True Champs

Okay. So the Mountaineers lost last night. We’re still in shock, soon to enter into mourning. During the game I thought my husband would need a Xanax drip, and we have yet to check on my brother-in-law. He’s missing in action. The stunned faces of the players and fans following the game represented the death of a dream. And if Rich Rodriquez’s heartbreaking after-game press session didn’t bring a tear to your eye, then you must surely have no heart.

As he fought back the tears, the tough guy coach said something that I think really shows what the man is made of. He said he was still proud of his players and, “Sometimes the Lord throws you some adversity.”

I can’t talk about Rich Rodriquez’s faith, because I don’t know anything about it. I’ve never read an interview, or heard him speak in depth about God. He has always mentioned the Lord in passing, as if he’s uncomfortable making something so private and precious a public issue. But I can tell you what I have seen in this team this year. I’ve seen quiet dignity. I’ve seen players show respect and restraint. I’ve watched a team of young men develop character. I saw it when Rich encouraged them to bump chests in celebration rather than make other more aggressive gestures. I’ve seen it in their lack of cockiness and excessive celebration in the wake of an incredible year. I’ve seen it in the man himself, in his interactions not only with the players, but members of the press, the public and his coaching team.

Last night’s game will go down in the books as the most disappointing loss in WVU history. We all feel the loss. Our hearts are heavy. But our man Rich is building more than a record. He’s working on more than a national championship. He’s building men of character; he’s working on future leaders. I might be wrong, but I think his faith plays an important part in that process. It certainly seems to have impacted a group of football players in amazing ways.

Of all the images from the heartbreaking loss last night, there is one that stands out in my mind. It’s the shot of Pat White, after he dislocated his thumb, in the arms of the team chaplain. They prayed together, and this soft-spoken, dignified young man affectionately patted the pastor on the shoulder before reinserting his mind back into the game. This man of God is obviously a part of these players’ lives. He was familiar enough with the star player to approach and embrace him in prayer. He had no fear of rejection, no hesitation. He was received with open arms. And I think that is awesome.

My husband said this morning, “For all the talent this team has, there is just something that they are missing. They just can’t sustain their hunger. I just can’t put my finger on it, but there is something missing.”

I must disagree. I think what Jeff sees as a lack of passion is simply a growing awareness of where the game belongs in this world. I think it will be only when this knowledge completely takes hold of their hearts that their true greatness will shine.

Yeah, Rich, sometimes the Lord throws you a little adversity. It’s true. Don’t forget that you are building something precious, my friend. What you teach these young men about how to handle this adversity, with grace and transparency, they will carry with them the rest of their lives. You are a winner to me, tough guy.

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