Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stately Oaks and Broad Magnolias

The LSU Alma Mater closes with poignant lyrics "May thy spirit live within us, Forever LSU!" It seems cliche, but when the voices of over 93,000 momentarily attempt to sober up to belt out these lyrics. When the "sun has found its home in the western sky and it's Saturday night in Death Valley". When it's November. When it's the (enter four letter word here-ing) Alabama Crimson Tide. You truly start to feel the spirit that lives within the LSU Tigers.

Now, I'm not an "official" Tiger. I do not hold a degree from Louisiana State University. I cannot say I have attended a single class in Baton Rouge. But make no mistake, I am a Tiger... by birth and by blood. The Craig Family has been attending and graduating from Louisiana State University for over a century - dating back to my great-grandfather. Since then, my grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles, cousins and then some have attended LSU. I personally have walked under the shade of the oak trees on campus since the time I could walk. I have belted out "Geaux Tigers!" since the time I could talk. I am a Tiger, I feel and possess the spirit.

Last night, Tiger Stadium was FILLED with the spirit of LSU. The air was charged - truly unlike any game I've EVER seen (and I've seen my fair share, ladies and gentlement) in my entire life. Charged with anticipation, charged with alcohol-induced insanity, charged with the memory of January 9, 2012, charged with HATE. You felt at times so charged and elated you could just be sick from pure exhaustion and adrenaline, to only fall to the pit of complete, hollow deflation. An emotional journey.

But for me, a game at Tiger Stadium is so much more than two final numbers left on a scoreboard once the dust settles... It's the experience. It's the older gentlemen turning to his wife when the band first marches onto the field that says "my hair just raised on its end... it gets me every time" with the sparkle of a nostalgic wink. It's the new-found friends that share high fives, life stories, less than impressive dance moves, hugs of pure bliss and a certain kindred spirit. Yes, the experience is even rooted in the shouts and vicious banter, shoves, cursing (and yes, even police) attempting to simmer the fervent animosity of hatred that burns between the Tigers and Tide (and that was just in our section!).

I cannot fully describe the LSU spirit in words. It's not something you can capture. It's not something you can copy or recreate. The towering shadows and beaming lights of Death Valley stir something in your soul and in your heart. It may be where "opponents dreams come to die", but it's where our dreams come to life.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Honey Badger Don't Care

The concept of leadership is incredibly complex and multi-faceted. You are one, or you aren’t. You lead by example. You have the belief and trust of your followers. Leadership is practiced through attitude and actions, not by words.

Tyrann Mathieu, affectionately known as the “Honey Badger”, is one such incredible and inexplicably frustrating leader. Fluctuating between sheer brilliance on the football field and utter confusion and disregard for life off, Tyrann has now almost sealed his disappointing story in his recent drug arrest yesterday with three current/former football-playing Tigers: Jordann Jefferson, Karnell Hatcher and Derrick Bryant.

(Side note… Can someone please tell me why Jordan Jefferson cannot just ride off into the sunset already? He’s done enough damage to the LSU Football program.)

Tyrann possessed the intangibles not able to be taught. He had the magic that little boys playing pee-wee football dream of on the field. The ability to change the entire landscape of a game. The spark of adrenaline with a punt return or inflicted turnover. The rush of emotion when a team is struggling to find a purpose. The jump-start of an offense into overdrive. Heisman Trophy finalist. Play-maker. Magic.

I hope the story of the “Honey Badger” has a few more chapters. It seems like a travesty for this story to end so soon. In the end, it’s just a game and it’s time for Tyrann to focus on the bigger picture of real life. We see the qualities and purposeful mission of leadership in the man on the its time for him to be that same leading man off that field. I wish upon him guidance, wisdom, maturity and luck on his journey.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Human Spirit of the Olympic Games

It’s the most wonderful time of year – or shall we say, 4 years – when the sport of swimming has the incredible opportunity to bask in the spotlight and glory of the Olympic Games. The entire gambit of athletes, from newly minted rookie Olympians to wiley old veterans of the sport that I’ve loved my entire life take center stage for the world to take note.

