Gordie motivated us all on a daily basis.
And he motivates me daily even today. Let me give you an example.
Gordie hated, and mean hated, to punt – even deep in his own territory which is extremely risky. We would fail to get a first down deep in our own territory and I could see him thinking, all the time, should we go for it? I thought he was crazy most of the time. It was almost as if he would will us to make it. Once we were playing an important game in my senior year and the offense fell a yard short on third down. We were on our own 35 yard line and the score was tied. I was ready to run onto the field on the punting team. He looked at me and said, “Wait. We’re going for it.” He sent in his play. Then he looked at me and said, “If we don’t make it, you guys can hold them. They’ll be elated to get the ball on the 35; then you’ll stuff ‘em. Then we’ll march down the field.” I’ll never forget the trust he had in us, his defense. I realized that in going for it, everybody else thought it was a big gamble, but he didn’t think that way. He believed in his defense. He was willing us to rise to the occasion. He saw his decision as win-win: if we make it, we win – if we don’t make it, the defense will win it for us.
How did that affect me? I’ve never forgotten it.
When I coach I try to pass on to my players the same thing Gordie gave us: belief in yourself and your teammates. A while ago my St. Xavier University team was undefeated at 9–0, ranked third in the country, and playing Walsh University who was also undefeated and ranked. The winner would assuredly make the playoffs and keep their national ranking. The loser would have to regroup. Late in the first half we were winning 13–0 and we were third-down-and one-to-go from our own 38 yard line. They stopped us on the next play for no gain so we were looking at a fourth-and-one situation deep in our own territory. I think pretty much everyone in the stadium, especially the Walsh coaching staff, was expecting us to punt. But instead the “Gordie” in me kicked in. I realized Gordie’s thinking: if we executed the play that would give us the first down it would totally deflate the opposing defense, and if we failed the defense knew I believed in them; I trusted that they’d stop them and gain even more momentum. Well, we went for it on fourth down and got it. Sure enough, we marched down the field and scored which made the score 20–0 and pretty much took the life out of Walsh. We ended up winning 41–10. I feel I gave my players a feeling like what Gordie gives; that belief in yourself and your ability to succeed, and even more importantly, if you don’t succeed it’s just a minor setback that you can rise up from.