What It Means To Be...
While I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, a friend had his USC magazine on their coffee table. I picked it up out of interest, and began reading the article below. I read it about a dozen times over and over. Why might you ask, well, the heroic and candid courage of passionate love a father had for his son (at a time where most fathers are absent, and if they are present they are in dire need of leadership/behavior/parenting guidance, I commend gentleman who are more than a 'dad', but build into their families/homes, as well as the single mothers who courageously raise a family on their own), what it means to live life with honest emotion, and be truly engaged in what is going on around you, your family, and what really matters inspired my intrigue with the article. Also, the fact that it wasn't written by a world renowned author, guru, or the intent to generate revenue. It was a moment that far too often doesn't occur during most people's time on this planet.
Moments that we share our heart on paper, it displays the message we at times cannot express through words, yet at this time, someone did. It expresses what it means to work hard, be of loyal honor and with integrity, as well as the bond between your thoughts, actions, and words while being part of something bigger than you on this Earth. This article is specifically on the topic of "what it means" to be a USC Trojan, but I urge you to contemplate "what it means" to be part of what you are doing, becoming, and where you are headed!
While existing on this planet, I inspire you to combine your personal + professional goals, perform community service, gather with others different from you, do things that may be uncomfortable for you, perform random acts of kindness and generosity, amplify voices that need to be heard, listen more, smile more, learn to laugh again, be there for your friends/family, be honest with yourself, and embrace each day with a thirst + hungry appetite to maximize your efficiency/productivity via words, actions, and thoughts. Make the Earth your dance floor, allow your personality and soul to meet, utilize your talents, and become more than merely existing.If you just can muster up a reason to be passionate about your days, realize this, you're "Above ground, heart beating, and moving your feet!!!"
By David Baker
|To Be a Trojan |
A father’s tribute to his son and his son’s coach on the eve of the 2007 USC-UCLA game.
I am not a Trojan. I didn’t play at USC. I didn’t go to school there. I have never even paid tuition for my son to go there. And, I’ve never felt that buying tickets to the Coliseum or wearing cardinal and gold made me a Trojan.
I am honored, however, to have witnessed the birth of a Trojan. And I have observed, up close, how the character of a Trojan is tempered in the fire of intense competition.
I remember it like yesterday. I would be the last one to talk to Sam and the first to talk to his new coach. So I slid to the edge of Pete Carroll’s couch in Heritage Hall to make one request before committing my son. Coach Carroll went into full recruiting mode. The man absolutely levitated with enthusiasm. But I brought him back to earth when I interrupted, “Excuse me Coach, I’m not sure you understand what I’m asking. You see, I don’t care if Sam ever plays a down.”
Coach Carroll’s jaw dropped. I hurried to explain. I confided that, depending on the day, I’m a Twinkie above or below 400 pounds, I work in a high-stress job 2,500 miles away and am on an airplane every other day. I looked Coach Carroll square in the eye, “If something happens to me, I want your promise that you will do everything possible to make sure Sam graduates and becomes the best man he can be.”
Silence followed. It wasn’t long but it was long enough to recognize the sincerity in a man’s eyes that understands the great responsibility he was about to assume in the guardianship of a precious gift. Then suddenly, like a jack-in-the-box that had been wound too tight, Coach Carroll sprang from his chair, thrust out his hand and enthusiastically exclaimed, “I gladly accept that responsibility.” He then solemnly added, “not only for Sam but for every one of our guys.”
Now, five years later, I want you to know that Coach Carroll is a man of integrity. He kept his promise.
For the last five years, Coach Carroll has invested his incredible vision, limitless passion and positive philosophy of life into the young men of Troy. And, back in May, Sammy got to walk for graduation. He wants to be a teacher, coach football and mold young men just like Coach Carroll.
Oh, and Sam got to play a few downs of football too! He started at left tackle for four years. If the Trojans beat the Bruins, his teams will have won five Pac-10 championships. He has two national championship rings and played in a third national championship game. He blocked for two Heisman Trophy winners. In the process he became a two-time All-American and was voted a team captain by his teammates. He has never played a game in January that was not a national championship or BCS Bowl game.
Along the way, Sam gave up four sacks, had three false starts and no holding penalties in over 4,100 snaps. He lost five games in five years and every one of those was a hard fought battle that came down to the last play.
