"Why do you have a video copy of the 1979 Cotton Bowl?" Yeah, that's a question I get asked sometimes if people take a wander around my bedroom. Usually they comment on things like, I don't know, the 20 photos/posters of myself and possibly the trophy case I carried upstairs and put together by myself from Ikea with no help from anyone.
If they are super interested, they always find that video. And if they dig a little more they can find clues as to why I might have that video.
-A notebook full of football cards
-A certain red jersey with a certain number and name on the back of it
-A little flag with a certain team's name on it
Then if you do a few Google searches you might find I've worn different numbers from my standard 8 -- Freshman year of college: 16. Portland Thorns FC: 19.
Why those numbers?
When I was younger I had an obsession with an athlete that didn't kick a soccer ball for a living. His name? I'm sure you can guess by now: Joe Montana.
I was fascinated by this man for several reasons. First I have to admit that my obsession didn't happen as an accident. Here's the story:
My grandparents owned an Italian restaurant in Connecticut. One Sunday a man walked in dressed as if he came straight from the beach. Back then, if it was a Sunday and you were going out to eat, you didn't dress this way. (I would have been screwed). So my grandma saw this man and asked why he was dressed so sloppy on a Sunday for dinner.
My grandfather took her aside and said "do you know who that is?" - she had no idea and she really didn't care either. My grandfather then told her it was in fact, Joe Montana, the 49ers superstar quarterback.
This little incident turned my grandmother into a big time Joe Montana fan. (I don't know, she's a grandma, she's weird). Anyway, I got on that bandwagon just like she did. I was a huge fan of the 49ers as a result. I loved the SF Giants and even the San Jose Sharks when they came around. I loved anything that was associated with the Bay Area. The late 80s/early 90s was a massive time for developing my favorite pro sports teams.
As I grew, I realized just how good he was at what he did. He was in charge. He was the director. The orchestrator. I wanted to be like him. But I didn't know how. I couldn't play football. And I wasn't musically inclined in the slightest. And that's where something clicked for me. I started putting the pieces together. The quarterback for a football team was similar to the point guard for a basketball team and a center midfielder for a soccer team.
They dictate everything.
The reason I started thinking about Joe again was because I'm playing for a new team this year - the Washington Spirit. I'll be wearing No. 16 because someone already had 8 (and she's really big and strong and I won't fight her for it). I'll also have the opportunity to play center mid from time to time, which I've been doing for the past two weeks.
Being a center mid, you're getting pressure from all sides (like a quarter back). Decisions need to be made fast and with certainty. Any hesitation, and the moment is lost. If you've ever seen a quarter back scramble, you know that something didn't go as planned. But what I always remember from watching him was that even if things didn't go as planned, he kept his cool and always seemed so composed. That's why they called him Cool Joe. (And I'm sure he was cool off the field too.)
Being in the midfield the past two weeks, the bunch of us have experienced moments of frantic soccer and then some moments where we learn that we can deal with whatever is thrown at us… and there is a sense of cool and calm among the group. It's Joe in slow motion on video. It's beautiful sometimes. And it's a big reason I love being in that part of the field. We have the opportunity to play it cool, even if it looks to be disastrous.
There's a quote I always enjoy that pertains to every possible life situation, obviously not just soccer, though soccer is life sometimes. "True strength is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart."
The more people I meet the more I realize that literally everyone has some type of struggle. Some are always going to be worse than others, but each person is affected by things differently and handles situations in their own way. When people talk about their struggles, I don't see it as complaining. I always like to know. Because when they do well, it's always that much more impressive that they can keep it together when things are tough.
Joe showed the kind of strength athletes need to be successful. The kind that no matter what is thrown at them, they can persevere through. I don't know what struggles he had, if any (though all athletes have struggles) but I have always admired how smooth he played his game and tried to replicate that in my play and in my life. If I ever get to be half the 'Cool Joe' Joe was as a player, I'll feel I've succeeded in some small way. But if I can bring that to the real parts of my life, the every day struggles and ups and downs, then I'm a winner every single time.