Wednesday, August 3, 2016

For Mac

All coaching is,
Is taking a player 
Where he can't take himself.
- Bill McCartney

Six months from this very day is my fiftieth birthday.  I mention that not in the hope of stimulating a lot of "early" shopping for presents because near the top of the list of things that make me incredibly uncomfortable is receiving a gift of any kind.  I mention it because three decades ago, had nineteen-and-one-half-year-old me been offered the chance to bet "for" or "against" the likelihood of me living to see fifty, I would have wagered the house that I did not yet own on "against".  At the time, it appeared to be a sure thing.  After all, three decades ago I devoted a lot of time and effort to ensuring that I would not live long enough to permit my hair to gray.  Now, when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror every morning I see a beard in which the final remaining grains of pepper are vainly trying to hold back a relentless sea of salt.  

Whether age is accompanied by wisdom or merely a proliferation of gray hair I know not - although I fear that at best in my particular circumstance the jury is still very much in the midst of deliberations. Me staring at fifty does not necessarily feel any smarter than I did way back when - in the final flickering months of my teenage years - but I think that the experience of living my life over the course of the intervening thirty years has done to me what it does to any number of us.  It has wizened me up - some at least, and (I hope) significantly more than just a little. 

I was a much younger man at CU-Boulder when I first made the acquaintance of Bill McCartney.  I arrived on campus in the Fall of 1985.  Coach Mac was still in the early stages of his gridiron resurrection program at CU - desperately trying to elevate the Buffaloes from laughingstocks to champions.  He did it, capturing the program's only National Championship at the completion of the 1990 season when the Buffs edged Notre Dame, 10-9, in the Orange Bowl and shared national honors with Georgia Tech.  Following the 1994 season, Coach Mac stepped down as the Buffs' head coach, devoting his time and his energy to what he felt was a significantly higher calling.  

Coach Mac never returned to the sidelines as a coach.  But he never left Boulder or CU.  He buried his wife, Lyndi, in 2013.  Later that same year, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He remains a revered figure on the front range of Colorado.  Not because he was a perfect coach or because he is a flawless human being but because he was not - and is not - and has never shied away from acknowledging his flaws while doing all he can to make himself the best person he can be and all he can to improve the lot and the life of those around him.      

Yesterday, three weeks shy of his seventy-sixth birthday, Coach Mac's family announced that he is battling late-onset dementia/Alzheimer's:

"We would like to share the news that our father, Coach Bill McCartney has been diagnosed with late-onset Dementia/Alzheimer's.  We (his family) have been noticing memory issues for the past few years and he was recently diagnosed.  He is receiving treatment and we are hoping this slows the progression of the disease.  He is still the same Coach Mac – biking, golfing, supporting the Buffs and being an active member of his Church.  

"We are making this public to ask for your understanding and patience as we know he frequently runs into fans, friends and former players.  This is a frustrating and confusing disease, and if he appears disconnected or unknowing, please don't take it personally.

"Please keep Coach Mac in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate through this difficult time."  

At CU, "Shoulder to Shoulder" is not now - and has never been - simply a motto or a song lyric. It is an attitude.  In fact, it is more than simply an attitude.  It is a way of life.  The herd's strength lies not in any one member.  Rather, the herd's strength lies in the willingness of the many to stand together, to protect, and to assist a member of the herd who needs it.

For the first time since he arrived in Boulder in 1982, Coach Mac is cast not in the role of protector but in the unfamiliar role of being the Buff in need of the herd's support and protection.   

He need not be concerned.  As he has always done for others, others shall now in turn do for him. His faith in the herd shall be rewarded.

Indeed it shall.   

Shoulder to shoulder.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Forever. 


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