I played football at a small high school in the Bronx. I played just good enough to later play for a small college program where I was lucky enough to have played with a few guys who made it to the NFL and I got to witness firsthand how they did it.
Mike was the high school quarterback of our team and an amazing athlete. As a freshman, he stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds. He was, by far, the fastest, strongest and all round best athlete on the team. I had been around good athletes before but nothing like Mike. One day, during practice, the coaches decided to play him as a wide receiver. He caught sixty balls in a row without dropping one! Many of those catches were so incredible that the whole team ended up marveling at his talent. By the time he was a senior, he had over 100 recruiting offers and could have played on any college football team in the country. In the end, he decided to play at his father’s Alma Mater in North Carolina.
North Carolina was a huge school and already had a quarterback. This player had been a superstar in the state and the team boosters wanted to see their hometown hero succeed. Unbeknownst to Mike, he had been brought in as an insurance policy; he was never meant to upend the other player.
Mike was so talented only a fool would have never played him; but, that is exactly what happened. Being a “Yankee” from the North, the boosters were never going to let a northerner start for a team from the south.
So Mike never played. I mean not once.
Out of desperation, frustration and disgust, he walked away from football after college never to play again. Interestingly enough, his physical gifts were so great that several NFL teams inquired about him even though he had barely played. Even they could see his talent. But, he rebuffed them all… never to play again.
I remember watching a game where his team was not doing well. They had benched the starting quarterback. Logically I thought Mike would go on but it didn’t happen. Instead, a walk-on player was inserted into to play the remainder of the game. I watched the game with my father, who said that given what he saw, Mike was never going to get a chance to play for them. I’m not sure why Mike didn’t transfer schools right after that game but he never did. Instead, he rode it out for four miserable years.
At Boston University, I played receiver with a walk on (not on scholarship) named Darvell from Massachusetts. He was small: only 5 feet 7 inches tall and barely weighed 160 pounds. But he was quick, strong and had good hands. Over time, he got to play. In fact, because B.U. was a small program with a lot less competition, he got to play a lot. He was talented and coaches and professionals got to see his body of work. Had he gone to a bigger school, he probably never would have played. But at a small school he was given chances. He landed in the NFL and played for three seasons, which is an undeniable accomplishment most aspiring players never get to experience.
Much of life is like that: chances, circumstances and timing. Technology is littered with companies that did not make it specifically due to bad timing or bad luck. Facebook, for example, was not the first social network nor the best; but, through a series of events, it ended up as the premier destination for social media after replacing MySpace.
Even in my own life I have benefited from these twists of fate. Twenty years ago, I was planning to go to Spain on vacation but had a really bad injury the day before I was to leave which forced me to cancel the trip. Later that year, with unused vacation time, I decided to go to South America to my cousins weeding. There I met my future wife. Had I not suffered that injury, I would never have gone to South America or met her. Six kids later, I can happily say that I am thankful for what I then thought was an unfortunate and ill-timed injury.
The challenge in life is trying to sense the changing tides, the twists of fate that can harm us or help us. Sometimes its knowing when to quit or when to press on. Maybe one day I will figure it all out. In the meantime, I stopped trying to judge what occurs and be more present and accepting that it may have meaning and purpose I simply cannot yet discern and that my job, in advance of knowing, is to handle the unexpected with grace.