There’s a rhythm to college football; an annual cycle that players go through over their four years. It begins with the opening of fall practice in August. The first game is a month later, and the season stretches into December. Then comes spring practice, which ends with the spring game in the middle of April. A few months off over the summer, then it’s back to practice in August. Of course, those few months off aren’t really months off at all. Players might not be practicing with the coaches on the field, but they’re still working. That’s when they’re carrying out their offseason conditioning program.
Players don’t get stronger and faster during the season. There’s no time. They’re too busy, you know, practicing. The offseason is when you see that physical development. As a fan, the offseason is a chance for me to catch up on a few things too. I look at it as a fan’s offseason conditioning program. There just isn’t any time to get smarter during the season! So after Blue & Gold is sung for the last time, I get down to business. One thing I like to do is watch old games. The other thing I like to do is read, and the first book on this year’s reading list is Into The Fire: A Season Of Navy Football, Fortitude, and Faith, by John Owen.
As the Navy football team’s chaplain in 2007, Owen offers insight into the Navy program from a unique position. In Into The Fire, the games themselves are less important than the lessons that can be learned from them. This goes not only for the players, but for Owen himself, who seeks to define what exactly the role of a team chaplain should be. It’s in this quest for clarity that we get to see bits and pieces of the personalities we follow each week. For example, here’s an excerpt (copied here with permission from the author) from a visit to Paul Johnson’s office:
After chatting for a minute or two (I was well aware that the team chaplain was not number one on his list of concerns at the moment), I asked him if he had any observations or suggestions for how I was doing my job, and particularly if the devotions that I had given at the pre-game meal at the hotel every week were, in his view, effective and on the mark. He thought for just an instant, and then dead-panned, “well, they’re different from the last chaplain.” And that, it was clear, was all he had to say about that.
Tell me you didn’t laugh.
The book is divided into chapters based on each week’s game. Chapters are broken into three parts. There’s a lead-in story at the beginning, and a quick game recap at the end. The bulk of each chapter is made up of Owen’s pre-game address to the team. If you aren’t particularly religious and are worried that you’ll be preached to, don’t be. Owen himself states that there is a time and place for everything, and as a team chaplain responsible for offering guidance to all midshipmen and not just the Christian ones, it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to win any converts. Instead, Owen draws upon lessons learned from his Christian beliefs, but applicable to anyone. My favorite:
In spiritual terms, the core value that defines and addresses this characteristic of ours that allows us to see beyond our immediate circumstances to the larger purpose that lies behind our efforts, is hope. Of the three spiritual core values that I mentioned, faith, hope, and love, hope perhaps gets the least attention. And yet it is at least as important and valuable as the other two.
Hope is what tells us to never give up. It’s what compels us to keep fighting. It’s what pushes us forward, even when every bone in our body wants to sit down and quit.
Let me tell you what hope is not: hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is not sitting still and waiting for the situation to change. True hope is not passive; it is aggressive. It inspires action; it fuels the will. Hope drives us forward, even at the cost of pain and suffering. Even in the face of fierce resistance.
Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the Notre Dame games from the last two years, or of the amazing comeback against Temple this year. Owen’s pre-game remarks are smart, cogent, and effectively delivered.
Into The Fire offers Navy fans context for the remarkable 2007 season, and gives us a glimpse of what makes this team tick. It’s a quick read, and one that you’ll enjoy. The link to the book on Amazon is here. If you buy the book, whether at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever, be sure to leave a comment about what you think of it.