Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

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This column tri-weekly column, “From Richard’s Oft Cluttered Desk” appears every third Wednesday.

Not very often does a television program come along that tells a great story. Sure, a lot of what is written for television is quality. But when the shows go off the air, we are sad because we have become attached to the characters. Or perhaps we have become attached to sitting our asses down at the same time week after week for years to see these people entertain us.

Just take a look at the shows I have been passionate about: Coach, Seinfeld, The West Wing, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond and countless others that I can’t recall at the moment. I most distinctly remember the ending of Friends and Seinfeld.

Those are two of my all-time favorites (and I own the entire Seinfeld series). When Seinfeld ended it was an event. Millions watched. Some were upset at the ending but for a show about nothing, we weren’t attached to the story, we were attached to the comedy.

As for Friends, I cried during the final episode. I had grown up with the friends and as they all placed their keys on the counter and began their next journeys, we would not be going with them. But I did not desire to have them continue. They had run their course.

For five years I lived the ups and downs of Friday Night Lights. The show that NBC tried to kill only to hear from the show’s small, but forceful fan base. I was attached to the people, the team, the school, the town. Lucky for me, and the many other fans, NBC teamed up with DirecTV to team-produce two more 13-episode seasons.

Aside from being a huge fan of the show, I have written about it in the past. One of the re-used phrases on the show came from Coach Taylor and it was simple, yet deep. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.

Someday I will have that slogan, that motto, hanging for my kids to see. I’m not sure what it was meant to mean exactly, but I take it to me that if you have a clear vision, if your hearts are full of love and compassion, there is no way you can come away a loser.

As coach and his players completed their fifth and final season on television, I was struck by how different it felt. I wanted more. They made me believe. They made me dream. They made me cry and scream and sit on the edge of my seat.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

What other television show can tackle the issues of underage drinking, teenage sex, homosexuality, absent parents, marriage, abortion and live to tell about it? Not many, but Friday Night Lights did all that and more.

In my now favorite scene of the finale – and possibly the entire series – coach and one of his student assistants are talking in his office when she says, “This has been the greatest experience of my life.” The camera pans to coach and he smirks and replies, “You know, I think it’s been mine too.”

That is all I will ever need to know about this show and these characters. That no matter the opponent, the challenge, the obstacle, if you believe in your dreams and you love those around you, you can not lose.

Say it with me: Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

The Red Clay … of New York City?

Reverb 11 Writing Prompt: Describe an unexpected moment, activity, sighting or conversation that touched you during July.

July was a super interesting month and I should have come to expect nothing less than that from this city of New York City. There is always something going on — true of most cities — but here there is always something going on. In my short time here in fact, I have been lucky enough to be able to enjoy some great food. Not as much as I would like, but I have now found two of the best burgers in the city. Of course, I am sure that will change, but the first is Tom’s Restaurant (from Seinfeld) and one I recently went to, Paul’s Burgers. Both were delicious, fresh and well worth their diner-like price.

But that is not the moment I would like to mention. When this happened, it was not unexpected as my friend Joel and I had planned it for about a week, but the chance and the invite itself was. You see, I have been a tennis player for as long as I can remember. When I quit playing Little League back around the age of 13, I had no other athletic outlet. But then I found a tennis racquet hanging in my parents’ garage and I feel in love. It was a wooden racquet (yes, that is how I got started) and I quickly learned about the game.

Fast forward a few years and I was working for the United States Tennis Association and had the opportunity to play on a real grass court. This court was not at the famed SW19 (Wimbledon), but rather a single grass court in a farm near Charles City, Iowa. I hit for an hour against one of my best friends Tylor (I wrote about him in my book Anything is Possible) and we both had a tremendous time. We both grew up in the Midwest, and in the Midwest we have hard courts. Lots of them. But that is all we have. So to have the chance to play on grass was a complete thrill.

And now to July. Up around 96th Street on the Hudson River are 12 secluded red clay tennis courts. Off to the west is the river and to the North, East and South are trees. It definitely does not feel like you are in a city of 8 million at these courts. In fact, we almost couldn’t find them!

But as I walked onto the courts (I have no idea how Joel was feeling), I had a nervous feeling. I’ve played tons of matches and been to and ran countless practices, but this felt like my first match, or a championship match. I had never played on any clay, let alone red clay! Once the court was dragged and the lines cleaned, Joel and I went to work. When he and I hit around, we like to hit the ball, hard. In a matter of minutes I had worked up quite the sweat, but it was a good one.

We were hitting, slicing and sliding our way to the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Because of rain the night before, sliding was a bit tricky, but I slowly got the hang of it. My shots weren’t perfect, but I can’t wait to get back on the surface. Now that I have played on four surfaces, hard, grass, carpet and clay, I can honestly say my two favorites are clay and grass. They are just more fun and honestly, safer for my body.

