I searched the sideline, where everyone seemed to be frozen in time, until I saw Coach Carroll, slumped forward, elbows on his knees with his head bowed, his hands clasped in front of him, and his black headset trailing behind him like a sad dog's tail. Seeing him like that was heart wrenching for me. I had an idea what the cost had been to him; he had invested his forty-year coaching career to get to this point. To watch someone who had become like a father to me
experience that depth of pain was almost too much to bear.
In a matter of moments, we went from back-to-back Super Bowl champs to losing in the most painful way possible. Sports Illustrated
dubbed it "the worst play call in NFL history" and that
play along with that
game will undoubtedly be remembered by sports fans for a long time.
As the final twenty seconds ran off the clock, I snapped back into work mode, and the instant I saw 0:00, I bolted for the locker room. I mentally tossed my postgame victory speech into the trash can and tried to compose some words of consolation for Coach to deliver in just a few minutes. It didn't take long for the locker room to fill, and I watched a hundred grown men express their grief in a variety of ways. Some were weeping with clenched teeth and tears rolling down their cheeks, while others were pounding their fists into the gray metal lockers.
I know this may sound like a gross overreaction to a football game, but this was what these guys had been working for and sacrificing for their entire lives. We all knew there were no guarantees; many of us would never be there again.
The air was thick, and one question blanketed the room like an Arizona desert sandstorm. It was the exact question being asked by the more than 114 million flabbergasted television viewers: Why in the world would you call that
play? But this wasn't the time to sketch out Xs and Os on the whiteboard or to debate strategy; that would be an exercise for another day.
When Coach brushed by me, I held out his postgame speech and quietly asked, "Do you want this?" He reached for it without even looking up, but instead of grabbing it, he let it flutter to the floor and stepped over it. It didn't bother me. I understood that the only meaningful words in this moment would have to come from his heart. He plodded to the center of the room, head down, shoulders sagging, while the entire team slowly encircled him. I stepped back and stood just outside the ring of the team, wanting to give the guys their space.
The room was quiet now, and Coach Carroll raised his head as he calmly and resolutely looked at the face of every player in turn. With emotion, while jabbing his index finger into the center of his chest, he said, "If you're going to blame anyone, if you are going to point any fingers, you can point them right here at me. You don't blame anyone else here, any player or any other coach, you...blame...me. This was completely my fault. I'm sorry, guys."
Right when he said that, I felt the tension that had been building in the room dissipate, and each man went slack with the realization he had just been absolved of any responsibility. Coach Carroll could have blamed a number of different guys or pinned the loss on his assistant coaches, but on behalf of his players and staff, he took the fall.
I had now experienced both ends of football's emotional spectrum—the utter elation of a Super Bowl victory one year before in New York and the tormenting heartbreak of defeat on that crushing night in Arizona.
A painful loss like this, whether in sports or other circumstances, often brings reflection.
I thought back to our Super Bowl championship and remembered how most of us felt let down in the days following. You work your whole life for something, thinking that when you finally achieve it, you will be fulfilled and satisfied; your life will be complete. But that wasn't the case at all. We were sitting in a staff meeting only two days after our Super Bowl 48 win when Coach Carroll asked, "Does this feel as good as you guys thought it was going to feel?" We all agreed that something was missing; there must be more.
I had run this extreme gamut of emotions once before in my life. Eight years earlier I reached a summit by accomplishing something far greater than I ever dreamed possible before falling into a dark valley where I experienced a depth of sorrow that nearly broke me. That journey allowed me to discover the one thing that has changed my life more than any Super Bowl victory ever could.
What follows is my story. And as you read it, I encourage you to think about your
story—and welcome with great joy the divine nudges that give you hope as you walk on in your faith journey.