Being Inspired Is Good; Being Talented Is Better.

I’ve just swapped emails with a regular reader here who was worrying that his train might be late and he would miss the telecast of a Syracuse University basketball game. And it triggered the memory of a funny incident that happened way back in 1959, when I was a senior at Boston University.

BU has always been known for academic excellence, but in the world of college sports it was primarily known then, as indeed it is now, for its men’s hockey team.

BU also fielded a football team back then, but interest in college football in that part of Massachusetts was pretty well sucked up by Boston College and Harvard and the BU administration lacked any real enthusiasm for the sport. Indeed, every few years, the school would find ways of reducing its commitment to football in just about every area … except, of course, the schedule.  Several schools with big-time programs were kept on the schedule year after year and the results were usually ugly.

BU’s head coach at the time was Steve Sinko and, according to several of my fraternity brothers who were on the team, Coach Sinko put a great deal of emphasis on trying to inspire his players to achieve levels of athletic prowess beyond which their natural talents could take them. One such device was a “Slogan of the Week”, which he would scrawl on the blackboard in the training room … a new one every Monday afternoon when the troops reported for practice.

For instance, I remember my roommate telling me that the slogan on the Monday before the Penn State game was …

IT’S NOT THE SIZE OF THE DOG IN THE FIGHT, IT’S THE SIZE OF THE FIGHT IN THE DOG!
It didn’t work. The Nittany Lions mauled the B.U. Terriers: 21-12.

As bad as that was, the worst was yet to come. A few weeks later, the BU squad was scheduled to face Syracuse University, ranked among the top teams in the nation that year, due in very large measure to the considerable prowess of their All-American running back, Jim Brown. (Yes, that Jim Brown!)

But, as the BU players trooped into the gym before practice on the Monday before that game with Syracuse, someone had gotten to the blackboard before Coach Sinko. On it appeared the following … excellent advice for any football team about to face Syracuse:

FALL BACK FIFTEEN YARDS … DIG IN … AND SAVE THE EQUIPMENT!
The final score that Saturday afternoon: Syracuse 46, Boston University 0.
One good thing did come out of that week: I wrote up the anecdote and peddled it to TRUE magazine for a hundred bucks. That was the very first time I got paid for my writing.