I’m so glad I had the chance to play on clay with a friend, have a good time, and secured a fall at the end. I went to slide and I think my shoe got stuck on the line and I took a mild tumble. But it was nothing compared to our last point. Joel and I exchanged a few shots and I eventually hit a ball long. As it sailed over the baseline, Joel dropped his racquet and fell to his back. He stood up, we shook hands and the red clay clung to his shirt. Classic clay.

Five Lessons From My Five Biggest Sports Moments

As with most sports fans here in America, I recently became enthralled with the run of the U.S. Women’s soccer team in the FIFA World Cup. I distinctly remember 1999 when the women last won the cup, on penalty kicks against China. So watching the matches this year got me thinking about the moments in sports that have shaped who I am and what lesson I take from them.

Super Bowl XXXII – Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers
I have never been shy about my love and passion for the Denver Broncos and this was a game that I had a lot riding on. I also have made no secret that I put a lot on sports – sometimes too much but this was a game I had been waiting for … as had John Elway. For 15 years, he had come close, a three-time Super Bowl loser only to never win the big game. But on this one play, it was 3rd-and-6 near his own goal-line and the play fell apart quickly. But Elway was not to be denied on this night. He took off running in what was soon to become known as “The Helicopter,” gaining the first down and going on to win his first of two Super Bowls. Lesson: When you work hard enough, do not be denied at the finish line.

Andre Agassi’s Career
I have read his book Open and have followed Agassi’s career but as a Pete Sampras fan (growing up, not anymore), I never fully appreciated how good Agassi was. But the funny thing is, neither did he. Not until his career hit the dumper and he had to climb his way out of the cellar did he begin to appreciate the game and his gifts. Then he acquired a painful back injury, but he didn’t quit. He believed he owed the game something and for one last run. We were witness to great tennis from Agassi. And when he finally did say good-bye, all he could say was thank-you. Lesson: Work hard and be humble.

Leon Lett’s Fumble in the Super Bowl
How can a fumble be a lesson? To be honest, I don’t remember watching this particular play, but I remember the game and as I have grown up, I have seen this play dozens of times. The Cowboys were kicking the Bills’ asses in the Super Bowl and Lett picked up a fumble and was running down the field for his first touchdown as a pro. But he started to celebrate a few yards too early. He did not know that Bills receiver Don BeBee was chasing him down, knocking the ball out of his hand right at the goal-line. Lesson: Always finish strong.

Ali for Three
As a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, I always watch my men’s basketball program closely. But in 2010, there was a buzz in the air. After losing the last four first-round NCAA Tournament games, we as Panther-Nation felt like our time had come. But it took a buzzer-beater to win the first-round game. But it is what happened in their second-round game that makes me cry still to this day. The Panthers led the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks from nearly the start of the game, but as it began to wind down, the Jayhawks inched their way closer. And with little time left, Ali Farokhmanesh found himself all alone behind the 3-point line and rather than hold the ball to wind down the clock, he threw it up, nailing the three and sealing the win. Lesson: Trust your skills.

Sidney Crosby lives with Mario Lemieux
After he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Crosby could have bought the biggest house in the ritziest neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He could have hired drivers and cooks and paid to have shows performed in his house. Instead, he accepted an offer from his boss and Hall of Famer Lemieux to live with his family. Why is this amazing? Because it means he lived with a mentor. He saw how a real professional lives day-to-day. And the Lemiqux family got a free baby-sitter. I wish more rookies had this opportunity, both in sports and in life. Lesson: Learn everything, early.

FOCUS: Your Happiness!

Selected Life Lesson
You are the only one who can make you happy.
-Lisa B’s Life Lesson from Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Richard’s Thoughts…
Happiness is personal. It is yours. Only you can decide what makes you smile and what makes you come alive. A job can add a ton of value to your life, both financially and through great experiences, but it can not — in my limited opinion — make you happier than you already are.

In the movie Cool Runnings, the coach Irv is talking with his star Derice the night before their final race about winning an Olympic gold medal:

Irv: It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?
Derice: No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.
Irv: Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.

You decide what makes you happy. I hope you find it is you, living a life full of passion and love. At least that is my lesson for you.

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I Wanna be a US Open Ballkid

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This column tri-weekly column, “From Richard’s Oft Cluttered Desk” appears every third Wednesday.

On June 23 I jumped on the 7 Train headed towards the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. As the train started and stopped at the dozen or so stops from my apartment in Queens to the end of the 7 line, my energy and excitement continued to grow and grow. Perhaps it was the book I was reading. I took a quick look at the subway map on my phone and as I looked out the window, I saw I was just one stop away.

