Locker rooms, huddles, dugouts, courtsides, ringsides, and sidelines have heard endless attempts at inspirational speeches by players and coaches.
When the team or athlete is down, when the scoreboard feels like it is making a verdict instead of stating a conquerable situation, when a coach wants to heal wounds seething with a sense of failure, he calls to the warrior inside of his athletes.
He descends into core of the battle and opens the minds of his own in a fiery attempt at transforming hopelessness into faith, forfeiting weakness for power, and shedding defeat for dominance.
He accesses their appetite for victory and gives them insight to an opponent's weaknesses, unsheathes a tactic that neutralizes the opponent's strategy, provides a vision that makes their current aches and agonies fade in the pursuit of glory, adds a nugget of knowledge that opens their minds to victory, or thunders a disciplinary challenge that shakes them out of distraction and cements them into the present and imminent mission.
It takes a seasoned warrior to overcome. From Brett Favre playing the game of his life soon after his father's death to George Foreman taking the Heavyweight Championship at age 45, these legends entered the arena with ability, discipline, and a blazing fire of wisdom and experience that tramples all brash and respectless contenders as if they are mere debris along their route to glory.
Their actions split the sky of an expected fate and forge a more miraculous future. Their long training in tempests was about becoming better men and better athletes, not merely higher paid men who are athletes. Some of these amazing performances are listed below.
Brett Favre, Age 34, Plays Game of His Life in Honor of Recently Passed Father.
This legendary quarterback passed for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 41-7 execution of the Oakland Raiders on December 23, 2003.
Raw from the passing of his father the night before, Favre refused to leave his team in their play-off bid and played to an almost ethereal height. It was the first football game since fifth grade that Favre's father hadn't attended.
Jack Nicklaus, Age 58, Finishes Sixth at the 1998 Masters.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus finished sixth in his fortieth (!) appearance at the Masters in April 1998. Tiger Woods commented on Nicklaus' performance:
“Him going into the final round one under par, for someone who's 58, people have no idea what an accomplishment that is.”
Nicklaus had read an article 12 years prior to that which stated that he was finished as a golfer.
Shaquille O'Neal Dominates the NBA at Age 36.
This famous center for the Phoenix Suns averages 18.1 points per game, has a field goal percentage of .612, grabs 8.6 rebounds per game, and blocks 1.45 shots a night. Audible gulps can be heard courtside when a player attempts to drive the lane against the Shaq.
George Foreman Wins the Heavyweight Title at Age 45.
Twenty years after losing the Heavyweight Championship to Muhammad Ali, George Foreman retook that title. On November 5, 1994, Michael Moorer was defeated in the tenth round by a right hand to the chin that put him away for a ten count.
Foreman was wearing the same red shorts he wore twenty years prior.
Kurt Warner, Age 37, Takes Cardinals to the Superbowl.
Completing 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards and 3 touchdowns against the top ranked defense of the NFL, Kurt Warner came within inches of victory in Superbowl 43. Although his team lost, he said at the end of the game: “It doesn't get any better than this.”
The ultimate Spartan insult is recorded as “May you live forever.” Masters of combat, Spartans hungered to die a glorious death on the battlefield.
They hinged their lives upon the idea that it is better to give everything you've got fighting for what is right than to eek out a safe and comfortable existence free of sacrifice and struggle.
These Spartan athletes have reverently given gallons of sweat and blood to the cause of not wasting their gifts and talents. They find themselves free of the sentence of burying their talents and instead stand as inspiration to those who are wondering how deeply or fearlessly they should invest their lives in this world.
If their character is the fire that forges these feats, then their acts can't be accused as arrogance. In fact, these acts appear to be born of a humility that states “My talent will not be wasted no matter what the current convention dictates. It was given me for a reason. I am going to use it.”
They make us wonder what is possible should we share the same ethic of hard work, discipline, and an earned depth of understanding of their craft. They quietly shun those who scoff with unbelief, whose vision is obscured by immaturity.
With an awareness of their abilities and a greater awareness of their opponent's ability, they shove convention back another yard to make room for a new convention. They make us wonder if we too could carry fire in our hearts and hands in our field.
They do more than create records to be broken. They create legacies that will always be remembered by those who were there, who witnessed greatness.