Those fans that say ‘you never learn anything from losing’ have never competed against a respected opponent for something that really mattered. This has been Sam’s hardest season, but, in many respects, it may still prove to be his most rewarding. After four years of never missing a practice and starting 45 straight games (through viruses, loose cartilage and cracked ribs) against incredibly skilled opponents in the biggest of games, Sam finally met an adversary in a torn hamstring that he could not “will” his way past.
As a result, it has been a season of learning for Sam – lessons of patience and perseverance on the sideline that he would never have understood on the field. He learned that “Fight On!” is more than a bumper sticker slogan on a BMW in Orange County. It is a way of life, to always have faith, to passionately persevere, to never give up!
It is within the most challenging of times that true character reveals itself to shine brightest. As a father, I have always taken the longer view to be more interested in the man Sam will be when he is 55 than the football player he might be when he is 25.
Similarly, I would respectfully suggest that, just like Coach Wooden across town, it is 30 or 40 years from now that the true genius and mastery of Coach Carroll will become crystal clear. Not just in the championships won, but in the achievements that will result from the character in the hearts of mature men of courage who played for him and were molded by his philosophy of life and competition decades before.
I like the man Sam has become at USC. A lot has been made of his beard this year, but I have come to be less concerned about what’s on his face and more impressed with what is in his heart. At USC he received more than an education, he embraced a heritage, the privilege of standing on the shoulders of all who came before him and the responsibility of bestowing an even stronger foundation for those who will follow him.
Yes, Coach Carroll kept his promise, Sam is a USC graduate. He is well on his way to becoming the best man he can be. But Coach Carroll kept his promise not just for Sam but for the other “guys” as well. Not just great football players like Reggie and Matt, but those who get their degrees and, through whatever roles they played on the team, however small, have grown in character and discovered the greatness in themselves. Men I have come to admire like Travis Watkins, Matt Cassell, Mike McDonald, Will Collins, Alatini Malu, Thomas Herring and countless others who have made a quiet, sometimes unheralded, but nonetheless significant impact at USC.
They will do the same in their communities as they move on. Even in programs as successful as the Trojans, very few players will ever go on to be paid as a professional football player. But every player that ever dons that uniform (scholarship or walk-on) will someday face adversity in their marriage, with their kids and family, in their health or their job. And, when they do, they will be more prepared to face that challenge because of the influence of men like coaches Carroll, Ruel, Carlisle, Sarkisian, Seto and others too numerous to mention here. They will be Trojans!
Trojans who are dedicated to all the hard work and preparation necessary to be the very best they can become. Trojans who are committed to their teams’ success even more than their own. Trojans who respect every opponent and are excited to face every challenge. They compete for excellence in front of millions and handle the stress of success or the humiliation of failure with equal dignity and integrity, so, as Kipling would say, “to treat those two imposters just the same.”
They have experienced a journey that will serve them well in life. Someday they will be unsure of their direction and will remember how they trusted each other to prevail through the fog at Oregon State, the frozen hail at Washington State and the constant rain at Cal. Someday they will feel lonely and overwhelmed against enormous odds and they’ll recall how they never gave up in South Bend on 4th and 9 to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with less than one minute to play before a voracious and hostile crowd. And when others lose hope and abandon their cause, they will recall how their courage and perseverance was rewarded when they kept faith and held their heads high after an unexplainable loss to Stanford to win their unprecedented sixth Pac-10 championship in a row.
They aspire only to the highest of standards. Trojans who epitomize the words of Teddy Roosevelt, honoring that man who is “actually in the arena” and “if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Believe the hype! It is true! There is something special about being a Trojan!
I am not a Trojan. I am just a Trojan Dad – and could not ever be more proud.
So, when my days on this earth are through, bury me in a cardinal and gold #79 jersey, so that if I am fortunate enough to embrace my Lord in heaven he’ll know I was there when the Trojans kicked the tail of his mother’s university!
Thank you Coach Carroll for keeping your promise – for Sammy and “all the guys.”
David Baker is the father of Trojan offensive lineman Sam Baker (#79) a fifth-year senior. This column, in which he offers his thoughts and reflections for Senior Day against UCLA,originally appeared Nov 26, 2007, on www.wearesc.com.