As I sat transfixed to the television all night, I began wondering what it was that made me cheer and cry with every move of the Team USA swimmers. The fact is, there are so many beautifully perfect and imperfect human elements they put on display day in and day out. We worship and idolize their world records, their training regiments (flipping monster tires anyone?), their ridiculous diets, their Twitter accounts, their next magazine cover and yes – even their own language (… JEAH!) But the truth is, their most admirable qualities are those a little less Hollywood – those qualities that make them just like you and me.

There’s Missy Franklin – the hyper, overzealous teenager that’s deep down in every one of us. Her effervescent smile and personality that bubbles like a shaken bottle of champagne is something that we each strive to attain. There’s Ryan Lochte – the charismatic, unconventional skateboard-riding, grill-wearing Playboy whose relaxed demeanor and unrefined approach to life make it okay and even downright AWESOME to stand out in a crowd.

There are so many qualities to admire and replicate of Team USA: The silent, yet fierce, leadership of Rebecca Soni and Elizabeth Beisel. The ultimate comeback story of redemption and ultimate dedication in Brendan Hansen, Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy. The hopeless romantic spirit and love of Matt Grevers blowing a kiss into the stands. The flooding relief of accomplishment Caitlin Leverenz after capturing her first medal. The quiet redemption and fortitude of the seemingly consummate bridesmaids, Nick Thoman and Davis Tarwater. The veteran, foundational wisdom in Natalie Coughlin and Jason Lezak. The list is endless.

Finally – there’s the ultimate champion, the most powerful ambassador for the sport of swimming, the greatest Olympian of all time and newly noted HUMAN, Michael Phelps. Tonight, for the very first time, I felt Michael acknowledge that the edges of his Superman cape are indeed slowly unraveling – acknowledging AND even embracing one of life’s most difficult challenges – change. As he stood atop the podium for the 4 x 200 Free Relay, I saw the glimmer of tears in his eyes for the first time EVER in 19 trips, as I believe he caught the first true glimpse of his swimming sunset. He seemed a changed man at the end of finals – smiling, joking, more jovial and relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. He is retiring, closing a chapter and he’s finally embracing it.

This is why I really do love the Olympic Games – as they exemplify the greatness that lies in each of us, as Nike poignantly portrayed in an advertisement tonight. At the end of the day, these supernatural , extraordinary athletes we call Olympians (not just those wearing red, white and blue and not just those competing in the sports with prime time coverage) are just human beings – moms, dads, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters. Their lives are shining examples of extraordinary qualities that live in each of us: hope, determination, strength and the imperfectly perfect human spirit… in this case – the Olympic spirit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Football. The Heartbeat of the South.

"In the South, college football is a religion,
and every Saturday is the holy day..."

In the reflective and thoughtful spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to take a moment to stop and reflect on the incredible, palpable, pervasive and powerful spirit of college football across the country. Correction - college football in the SOUTH.

In the past two weeks I will have had the most amazing opportunity to attend very large football games at both of my parents' schools - Mississippi State (vs. Alabama on the 12th) and LSU (vs. Arkansas coming up on the 25th). As I was walking down University Drive in Starkville, Mississippi it truly dawned on me the incredible cohesive force, common language and powerful passion that is solely unique to college football.

It's not just the football - it's the tailgating traditions, the fight songs and the dedication. It's the entire experience. It's the cool, crisp fall breeze whipping through the rows of tents. It's the smells of the best food you'll taste in your life - and eat off a paper plate. The intermingling sounds of televisions playing other games, the bantering cheers, in Starkville - the clanging of cowbells, in Baton Rouge - the horns of the Golden Band from Tigerland. The overwhelming feeling of team and community.

It's family tradition (hence the homage to the Mannings above...). It's why you teach your children your college cheers as soon as they can speak. It's why you swear if they drew your blood it'd be your school's colors. It's why one of your baby's first outfits are the colors of your alma mater. It's a part of your soul here in the South. It's woven into your identity.

