Thursday, January 16, 2014

Little Guys

Yesterday, I touched on something that I've been thinking about for quite awhile and have expressed in different forms. Most recently, it was that when you realize how deeply God loves, you remember what it's like to hope. You remember that thing in you that strives for something better and aches to reach its full potential.

A few months ago, I said something similar when I talked about a group of peers at work who listened to some of the deepest parts of my heart and yet, did not condemn me. I told them then, Do you know what happens when you don't think less of me? I don't have to think less of me. And that's an incredible gift.

There is nothing more inspiring than to know someone believes in you.

To illustrate this point, I now bring you my customary post-season Colts football rant. Because it's getting harder and harder for me to stay a Colts fan.

I know what you're thinking - the Colts did some incredible things this year. They made it two rounds deep into the playoffs, created a stir with an incredible comeback win, beat multiple undefeated teams that people told them they had no chance again. Blah-blah-blah. The problem is, under new management that came in last season (2012), the culture of the Colts is changing. And that's making it harder to be a fan.

The Manning-era Colts, and perhaps even before then, were foundationally a team of little guys. This was a place where you could make your name as a football player, and many did. Manning, of course. Marvin Harrison. Robert Mathis. Reggie Wayne. Dwight Freeney. The list goes on. In some really tough seasons, we adopted the slogan "Next Man Up" and always had a guy, some guy you've never heard of, to step in and make a difference.

They still say such things around the locker room - Next Man Up - and in press briefs, but the guys on this team know it's not true. And that has changed the way they play football.

You see, the Colts used to be a team where a guy could make a name for himself, where he could shine according to his talent, where he would get his chance and could show what he was made of. When the new management came in, so did this idea that for some reason, the Colts needed to grab guys who'd already made their names - regardless of how or how long ago.

In the former era, we had Jim Sorgi, a capable backup QB. When Manning left, so did Sorgi, but we had a guy with incredible potential to be a stud - Chandler Harnish, most often teased as "Mr. Irrelevant." But have you seen this guy play? Potential all over the place! But we couldn't take the risk that he might have a shot, so last year, we grabbed Drew Stanton, a known name but not even a good QB, and this year, went after Matt Hasselbeck, who I admit I loved....10 years ago when he made his name. Now, he's past his prime and we're wasting money on him when we could invest in Harnish.

Our running game has suffered for many years, but if you saw what Donald Brown and Delone Carter got going last year, you'd say we were on the right track. Except we abandoned both of those guys and went after big names - Mewelde Moore and Ahmad Bradshaw - who never ended up producing for us. Carter got transferred around; we eventually brought Brown back to be the first guy. But he knows by now the leadership doesn't believe in him. They trumped him with names. And when, in early season, our other star running back, Ballard, went down, we still didn't go to our little guys. We went for another big name and signed Trent Richardson, who also did not produce.

Griff Whalen, a receiver out of Stanford, made a big play and then was cut and then was re-signed a little bit later to come back and make more big plays. But he made big plays to start - why was he cut? Then we go to face the Patriots in the playoffs and instead of resting on our playmakers, the little guys who have faithfully shown up all season, we sign Deion Branch, another guy with a name. I'm not even sure we played him.

My point is - little guys have all the hope and aspiration in the world. But they know when you don't believe in them. And they start to wonder what's the point. Several years ago, we stood behind our guys, and we went on to have long lists of pro-bowlers, guys who are going to the Hall of Fame for sure, two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win. Not to mention a string of winning seasons, winning more than 10 games for consecutive years, several divisional titles, etc. etc. Now, we're a team that stumbles and struggles.

What changed?

The culture. When you believe in the little guy, it inspires him. You may even find he's a big guy after all. But when you don't believe in him, he knows it. And you'll see that reflected in all that he does.

I had to get my football rant out, but the implications go beyond the gridiron. Believe in the little guys in your life. Believe in your brothers, your sisters. Believe in your mom, your dad. Believe in your sons, your daughters. Your neighbors. Your friends. Your foes. Believe in the people around you. Give them a reason to reach for the stars. Stand behind them in confidence. Remind them of all they could possibly be and encourage them to go after it. You never know what little guys you'll turn into big ones.

**In fairness, this leadership has done some good things, too. They have built a community around a coach when he needed it, selflessly given the Arizona Cardinals an incredible coach, and perhaps most awesomely, Mr. Freeman. But the trend of "big names" in place of "big talent" bothers me. Severely.**

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