Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Winning at winning

If I'm not mistaken, it was the superstar Willie Mays who tried to play without knees, tried to play when he couldn't cover ground as he once did in centerfield for the Giants, tried to play when he should have stayed in the dugout, tried to play because he'd always been a gamer and he wanted to go out that way, even though he couldn't--tried to play when he shouldn't have.

Monday's Outback Bowl featured a similar story in C. J. Beathard, the Iowa Hawkeyes' dream quarterback two years ago, when he took over under center. His first year was scripted by something almost divine; the Beathard-led Hawkeyes went undefeated during the Big 10 season, 10-2 overall. The kid was a winner.

But this season was not so heavenly. After some doleful defeats, the Hawkeyes came back to defeat #3 Michigan and #12 Nebraska and end with a sweet five-game winning streak, enough to earn another bid from the Outback Bowl.

But Monday, January 2, they got killed by the Florida Gators, and C. J. Beathard had his absolute worst day as a Hawkeye. Injured all season-long, he stretched something when he tried to push the ball over the goal line and score--that's the moment above. From that moment on, he turned into another Willie Mays, a sorry figure doing his best against injuries that kept him from playing at the level he wanted. He tried, but witnessing his failure was pure agony.

The Outback Bowl commentator made very clear his disagreement with the Coach Ferentz's decision to let him play, and the arguments the commentator gave were sound. Not only did Beathard's injuries make winning impossible, but, he said, the kid's inability to perform handicapped the work of all the rest of the team. Because Beathard couldn't run, everyone else failed. That's not fair, the commentator said. And he was right.

But Coach Ferentz kept playing him, kept him in the game, even though the only completions Beathard could make were to Gators, not Hawkeyes. For Hawkeye fans, it was very, very sad. Even ugly.

When Ferentz was questioned about continuing to play his quarterback even though the kid's play was pathetic, he said the Iowa football program owed it to him. “Certainly he was limited in what he could do," Ferentz said after the game. "He wasn’t going to run. But he wanted to compete. We certainly owed it to him. He’s had a tremendous career, and laid it out there for us, game in and game out.”

Talk about tough calls. Iowa gets trounced but Beathard gets a shot at dignity that he's earned after two great seasons at the helm of a football team nobody would have picked to have done as well as they did. Ferentz says he earned that shot.

It was one of those moments when competing moralities collided head on. By playing him, Ferentz limited Iowa's chances to win. But by playing him, he refused to take away his quarterback's opportunity to engineer what he'd done successfully for the last two years, a win. Ferentz doesn't say he owed it to Beathard to play him.

Fans will shake their heads, just like the commentator, I suppose. But Ferentz seemed to say thereby that there are times in the life of all of us when winning isn't the only thing. 

Or that winning is something more than winning. It was a sad day for Iowa, but I can't help but admire the commitment.

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