Why–For One Sunday–The Vikings Reminded Me of TLC

Posted on January 14th, 2016 by

I played college football at Gustavus.  Quarterback.  I was just good enough to have the opposing team believe they were never out of it as long as I was in the game.  And I was, on at least one occasion, voted – I’m sure of this – the opposing team’s MVP for the day. (That was the day I threw two touchdown passes to win the game.  Unfortunately, the official stats called them “interceptions returned for touchdowns”).

During my college career, I also had one major concussion from a blind-side hit, and my coaches sent me back out on the field, completely confused – not so different from my regular state – because that’s what you did in the early 80s. I have since blamed every mistake I’ve ever made in my life on that concussion, so it has served a good purpose.

Here's a young me. It is about the same time as this story, but it's not quite a football helmet. Actually, that may have been what we wore for football helmets back then. That would explain the concussion...I just don't remember.

Here’s a young me. It is about the same time as this story, but it’s not quite a football helmet. Actually, that may have been what we wore for football helmets back then. That would explain the concussion…I just don’t remember.

Though it is a brutal game, and knowing what I know now I would steer a child away from football, I have to confess, I am still drawn to it for it for it’s strategic qualities.  Football is like playing chess, with the opportunity to blow out your ACL at the same time.  So, yes, I did watch the Vikings Sunday.  Lose to Seattle.  On nearly the very last play.  On a blown twenty-seven yard field goal.  For those of you who don’t know what missing a twenty-seven yard field goal is like, it’s like standing at the edge of Lake Superior to throw a rock in the water.  And missing.  It was heartbreaking for fans (well, not Seahawks or Packer fans), for players, for coaches, and for all of our moms, because moms never like to see us sad, even if it is for something as insignificant as a game.

So what is this doing in a tennis blog?  Because it was the reaction to that blown kick that most interested me.  I know what it’s like to feel like a pariah. No one wants to look at you.  Talk to you.  Sit by you on the bus.  When you are the “goat”, people keep their distance lest they be tainted by association, or say something they will later regret.

Blair Walsh, the Vikings kicker, was – and is – devastated.  But he took responsibility.  He said flat out, “It’s my fault.  I don’t care if you give me a watermelon hold, I should be able to put that through.  I’m the only one who didn’t do his job.”

But inside the locker room, that’s where the story gets intriguing.

I will simply let his teammates’ own words and actions speak.

Adrian Peterson, star running back who fumbled earlier in the game to set up Seattle’s go-ahead score:  “We would have, without a doubt, won, if I hadn’t fumbled.”

Jeff Locke, who held the kick for Blair Walsh, blamed himself, not Walsh, for not having the football laces faced the right way for Walsh, saying his job is to give the kicker an ideal picture before the kick and “that picture is not laces staring at him in the face.”

Kevin McDermott, who snapped the ball, tried to take the blame from both Locke and Walsh, saying “It’s my job to snap it to Jeff and have him catch it with the laces facing towards the goal post.  When Jeff caught it, they were facing towards Blair.”

Brian Robison, defensive end, defended both Walsh and his miss: “You can name a hundred things that could have changed the outcome.”

Harrison Smith, star safety: “Blair has stepped up big for us and won games for us in the past.  I’m not going to abandon him now.”

Every player had the opportunity to ostracize and blame Walsh.  Instead, they lined up to support and console him.

IMG_0440_zpse0pzfpks (1)

At Tennis & Life Camps, we believe your character is not just shown when your teammate wins, but when they lose.  We teach in doubles that after every single point, you immediately go to your partner and do four things:

  1. Smile  (it changes everything, even our physiology)
  2. Eye contact (it establishes a powerful bond of trust)
  3. Encourage (just a word of “Good try!” or “No worries!” or “You’ll get the next one” or “I think that blonde up in the bleachers really likes you” – just seeing if you’re still reading)
  4. Touch (a high five or fist bump or arm around the shoulder…).

And you do these four things especially when your partner goofs up.  Because they need you when they make an incredible shot, but they really need you when they blow it.

So, I consider the heartbreaking loss of the Vikings a thing of beauty.  They are building a culture of taking responsibility for their own mistakes and supporting each other no matter who else makes one.

I found out what kind of a team they are.  A team I would want to play on.  (Other than that concussion thing).  Because they would have my back, whatever happened.  Like we hope being at TLC has been for you.

