The Best Team Ever

15 01 2011

This past week Jim Harbaugh became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. I like Harbaugh and I like him even more now that Notre Dame won’t have to face a team he coaches every year. I’m not much of a Niner fan, but living in the bay area he has been the talk of the town. During his press conference Harbaugh explained his game plan for his new team and he said something that really caught my attention.

I have unshakable confidence and great faith in human agency, in human beings, and their desire to want to be part of a team, want to be part of something great, whether it’s building a great cathedral or winning a Lombardi trophy.

I love teams. The 2008 Temecula Valley Golden Bears are one of my favorite teams of all time. I’ve played and coached some incredible teams, some of them championship teams. In 2008 I coached a team that wasn’t exactly a championship team. Actually, we entered our last game with a 0-9 record, but I’ll never forget that game. We were playing a school from a little further north of us and like most of our games it was hard-fought all the way through. Unfortunately, our determination and persistence usually didn’t equate to any sort of closeness on the scoreboard. However, in this particular game we were hanging around. We were actually down 7 with the ball and two minutes left in the game. We drove all the way down the field and scored a touchdown, but the night — or the drive– didn’t end there.

We decided to go for two. My wife was up in the stands pacing like it was her job and I was doing my best Lou Holtz impression, practically picking a crater in the grass with my fingers. As our quarterback received the ball from the center he stumbled, regained his balance, and threw a strike to one of our wide receivers in the middle of the end zone. Some of the stories about football games end with elation and joy as the underdog wins the game. Well, that is exactly how this story ends as well. We won. We celebrated. We laughed. We cried.

As I reflect on what I remember most about that night, it had to be the seniors. They didn’t want to leave. We didn’t have any playoffs to look forward to or championships to win, this was it for them. This would be the last time they could be with THEIR team on this field to a play a game they loved. The players literally sat on the field speechless as they took everything in.

I loved that team. We weren’t good, but I would say we accomplished something great. We were unified, we never quit, and we continued to press on toward our goal. I’ll have to agree with Harbaugh on this one. We definitely want to be a part of a team and we want to be part of something great.

As ministers and leaders, I think it is important for us to create teams that embody some of the qualities I saw in the Golden Bears that night. Unity, persistence, trust, faith, endurance, and love. Anyone who has ever played on a team knows the feeling you get from being part of something special. I mean isn’t incredible when you know your role and know what you add to a team? Isn’t it amazing when you can trust the person next to you and trust they are going to do everything they can to help you win? And don’t you love it when week in and week out each member is practicing and playing their hearts out as they work toward a common goal? We can work to create this type of team. As we put together and lead great teams, not much can get in our way. Even if we aren’t seeing wins the way we want to, greatness can still be on the horizon. Like I learned a couple of years ago, even win-less seasons can end in victory.