Every school may have their own scripts and their own uniquely crafted experiences - but at the end of the day, it's YOUR OWN. Each experience provides their students, alums, players and fans the unrivaled, inexplicable goosebumps. It's the Salute to the Stadium at LSU, Calling of the Hogs in Arkansas, The War Eagle flight at Auburn, The Aggie Bonfire, The Walk of Champions through the Grove in Oxford and so much more.

It's the common bond, the common thread and the indominable spirit and strength of college football - and so often all college athletics. It's so much more than the sport, the stats or the final score. Just ask the students at Penn State and Nebraska who solemnly met at midfield to show one another moral support after the week of chaos and scandal on the PSU campus. Just ask the women's basketball players and coaches from across the Big 12 who traveled to honor the two Oklahoma State coaches killed last week.

So - keep bleeding your school colors, screaming your chants, and honoring your school. Across the south - you understand. Football is more than a sport, more than an extracurricular activity for Saturdays - it's what you live for in the fall. It's moving. It's maddening. It's exhilirating. It's a religion.


Friday, August 26, 2011

C'mon Man!

Disclaimer: A man on College Sports radio this morning mentioned that the media and sports fans alike can only focus on the negatives and scandals in collegiate sports. Please send my apologies to mister Orange Beach caller - I'm going to focus on it too.

If you're an NFL fan you're familiar with the segment C'MON MAN! Well, I've knocked the dust off the ole blog for my LSU College Football version of C'MON MAN!

Your team is ranked in the Top 5 pre-season. You have an entire senior season to finally prove to your nay-sayers that you are a legitimate talent and can lead your team. You have a huge, HUGE game against the Oregon Ducks (who just happened to play in the National Title game last season) at Cowboys Stadium the first game of the season. You are Jordan Jefferson. And, after the events the past few weeks. You are AN IDIOT.

I just simply do not understand what makes a senior in college - A SENIOR - want to break curfew and sneak out. C'MON MAN. You're 21/22 years old. You're supposedly a "grown man". You're supposedly a "leader" of one of the top level college football programs in the country. You're the main man, the director, the orchestrator of the offense.

Where was the voice of Les Miles in your head when you snuck out of the room after curfew? Where were the images of a potential championship when you went to the local bar? Did thoughts of your potential and your future cross your mind as you assaulted another human being?

Well, Mr. Jefferson, while you're sitting there with those shiny handcuffs around your wrists I hope you take time to contemplate all that you set fire to for a little night on the town.

I hope it was worth it - but guarantee you it wasn't.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Beauty and the Beast of the Cinderella

By now you've thrown away your bracket (if you didn't do it long ago with all of the "busting" that happened this year), paid all of your tournament debts, put the basketball shoes back in the closet, erased the Tivo and tried to look ahead to a hopefully worthwhile National Championship tonight with the ladies of Texas A&M and Notre Dame...

We had hopes last night for another rendition of the magical runs of Connecticut and Butler - but it seems that the clock struck midnight for both teams...

The game last night was like watching a depressing, tear-jerker movie like the ending of Beaches or Steel Magnolias in slow motion. It was painful, heart breaking, gut wrenching and NOT the fireworks, cherry on top of the sundae tournament finale we always hope for in sports. The shots attempted by Butler (and UConn, no less) looked like those flying around in a bad YMCA league basketball game of 5th grade girls. Bodies were flying, control was absent, finesse was fleeting and Tar Heels, Jayhawks, Wildcats, Panthers, Buckeyes sat at home with smoke coming out of their ears in rage...

During the game last night I had the good vs. evil situation pictured above going round and round in my head. Yes - we all live for the madness that is March. We thrive on the drama of upsets, the thrill of buzzer beaters and the role of the Cinderella... but in the end, is the champion crowned the TRUE, honest to goodness National Champion? Were these two teams truly the two best teams in NCAA basketball for 2011? NO! No, no, no, no, no! Would the BCS ever dream of awarding a 9-4 Mississippi State football team the National Championship? How about a 7-6 BYU? NO WAY - They'd be INSANE! There would be OUTRAGE! (Sorry Dad!)

