Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Unwritten Chapter in the Book of Manning: Friendship Part II

When pro golfer Phil Mickelson lost the 2013 US Open, he stayed in bed for several days. His wife Amy, who has stood beside Lefty is six other second place Open finishes, said "He was a shell. It was the worst disappointment for him of any tournament, by far." If it hadn't been for his good friend and caddy, Jim "Bones" Mackay, who knows when Mickelson would have left that safe space. Mackay called and texted to make sure he would see his boss in Big Sky country. Jay Heart wrote 'The family packed the week with rafting, fly fishing, archery, shooting, a visit to Yellowstone – pretty much everything but golf and not a single spare minute. "A great week with great friends who don't care if he's the U.S. Open champion or not," is how Amy explained it."
No one is immune to loss or disappointment. Thank God for friends 
This is what friends do. They pick us up when we are down, they remind us that we need to laugh and probably find a way to make us do so! They bring chicken soup when we're cold and hand over a box of tissues when the waters works won't quit. And my sense is no one needed a friend to combat his utter disappointment in the atrocious loss in Super Bowl XLVIII more than Peyton Manning. And if I had to make a bet, that friend was either his younger brother Eli or his older brother Cooper.

As written in "The Unwritten Chapter of the Book of Manning: Friendship Part I," Cooper and Peyton became more than siblings through football. Playing on the same team back in the fall of 1991 made them friends. And it's Cooper's insight on friendship that serve as my favorite chapter in "The Book of Manning."

John Goodman, the film's narrator said "Cooper accepted a scholarship to his father’s alma mater, Ole Miss. Archie’s eldest son was ready to write his own chapter in the Book of Manning."
 As reported in the video:
"I went off to Ole Miss to play football for the mighty rebels and I wanted to catch a ball in the last two minutes to beat Alabama." 
"Football always takes some funny turns though," said Archie.
In 1992, Cooper Manning arrived at Ole Miss to continue the family football tradition, but something just didn’t seem right. 
Cooper said, "I really wasn't 100% at Ole Miss. My right hand had lost some strength. I had some atrophy in my right bicep so my dad and I flew to the Mayo Clinic, I had some serious testing and that's when the message started to come heavy that my football day were not an option." 
"I had what is called spinal stenosis. I played my entire career one hit away from being in a wheel chair the rest of my life." 
Archie replied "It was a tough time because Cooper was the one who said “Dad I want to play college football. I really want to play” It was hard to sit down and tell your son that his dream was over...he wasn't going to play football." 
Cooper said, "I remember going back to Ole Miss and being out there on a Friday before a game. I walked out to practice with my dad. I guess the coaches told the team that I wasn't going to play anymore. I remember some old guys, some seniors who should not have cared about a college freshman being really nice...being really good to me." 
"I think that even impressed my dad. I think he was a little surprised that these seniors—these older guys—gave a hoot about me."  
"I think what I miss most about football is—the guys. Not winning or losing or catching touchdowns, it's the locker room, the bus rides home. That was good stuff."

This scene was remarkably intimate and telling. Twenty years after the fact, and Cooper Manning—a grown man, husband and father is still brought to tears. The camera closes in on just his face; the loss of friendship manifested in the team was still palpable. It wasn't the wins, the plays, the contests, or the accolades which he mourned. It was the friends. The jokes, the pranks, the growth, the self realization that our teammates are privy to on a daily basis is what he missed. It speaks to the power of friendship. 

What Peyton wrote to his brother as a way of processing and coming to understand his condition.
"The Book of Manning" is remarkable in that each member of the family makes their own unique and striking impression—not just Peyton, nor Archie, but Eli, Olivia and especially Cooper. Maybe it is because we are the same age and worked through a major health issue, but Cooper's testimony stayed with me on a spiritual level. Yes, it's emotional (evidently both Archie and Olivia cried when they watched the tape) and yes it's sincere, but it's power lies in the fact that it rings true for 95% of my student athletes. Cooper articulates so beautifully the power of friendship: the crown jewel of the sporting life. 

Anthony Marinise OSB speaks to this truth in "Practice Makes Perfect: Growing Spiritually Through Sports Participation." 
It stands to reason to believe that teammates are already or will become friends with one another because of their shared interest in their respective sport, but also because of the great amounts of time they spend in one another’s presence as they train or compete alongside one another.  
A prayer worth praying.
Christianity is, in itself, a great call to friendship. When Jesus spoke to His Apostles and issued His great commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 13:34) it is clear that Christ was instructing the Apostles to love as they had experienced Jesus’ love. St. John, in his first letter, reminds the faithful that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Following logically from St. John’s explanation of God’s nature all the while understanding that there is a type of love that exists known as “philia” or “the love of friendship,” one could understand that because God is love and love exists in friendship, then God is present in the experience of friendship.  
It is imperative for athletes to recognize that an individual’s existence as an opponent is not a valid reason for the denial or rejection of friendship. Because of the universally equal creation “in God’s image,” it is wholly possible for athletes to experience the presence of God on their respective field of play. Christ meets us in our day-to-day through the interaction of those who also share in relationship with Him; His Spirit is present in others. It is that presence that greets athletes through their interactions with others and allows them to confidently acknowledge that Christ’s Spirit “is a presence calling us to be friends.”
Maybe today you can pray for teammates past and present who have been friends—some for a season, some for several, others for a lifetime and beyond. Reflect on the ways that God has revealed Godself through the time you spent together—on the field, the bus rides, the banquets, in defeat and in victory. Amen.

Photo Credits
Bummed out Peyton
Peyton's Letter to his brother
Friendship prayer

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