Pro football coach Herm Edwards once famously got irked at a reporter who asked if his team had quit. He stared at the reporter for a moment before slowly answering, “This is the greatest thing about sports. (long pause) You play…to win…the game. (condescending look) Hello? You play! To win! THE GAME!”
I would not have put it exactly that way. I would have looked at the reporter and said, “This is the greatest thing about sports: You play…to chew…the sunflower seeds.”
Sitting on the baseball bench for four years, I became AMAZING at sticking half a bag of sunflower seeds in my cheek and cracking, spitting and eating them one-by-one. It’s a real skill. The sunflower seeds were my favorite part of games, because my brief on-field appearances were disasters.
In addition to not having any semblance of athletic ability, I also lack what some might call the “Eye of the Tiger.” When I would take the field, the voice in my head would stop saying, “you play to chew the sunflower seeds” and start up with, “you play to not look dumb.”
This always resulted in me doing something incredibly dumb.
I wish that wouldn’t happen. I certainly think it would be nice to have the Eye of the Tiger. To develop this skill, I’ve tried studying people who have it: Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. My wife.
When we started dating, I discovered that Deserae is an incredibly competitive person. The first time we played ping-pong I thought, “I hope we’re both having a nice time.” I figured Deserae was thinking the same thing. She was not. As we neared the end of the game, it became clear that her thoughts were more along the lines of “I WILL CRUSH HIS SOUL.”
It is very rare that I beat Deserae in a game, because the last few points turn into the last few days of climbing Mt. Everest. Breathing becomes harder, my thoughts turn to not plummeting to my death by doing something dumb, and my climbing partner transforms into a tiger that’s trying to murder me with an ice pick.
All this came into focus last year when we joined a volleyball league.
Of all of Deserae’s favorite things to compete in, volleyball is her favoritest. So when she learned of a co-ed volleyball league sponsored by a church down the street, we HAD to join.
We went to a few pick-up games before the league started and instantly making an impression — Deserae with her killer backward sets and me with my junior high girl serves.
After each game, at least one guy would come up to her.
“Our team could really use a setter like you!”
“Cool! Yeah my husband and I aren’t sure what team we’ll be on.”
The recruiter would suddenly realize that she’d be a package deal with the skinny guy who had been apologizing all night.
She’d be a package deal with the skinny guy who had been apologizing all night
As the start date for the league approached, I realized we might have a slight problem. The league was split into divisions based on ability level, and there’s a pretty big gap between my ability level and Deserae’s. “Don’t worry about it,” I told Deserae. “It’s a church league. They’re just going to take our word for it and let us play wherever we want.”
They did not. The next Thursday, we were greeted by clipboard-toting Pastor Carrick, who was evaluating the newbies for ability level. I smiled at him and started hyperventilating.
Don’tlookdumb Don’tlookdumb Don’tlookdumb Don’tlookdumb Don’tlookdumb
I looked SO dumb.
After the games, Pastor Carrick walked over to us.
“Wow, you are fantastic!” he told Deserae.
Then he looked down at his clipboard and back at me “So you’re kind of on the edge,” he said like a liar. “In that case, we’d usually put you in the lower…”
“Can we both play in the higher division?” Deserae interrupted. “Pleeeeeeease.”
Pastor Carrick looked back at his clipboard and rubbed his temples. “Well it depends on how much room we have…”
“We’ll practice a lot, right Dustin?”
“I’ll teach him everything I know!”
Pastor Carrick looked at her, looked back at me, smiled and slapped my back. “You better whip this guy into shape!”
I felt like a puppy that had just been welcomed into a new home on the condition that I wouldn’t pee everywhere.
Over the next few weeks, I studied YouTube to make sure I wouldn’t pee everywhere. I memorized this video in particular.
As we walked onto the court for our first game of the season, Deserae was 100% ready to “wreck this league.” I was 100% ready to “not do anything dumb.”
Two minutes into the game, we both got a chance to show what we were made of. I was in the front row, Deserae was setting and a ball was coming straight for us. In slow motion, Deserae executed a perfect set.
I stepped toward the ball.
Build momentum, arms forward
Convert forward energy to vertical
Use core muscles and shoulder rotation to transfer power to the ball
DON’T PEE IN THE HOUSE!
I connected. Kind of.
Unfortunately, there’s no video footage of my actual hit, but I searched the Internet and found the closest thing to it.
Deserae’s got the Eye of the Tiger. I’ve got the Eye of the Clumsy Baby Elephant.
LIFE LESSON #54
The quickest way to do something dumb is trying not to do something dumb.