Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pearl 8: Always Try to Make a Strong First Impression

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, my sweethearts.  I am SO excited.  It is only six more days until I see you both again and I can’t wait.  Your mom told me you have changed so much since I last saw you and I just need to see for myself.  I am under strict orders from your Grandma Vicki to take LOTS of pictures while I am there so you will need to be on your best behavior and make a good impression for the camera.  After all, we intend to share you with as many people as possible.

Speaking of good impressions reminds me of the time I was in junior high school.  I played football in the 8th grade but wasn’t an outstanding player.  I really didn’t understand the game that much and I was kind of lazy.  Then the summer between my 8th and 9th grade years I grew about two inches and put on about 20 pounds.  When I started the 9th grade I was 5’ 11” and weighed 190 pounds, which was big for that time.  I was also a year older than many of my classmates because I had been held back a year in school because I was born in October.  Anyway, when I went out for football practice in the late summer of 1959, Coach Moore saw me and thought I would be a good offensive lineman.

He put me at left tackle and taught me how to block and I competed with two of the bigger boys for that position and at the end of fall training, I found myself in the starting position on offense.  We were a good team with talented players at many of the skill positions.  Our quarterback, John Buchannan, was a tall, lanky kid with a strong arm and really good mobility.  Our starting halfback was a Hispanic kid named Emil Rios and he was small but really quick.  All I had to do was stand up the defensive player across from me and move him a little, left or right depending on the play called, and Emil would hit the hole like lightning, dart into their backfield and race for big yardage almost every time.

Before our first game with Fremont Jr. High, Coach Moore got the entire offensive line to gather around him.  He told us, regardless of where the play was going, if we would fire off the line at the snap of the ball, hit our man as hard as we could, drive him back and not stop driving into him until we heard the referees whistle and do that for the first ten plays we would be able to beat that player for the rest of the game.  “Go all out for ten plays”, Coach said, “Hit him as hard as you can and you will own him for four quarters." 

We won the toss and got the ball.  When I lined up against their defense, my guy was about my size but I thought I would do what Coach told us to do and I hit him hard and drove into him.  Seven plays later we scored a touchdown.  Only two of those plays were off my blocks but I hit my man as hard as I could on every play.

I was exhausted when I got to the sidelines but the thrill of being ahead in our first game was greater than my fatigue.  Fremont drove the field and tied the score at seven apiece but after the kickoff I charged out on the field determined to continue following Coach’s advice.  I hit my man on the first play really hard and drove him into the ground.  Today that is called a pancake block but that term had not been invented in 1960.

When we came to the line of scrimmage for our second play of the series, my man was breathing hard and there was something in his eyes that told me Coach was right.  I owned him.  Blocking him was easy for the rest of the game and my block sprung Emil for a long touchdown late in the game which gave us the win, 14-7.

Our next game was a non-conference game against Boy’s Republic.  This was the local detention center for juvenile delinquents.  All week at practice rumors were flying around that these kids were animals…”hardened criminals” at 14 and tough as nails.  They were reported to be dirty players to boot.  Chick Stearns, our tight end, claimed that one of their defensive players carried a knife on him and actually stabbed a kid in the leg at the bottom of the pile of players during a gang tackle in their last game.  While this piece of gossip was most likely not true, we were all a little nervous as our bus pulled through the guarded gate with the barbed wire on top at Boy’s Republic.  The “inmates” were lined up and were screaming obscenities at us as we pulled up to their football field. 

As if the intimidation factor was not high enough, when I came to the line of scrimmage on our first offensive series, the guy across from me had this huge, nasty looking rat with blood dripping from his fangs painted on the front of his helmet with “Rat Man” printed above it.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Now the kid was smaller than me.  I probably outweighed him by 30 pounds but that angry rat and the snarl on this kid’s face had me so shaken I barely moved when the ball was snapped.  The kid dashed passed me and sacked John just as he got the snap and he fumbled.  They recovered.  I was devastated.

When I reached the sideline, Coach was all over me.  “What happened?”, he asked as he grabbed me by the face mask, “You barely touched your man”.  I started to tell him about the rat but Coach interrupted me. “Look, I want you to do what you did last week”, he said, “I want you to go back out there and hit that man as hard as you can for ten plays….just give me ten plays!”  I told him I would and he let go of my helmet and smacked me on the butt.

When we got the ball back, I went to the line determined to show this guy who was boss.  I hit him as hard as I could for ten plays and it worked again.  The “Rat Man” was mine.  We won 42 - 0 and at the end of the game, when we were in line shaking hands with them, they didn’t seem so fierce or threatening anymore.  I learned a very important lesson that day and that would be my next pearl.

Eighth Pearl:  Always Try to Make a Strong First Impression

That day on the football field at Boy’s Republic, I almost forgot what Coach Moore was really trying to teach us.  Namely, first impressions are the lasting ones.  He knew that during the game we would become tired and we would make some mistakes but, if we made a strong first impression on the other person, they would not be able to take advantage of those mistakes.  Why?  Because in their mind they had already accepted, from the beginning, their opponent was better than they were.

Now life is not all about winning or losing.  Not everyone you meet, play with, work with, socialize with or associate with is an opponent or a competitor.  But making a strong first impression in all of those situations is a good thing.  It can help develop a spirit of cooperation, put people at ease, facilitate conversation and understanding, foster trust, help accomplish mutual goals and will help make life easier for you in the long run. 

We make strong first impressions in many ways.  Humans are visual and verbal beings.  We tend to readily accept people who are well groomed, dressed appropriately, speak clearly and intelligently, have a firm handshake and look you in the eye.  A smile always leaves a good first impression.  From the start, treat people honestly, with kindness and sincerity.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you give your word on something, follow through and be true to it.  You don’t have to be rich or have connections to do any of these things.  We all have these abilities.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression so make every one count.  I guess the exception to this rule for me was that day on the football field at Boy’s Republic when I got that second chance to impress the “Rat Man”.  But I can’t recall one since, so “they” must be right.

I can’t wait to see you on Saturday, my dear ones. 

All my love,

Grandpa Jud                            

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