Hate on it all you'd like, but the BCS system of college football has the power to take into consideration body of work, strength of schedule and wins and losses in the regular season to determine the layout of the bowl season and championship game and 95% of the time on right on target. This past year, Auburn and Oregon continually proved themselves and followed through and deserved the title shot.

How do we incorporate the adrenaline-packed excitement of the basketball tournament with the precision and exactness of the BCS to ensure the champion is deserving? Who knows? The debate continues...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Proud TCU Horned Frog

Wow. Wow. Wow. Words TRULY cannot describe how I'm feeling this evening, but I'll try and do my best.

I realize now that I really never understood the true meaning of school pride until quite recently.

I grew up watching and cheering for both LSU and Mississippi State - so I always loved their colors and their school songs, their campuses and their football teams. Then, after signing with TCU in 2005 I wore my obligatory purple and white to all swim practices in college, and partook in all our sporting events always representing and cheering on the Horned Frogs. Then, I walked across the stage to receive my diploma on May 9, 2009 and it all changed...

I especially noticed my new found pride when decorating my office at the Houston West Chamber. TCU swimming collage on the shelf, TCU alumni sticker and TCU mug for the pens/pencils on my desk - and this Christmas even a TCU Santa Claus! I made my name in my email signature purple and found myself fielding calls and emails solely based upon encouraging my team - nothing at all work related! I became somewhat (as I coined it last night) the TCU Ambassador to West Houston! :)

I noticed with the implosion of one half of Amon Carter Stadium that as the pillars fell, I found a lump in my throat... I thought about the historical value of the stadium - both recent history and history of long ago. I thought about the ghosts of past TCU teams - as well as my own memories of running and jumping up the steps and bleachers during my time at school.

However, my pride really came to fruition the past month or so in the time leading up to the Rose Bowl. Those of you who know me understand that while I am incredibly passionate about sports, I generally like to maintain my calm, sweet demeanor and not try and stir up any trouble. Oops, that is until you disrespect my team - and therefore, disrespect me - because at TCU, you see, we MAKE IT PERSONAL.

I found myself wanting to literally spit blood out of MY eyes at certain individuals land-blasting TCU as pretenders who would be steamrolled on the big stage. I tried to keep my mouth shut (most of the time), but felt my blood boiling - knowing that those knocking our talent probably hadn't witnessed us play one single series of downs. I had faith and just waited for our players to hit the field today. I tried taking a lesson out of Gary Patterson's book on not worrying about what we cannot control and making our point out on the field.

Throughout the several hours of the game today - I paced, I screamed, I clapped, I closed my eyes, I plugged my ears, I fist pumped, I fist bumped then, when it was all said and done - I cried... The incredible emotions and pride flowing through my body just could not be contained. We had done it. We had climbed the mountain and proved that we belong. We no longer were the "little guys" - we were the 2011 Rose Bowl Champions.

Our coaches displayed poise and restraint (Patterson even halted the Gatorade bath until the clock had expired!), yet demanded and orchestrated 60 minutes of perfection. Our incredible quarterback commanded the game with a calm control and even quoted scripture in his post-game interview. It was just the classiest and most respectful display I'd ever seen.

Facebook was flooded with an incredible mass of cheers and pride for the Frogs and my phone flashed like a strobe light with those wishing the Frogs congratulations. People wanting to name their first child Tank (after our magnificent linebacker, Tank Carder), to others crying happy tears too to those continuing to poke fun at Gordon Gee for his riduclous mid-season/Non-AQ threatening comments! (PS - Hey Gordon, can you refresh me as to the Big 10's record today in bowl games?)

At the end of the day, we were the "Little Engine That Could." We thought we could, then we knew we could - then we DID. The TCU Nation painted Pasadena purple today - the first day of what is sure to be an incredible 2011. I tell you that I NOW know the meaning of school pride and I couldn't be more PROUD to be a graduate of Texas Christian University.