Forcier & Rodriguez celebrate huge program win. AP photo.
In this life of highs and lows, joy and pain, sunshine and rain, cheers and jeers, exuberance and dejection, it’s amazing what just a little bit of success will do for you.
Remember Rich Rodriguez? Remember how you felt about him and the direction of the University of Michigan football program three weeks ago? Before ripping off an impressive win against everyone’s “sexy upset pick” of the opening week of the season in Western Michigan and eeking out an even more impressive and thrilling victory against Notre Dame the following week, it seemed as if two out of every five people were not only doubting whether or not Rich Rod was the right man to take the storied program to higher heights, but were calling for his head. At 0-0 and on the heels of a historically futile 3-9 2008 campaign, the former West Virginia coach was one defeat to a formidable MAC powerhouse away from getting shipped out of town. In fact, some would probably suggest to you that select alumni and friends of the program had LSU head coach and “Michigan Man” Les Miles’ number on speed dial, poised to press that green “send” button at the first sign of any more embarrassment to the winningest program in college football history. Now that U of M is 3-0 (prayerfully, 4-0 by the time most of you read this article) and back in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the end of 2007 season, expectations have shot up from 6 or 7 wins to 9 or 10 wins, while the controversy about the team violating NCAA practice rules has died down to a dull murmur. It’s funny what a little success will do for you.
Remember Matthew Stafford? Were you happy with the Lions’ first draft pick, or did you prefer the team shell out $72 million to a linebacker or an offensive or defensive lineman? Did you want to see the coaching staff decide to play the rookie from the opening snap, a la Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan, or would you rather have preferred they let veteran Daunte Culpepper attempt to leverage his decade plus of experience and tremendous off-season training to get a win as soon as possible and lift the ominous cloud of ineptitude from above the team’s head? If you answered in the former for either question, how do you feel after the first two weeks? How do you feel after 16-37, 205 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a 27.4 quarterback rating, or 18-30, 152, 1, 2, and 56.2? With visions of grandeur and hopes of witnessing a good Mart Ryan impersonation dashed, have you changed your tune about the Golden Boy, already calling him a bust and calling for a switch back to Daunte Culpepper? What if Stafford had pulled off the miraculous and beaten the Saints in his first ever start? What if he weren't currently ranked #32 out of all 32 starting QB's in efficiency? Would you feel about him the way you do now, or would you call GM Martin Mayhew a genius for selecting the QB first overall? It’s funny what a lack of success will do for you, too.
Human fickleness of emotion can cause the average fan, if only for a moment, to abandon conventional wisdom and forget the facts. The fact of the matter is that the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Detroit Lions are both teams in transition, meaning that they are both coming out of one thing into another. Now, admittedly, much more pressure rests upon the shoulders of Rich Rodriguez than it does the right arm of Matthew Stafford or the headset of first-year Lions head man, Jim Schwartz, because the Lions have never had a winning tradition to look back on and do not have a fan base that expects them to win everytime they take the field. It’s no question who bears the lion’s share of the pressure this season (no pun intended). The point of the matter is that, from a fan’s standpoint, leaders of growing and transitioning programs must be allowed to freely grow and transition without having to worry about fans’ opinions, expectations, and feelings toward them changing at the drop of a hat, every positive or negative occurrence.
From a personal standpoint, Rich Rod, his freshman star QB and man of the hour, Tate Forcier, Jim Schwartz, and Matthew Stafford must be admonished to pay as little attention to the fans as possible. While athletes and coaches always look for an appreciate fans’ support, they ought not live and die by that support because, at times, fans get too emotional to fully consider the theology of circumstance, which the apostle Paul eloquently taught the Philippians. He declared that he knew what it meant to be in lack and to have plenty; he was familiar with being both humble and proud; he had experienced both bad and good times in his life. All of his experiences gave him the assurance that he could do all things through Christ, Who strengthened him to deal with all of those highs and lows (Philippians 4:13). Every circumstance Paul endured in life taught him that he had to keep and even keel about himself; he couldn’t allow himself to get too high or too low because of the situation he was in or the emotions of the people surrounding him. Because we are imperfect human beings, we neither expect perfection out of every situation, nor can we control circumstances to be in our favor 100 percent of the time. If we can remember and internalize this theology of circumstance, we will not only live better lives, but also have more realistic expectations of our favorite athletes and sports teams. When we give both ourselves and others a chance to grow, then the sky is truly the limit to what we can do!