Maybe we can get a couple of them as instructors next summer.  They don’t start training camp until late July…


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  1. Dave Rod says:

    I heard Chad Greenway (one of the Captains) after the game. He stated (as stated in a prior post) “without Blair Walsh it would have been 10-0.” “This was a team loss.” Yes, professional sports is a business and for some a livelihood but we have to remember (as taught to my son at TLC) that it’s just a game. This little thing called perspective is so easy to ignore, like living in the wealthiest and greatest country on the planet despite its warts, being healthy while so many suffer, having food on the table or a tennis court to play on when so many don’t. Neil we thank you for always helping us smile and having the right perspective.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Dave. Your whole point on perspective hits the nail on the head. By the way, we love having Griffin at camp!

  2. gretchen koehler says:

    just saying Blair scored all our points no one else scored!!!

  3. Karen Mann says:

    Another ace hit by you,Neal! Keep them coming…

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Karen! I double faulted on something else today, so I’m glad this one came through 🙂

  4. Kathie Engelke says:

    Neal – this is amazingly written and I love reading your blog because it reminds me how we should all view life on a daily basis. I’m so greatful for my time at TLC both as a camper and as an instructor and it shines through every morning when my kids say, “The sun is shining, the grass is green, it is a great day to be alive.” Thank you for continuing to be an amazing inspiration and for sharing this wonderful culture.

  5. Raman Jayapathy says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. We have all been there at some point in our lives, whether it was in a team sport, individual sport, or everyday life. When we fail at something…anything, there is always someone, even ourselves, that we think we let down. I learned through failure that it is ok, I learned from the experience. I also learned that if others fail, it is ok and to let them know that. We are not perfect beings and the lessons taught through such failures make us a better person. When a person fails, show them compassion, empathize, and let them know through our actions that they are not a bad person. Respect for an individual is what matters.

  6. Melissa Sigel says:

    Neal this is sooo good! Sam’s reaction to the missed field goal? Not so good. Alas- we will be back at camp this summer. How many TLC camp songs, lessons and sessions in the Aasen classroom does it take to sink in??

    Happy New Year and can’t wait to see all of you AMAZING coaches, counselors and families at camp in July.


    • Neal Hagberg says:

      How many sessions does it take? In my case, a lifetime. Which is why I need it 15 camps a summer instead of one :). See you and the whole gang this summer!

  7. Kim Gillum says:

    I especially wuv him in that alluring (ahem) cowboy hat! ; ) Maybe the Village People (touring again soon) need a new cowboy? Nah, don’t audition just yet, Neal. But if you do, I suggest a bigger hat! Size matters, after all, in so many ways: Shoes, racquets, etc. : )

  8. Anne Arden says:

    Neal, I always love reading your blogs. They are always so uplifting and I always feel better after reading them. This one is no exception….thanks for posting.

  9. Meg says:

    I wuv you Neal ❤️

  10. David Wareham says:

    Brilliant. Thanks- I’ve passed this on to our players. Most definitely a teachable moment/learning experience. In addition to the players reaction/support, I was equally intrigued by Coach Zimmer’s comments. He spoke the simple truth- “He should’ve made it.” Alone that may sound harsh, brutal, “throwing Walsh under the bus”. However, a broader context suggests something different:

    (from the StarTribune) Zimmer commented on Monday

    “I think our team handled it remarkably well in the things that they said [after the game],” Zimmer said. “I know people are giving me a hard time about saying he needed to make that kick. But if it had been Kyle Rudolph in the end zone, I would have said, ‘He needed to make that catch.’ Or if it would have been Xavier Rhodes, it would have been, ‘He needed to knock that ball down.’ That’s my expectations going back to that. I expect our guys to perform all of the time.

    “[Walsh] wasn’t on the field when we didn’t cover the guy when [Russell] Wilson grabbed the ball and ran it and threw it down to the 1-yard line. He wasn’t on the field when we fumbled. There was a lot of other situations throughout the course of the ballgame. One play does not win or lose. Unfortunately for kickers, it’s the finality of the situation that happens. We had many, many opportunities to win that football game.”

    Walsh agreed with Zimmer (regarding his miss). But Zimmer didn’t attack Walsh the person; he merely answered a question honestly. And my gut tells me that why/how Zimmer can earn the trust of his players, and how the players earn the trust with each other.

    Thanks for the reflection.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      David, I’m actually with you on this. Even before Zimmer had to explain his comments, I felt he was not “calling out” or “shaming” Walsh, just stating his blunt truth, which Walsh was able to hear because he knows Zimmer respects him and was not blaming him. Coming from someone else’s mouth it might have been a blaming mechanism, which I never find helpful in coaching as it sets up a distrustful dynamic of players always looking over their shoulders not wanting to screw up. What I felt Zimmer was saying was, I believe in Walsh and we both know he should have made the kick, but he didn’t and we will move on to the next time when he does make the kick. It was, oddly, a vote of confidence, I thought. Refreshing. But it has to be the right coach to make that work 🙂