Lessons from the Gridiron – What I’ve Learned From my Favorite Football Teams

 My favorite sport to watch in-person or on TV is college football. There’s something about the fanfare, the intensity, and the emotion that are so captivating. Last weekend was a big one for my two favorite teams – the University of Oregon Ducks and my Alma Mater, the George Fox Bruins.


For those of you that don’t follow the Ducks, the first half of this season was quite a disappointment. After finishing second in the nation last year, their record after six games this season was three wins, three losses. That is not the type of result Ducks fans are used to these days.


Last Saturday U of O beat rival and #7 ranked Stanford to give them their fourth straight win and bring their record up to seven wins, three losses. To say the win was big is an understatement. They won again this week but for some reason last week’s win was something special. Now their record is 8-3, something I don’t think anyone would have predicted after the first few weeks of the season.
Photo Credit: Go Ducks Facebook
That same day last week the George Fox Bruins produced their fourth win of the season beating Willamette University and finishing off their year with a record of four wins and six losses. That may not seem very impressive unless you know that this was only their second season. They relaunched the program last year after a 46 year hiatus and won just one game. This season was a huge improvement and I’d guess it beat most people’s expectations for the program.


The journey each team took to achieve those wins is really inspiring to me. It also reminds me of some important lessons about the nature of success and accomplishing goals.

Success starts with a vision for excellence


I’ve heard it said that we don’t drift towards excellence, it takes intentionality. I believe that is so true and it starts with a vision for excellence.


I remember when Oregon went to the Rose Bowl in 1994. At that time it was pretty much the highest accomplishment a team from the Pac-10 conference could achieve. The last time they had played in that game was in 1958, so obviously the 1994 game was a big deal. I think it was also the beginning of a new era for Oregon where they believed they belonged on the national stage and the vision for who they are today was set.


I know from working at George Fox that they were not going to bring football back unless it could be done really well. And that is how it has been. There has been a commitment to excellence every step of the way. I’ve seen it from the hiring of the coaching staff, to the development of the facilities, the designing of the helmets and uniforms,  and the attention to detail that has gone into the game day experience for fans. Everything is done very well.
George Fox
Photo Credit: George Fox Football Facebook
Success takes time, hard work and commitment


We live in a microwave culture where we expect instant results. I fall into that trap sometimes. I like things to happen quickly and when they don’t I can easily get distracted and move on to the next exciting opportunity. But success rarely happens quickly and it takes hard work and commitment.


If you look at Oregon’s record after the 1994 Rose Bowl you’ll see that they didn’t jump right into national prominence. The following year they went to a respectable bowl game but got got beat badly 6-36.  They followed that up with several years of second-tier bowl games. But even then there was a general trajectory upward and they kept building momentum little by little.


While George Fox brought back football last year, they actually  started talking about it about five years ago. It took that long to research the implications, begin planning, hiring,  and building the facilities. Even after the coaching staff was hired they spent a whole year recruiting players and working on conditioning and skills with current George Fox students who wanted to join the team.


Failure and overcoming adversity are necessary parts of the journey to success


A lot of times when I fail or hit a big obstacle in pursuit of a dream or goal I think it spells the end of that journey. I either don’t have the will to push through the barrier or I think the failure means it wasn’t mean to be in the first place. What I’m learning is that failure and obstacles are inevitable. They can often mean that you’re on the right track and can also indicate that break through is right around the corner. It is all about how we respond to those circumstances. Pushing through strengthens us and gives us much needed experience to make us better.


I was at the game that George Fox won last year and it felt pretty special. But before it came many losses. In fact the win was the second to last game of the season.  It would have been really easy to become discouraged and give up, but fortunately the team didn’t. They learned something from each one of those loses and used the experiences to build toward that one win and I think because of that can consider their first season a huge success.


Obviously Oregon has faced many hurdles in the program’s long history. But this season they faced some of the biggest in recent history. First of all they lost Marcus Mariota, their star quarter back and one of the best athletes to ever play for the Ducks.  He was such a phenomenal player that his absence was felt immediately and profoundly. Additionally, Vernon Adams, the quarterback they brought in to replace Mariota got injured in their first game and their defense was full of young and inexperienced players.


What has impressed me most about this team is the adjustments they’ve made and how they have dug deep and stayed the course in the second half of the season. Just like George Fox last year, it would have been really easy to write the season off, especially when it became evident they wouldn’t reach the heights they have become used to. But they didn’t and while they will finish with their worst record in five seasons, considering all that they have overcome, I consider the season a real success.


For me it’s exciting to see these real-word examples of hard work and commitment that paying off. These stories remind me that all parts of the journey are valuable and that we need to appreciate what we experience along the way as well as the success that hopefully eventually comes.