughed. Tough ones laugh, wimps trying to be tough get all prickly-like when you say that to them.
Ditka … Butkus … Czonka … Mean Joe … looked tough, and were … are tough.
Montana … Jeter … Brady … Eli … not looking so tough, but certainly are.
KVD, to me, looks like my 10th-grade math teacher, pretty much exactly, and I know for sure because I saw my 10th grade math teacher a lot … during school, after school. Summer school.
KVD looks like to me that he can't drive a Tundra, let alone catch the equivalent in bass … of almost two Tundras.
But the success of this man, the measurement of this Champion, is deep within. And what he harbors within is a life lesson all of us at Center Court should pay attention to.
"I've been asked a lot, a real lot, what it is that I have left to accomplish, 'What's left,' they always say."
The answer to "what's left to accomplish," is simple, what's left is … TO ACCOMPLISH.
The desire TO ACCOMPLISH is what fires the greats, and KVD is one of the greats … in any sport.
There can be no "left to" when all you want, all that drives you is TO ACCOMPLISH.
Is seven Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles and four Classic titles enough? For KVD, it's all about competing.
"db, there is no mountain top, there is no peak, I will always, have to always, keep on climbing. I don't do it for the titles, for the records, I do it because that's what makes me, me. I do it to COMPETE."
He told me, "Got that from my mom. If she is baking cookies for the church, she has to have the best cookies, the most cookies, the cookies you drool over … very competitive, my mom."
To accomplish, in itself, is what makes some people get out of bed in the morning, the lack of to accomplish, is what makes some people stay in bed through the morning.
So Mark, in Pittsburgh, I care now about sports because through it I have learned that success is never based on, "What's left?" but is always based on, "What's next?"
" … walking down the road, looking for a game or two … "
The stuff of measurement.
I have learned that it is not the days, weeks, months, years or decades in life that count. It is the moments, that matter.
It is the moments of time that make up the time of your life. Again, sports taught me that.
"db, I concentrate on doing what I do in that moment in time. If I take care of the moment I'm in, history will take care of itself."
I used to think that living moment to moment didn't bode well for having a future … but … moment to moment is how you get to the future.
"I'm still learning," that from KVD, " … learning to be in the moment I'm in. It's take what you get, but get what you take."
It's the fourth quarter drop-off pass for five yards you can get instead of the long down and out pass for the chance of what you might get.
Glory is in the long bomb.
Championships are in the take what you can get.
"I'm always learning, in fact my learning curve now is greater than it has ever been. I'm learning not to look back, I can't control what others are doing so I concentrate on what it is I'm doing and not worrying about what others around me are doing … learning that."
When you take the measurement, and the moments and put them together, you get insight into the athlete.
You get insight, into the man.
So Mark, in Pittsburgh, I now care about sports, because through sports I have now learned that success comes by what you do …
… moment to moment.
" … the real moves come through, no matter what they're gonna do … "
Moments and measurements, the yardstick of an athlete.
The yardstick of a man.
I believe that the judgment of a man, of an athlete, should not be made on what he gets, but by what he leaves.
Judge not what I was, judge what I am. Judge not what I did, judge what I do.
For Mark in Pittsburgh, this is now why, some two decades after those faithful four words were uttered, why those words may have been the most important four words said to me in my entire career. And I didn't have to paint my face in Buffalo Bills colors to learn it.
I asked KVD not what's left to accomplish, but what there is he wants to accomplish …
"When you look back on all of it, there will be a someday when to accomplish is done, and that what's left will be the word DID -- what Did you accomplish in all this? When your two boys, now 15-year-olds Jackson and Nicholas, when they have children what is it that you want them to say they learned from their dad? What is it you want you grandkids to hear?"
"Boy … tough one … let me think … "
So I did, just listened to nothing coming over the speaker phone.
Until this, "db I want my children, my boys to learn from me about the work ethic. I want them to take with them the knowledge and understanding of how hard it is I work for all this … talent is great but hard work is what matters. I want my boys to know that that moment on stage of lifting the trophy is made possible by hours and hours, years of hard work."
"I want them to work hard, and to have a passion for whatever it is they do, and when you work hard, and have a passion for what it is you are doing, great things happen."
Between the lines is where you will find the game.
Outside the lines is where you will find life.
Erase the lines and you find the value of sports. You find the why, not the how.
You find the man, or the woman, as opposed to the athlete.
And you find that," … oh, and sports too," was really about covering the game …
… of life.
" … it's down to you."
The Old Playground