Tag Archive | "Joe Montana"

On Victory and Defeat

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I believe that I am not overreaching when I state that everyone likes to win, whether such winning relates to games, contests, arguments, debates, or larger personal or professional developmental challenges.  And, why would anyone not want to win?  Mankind has been conditioned from time immemorial to savor victory – from times both long and not so long ago when winning was truly a matter of life and death.  Winners are celebrated and, often, tell the stories or write the histories that amplify their exploits to heroic and even mythic statuses.  And, although virtually all of the triumphs we applaud today are trivial compared to the survival challenges extolled by our forebears, we nonetheless celebrate them with unmatched vigor.


How often have you witnessed a parade in honor of a loser in a game, sport, or other contest?  Although on a rare occasion the heroism of a loser will be noted, the vast majority fade from memory with little or no acknowledgment of their talents or efforts.  And yet, were it not for the challenge presented by loser, the heroics of the winner would be impossible.


Two examples in sports – the first, professional and the other, collegiate – come to mind.  In the 1982 NFC Playoffs, Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers caught a short pass from quarterback Joe Montana in the back of the end zone in the final minute of the game to propel his team to a one-point victory over the Dallas Cowboys.  That reception has been immortalized in NFL lore as “THE Catch” and elevated Montana and Clark to mythical status.  A little over a year later, Lorenzo Charles – a member of the North Carolina State Wolfpack basketball team – retrieved a teammate’s errant shot and scored the winning basket at the buzzer giving underdog North Carolina State the NCAA Basketball Championship over the heavily-favored Houston Cougars and making a sports icon of their then-youthful coach Jim Valvano.


In each of those cases, neither game-winning play was particularly spectacular.  If made in practice or, for that matter, someone’s backyard, they would have gone completely unnoticed.  It was the high-stakes context within which the plays occurred that distinguished them as heroic and unforgettable.  That context, in each case, was provided by the loser.  If the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Cougars had produced lesser results on those particular occasions, the plays in question would have been virtually meaningless.


As is so often true in life as well as in sport and literature, the adversary or challenge both defines and ennobles the accomplishments of the protagonist or victor.  What place in history would Franklin Delano Roosevelt hold absent the Great Depression and Nazi Germany?  Could Vince Lombardi have become a legendary football coach without Tom Landry?  Would Sherlock Holmes investigative and deductive reasoning skills been as finely honed without the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty?  I think not.


The greatness – actual or fictional – of each of these individuals was generated, in large part, by the skill or enormity of his adversaries and challenges.  In an odd way, each victor owes a debt of gratitude to the vanquished for his place in legend or history.  Whether or not, as in the words of William Shakespeare, individuals “have greatness thrust upon them,” adversity has much to do with the measure of each of us – the great and the common alike.  In struggling to overcome adversity, we often discover a good deal about ourselves and the hidden reservoirs of strength we have at our disposal.  And, since the victorious are defined by the defeated, we sometimes find that the struggle to win – even in defeat – can itself be both victorious and heroic. 

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