skateboarding, baseball, hoop and football. I had a lot of loyal friends, our kinship was strong. Our greatest bonding experiences were pick up games against the kids from the other side of town. There was a pride in our neighborhood and sports were our vessel.I spent a good portion of my youth in Mission Viejo, California. It's a great little Orange County nugget, a 20 minute a bus ride from California's golden shore. Like most 5th grade kids, I spent the sunny California afternoons playing sports:
So, you can image our excitement when the great Todd Marinovich left Mater Dei and came to Capo Valley High School. There was a massive national back story to Todd, he was known as robo-QB. My friends and I didn't really read Sports Illustrated but watching Todd Marinovich play made us proud of our hood. We loved watching him play! During games we would walk to the other bleachers to challenge the kids from the other side of town to tackle football games. We represented our big brothers and sisters and Todd Marinovich was our leader. He inspired us to be better.
As time passed, the media came to understand what we knew: Robo-QB was a kid like everyone else. It didn't offend my friends and I, but the rest of the world was furious. Todd wasn't perfect. People get mad when their manufactured heroes turn out to be human.
More than training or fundamental football knowledge, Todd Marinovich had a massive competitive spirit. He was an awesome basketball player, he fought the super-sized Food Nelson on the Viejo Elementary playground, he showed young people like myself to have pride in our effort. His crowning moment came after a game winning touchdown pass. An opposing team member offered to help him up after knocking him down. Todd offered him a middle finger. He had friends to lift him up, as did I. It made sense to everyone who followed his leadership!
Then we all grew up. We continued to play sports with the intensity that we learned from Todd Marinovich. After an improbable Rose Bowl win, it felt as if he had given us everything we needed. We were now ready to carry the torch. I saw Todd at my sister's wedding years later and said hello. I told him I liked his music. That was the extent of our conversation. I had hoped he might appreciate the fact that I didn't ask him to sign my tuxedo.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Is it realistic to think that a teenage sportsman should be a role model? Should not one be judged for how they play the game not what they do off the field. There are those who hold their heroes on a pedestal (and when they fail, they die inside). Others find their heroes in the hallways of their own home and forgive athletes when they lose a game. Football is just a game that happens in 60 minutes. The game of life does not have a clock and the goal lines are often cloudy in the distance.
I was really happy to see the Great Todd Marinovich was given an opportunity to tell his story on ESPN last night. Todd did not blame his Dad for an upbringing destined to unfair expectations. He didn't make excuses for falling from grace. He advocated youth sports and it's essential contribution to his human character.
As leaves turn and waves roll in, time becomes the ultimate judge of character. We grow stronger through our experiences, we learn to forgive, we forget heartbreak and we discover that challenges exist on and off the field. As my son races through the California sun with a football under his arm, I am thankful to Todd Marinovich for teaching me how to play the game.
"There goes my Hero....he's ordinary" - Dave Grohl
Don't Forget to Remember!