My tryout was getting closer. I packed up my book and stood up from my seat and began to search the skyline for the familiar site. It was weird riding on the train this far out in Queens; even now as a resident. You see, I came to New York in 2007 and attended a few night sessions of the US Open. We took the 7 train from Grand Central in the afternoon and returned to Midtown, often after midnight.

Looking to the South, I searched and searched …

And then there it was. Arthur Ashe Stadium. Aside from the grass of Wimbledon, I have seen this stadium the most and as an American, it is the place I would want to win.

I hurried out of the train and made my way towards the tennis center. It seemed no one else was coming so maybe it would be easy for me to grab one of the only 80 positions available. The whole scene looked completely different that the dressed up look that comes with the US Open. But I knew where to go. But a ten-foot tall metal gated fence stood in my way. I found a door, asked where to go, and worked to find the end of the line.

And boy, was I at the end. The line moved slowly so I spent the time checking tennis scores and texting. And waiting.

The line crawled for an hour before I finally made it to the registration desk to fill out my official paperwork. Then I saw a few people I knew and, for the first time since moving to New York City, I felt at home.

All of us ball person hopefuls took our seats on one of two indoor courts while the leader tried, quite unsuccessfully to use a microphone with a single speaker to explain everything to us. She tried to be funny. She wasn’t.

Finally, they began to usher people to their courts based on what they wanted to tryout for. I had decided I was only going to tryout to be a “back” person, the person who hands the players their towels and tosses the balls to the players and across the court.

With each passing minute, I got more and more nervous. No joke. When it was finally my turn to toss and catch, I stood at the back of the court, waiting for my partner to throw.

As I waited, the nerves continued to grow and spread. They were definitely the same nerves I feel as I play tennis for the first time, or I am serving for or to stay in the match. It is part worry, part excitement.

I caught the balls and as I lined up to throw three tennis balls the length of the court, my moment had finally arrived. My first toss was a good distance, but about six feet too far to the left. Same with the next one. My third throw was a bit more accurate, but the distance not as good.

After the first three, I was able to have six more tosses, and on average, I was probably only four feet off the mark on average, but the distance was certainly not where I wanted it to be.

As I grabbed my bag, I decided to take a stroll around the grounds. The next time I come to the tennis center, there will be nearly 50,000 people surrounding me. No matter the final results of the tryout, I am completely excited to say that I once tried out to be a US Open Ball Person; and I can now say, as I watch this year’s open, that I, Richard Dedor, tried out with them on a cool, windy June day in Flushing Meadows.

Life Coaching

Overcoming “Not Possible”

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This column tri-weekly column, “From Richard’s Oft Cluttered Desk” appears every third Wednesday.

I remember the day the fall of my senior year in college like it was yesterday. I was sitting in the athletic department’s marketing office working before class on my tennis media guide and I was reading something about marathon running.

My friend had started talking about running a marathon and the idea intrigued me. In fact, I was ready to sign up with him – without any running experience to speak of – because it was a challenge worth taking.

But then my mind joined the conversation, that little guy that says, “Who the hell are you thinking you can run 26.2 miles?” And I listened. It was a crazy idea.

Fast forward three years and I was no longer a competitive tennis player and I needed a physical activity. I picked up running. I started slow: a mile or two every few days. Looking back, I laugh thinking that was a long way, but it was for a guy who didn’t have a “runner’s body.” I still don’t to be honest.

For my birthday two years ago, my boyfriend gave me the Nike+ run tracker, which became the final piece in the motivation puzzle and off I ran. I slowly increased my distances and my time on the road. I ran my first race that spring, a four-mile run through Kansas City. At the time, those four miles were the most I had run in three years. It felt great to cross that finish line and know I had worked my ass off to get to that point.

But I wanted more. I researched and knowing I would be moving to New York City sometime in the not-to-distant future, I found the New York Road Runners’ Half Marathon. I decided to take a chance and enter. Then I waited to see if I won the lottery to get in.

While I waited, I kept running, but then it happened: injury. It freaked me out. I couldn’t even walk. I went to a trainer and we changed my shoes and began treatment for IT-Band Syndrome. I have since learned a lot about the biomechanics of running and do my best now to prevent injuries from happening but it took a month of hard treatments to get me right again.

But the road kept calling. And I kept running.

On March 20, 2011, I stood around 100th Street in Central Park as the emcee introduced dignitaries and the professional runners who would compete in the NYRR NYC Half Marathon with me. Then a choir from Brooklyn (I believe) sang the National Anthem. While my teeth chattered and my knees shook from the cold, I closed my eyes and took in the moment. It was only the second time as a competitor I had a chance to listen to my National Anthem. The song ended and I was ready to go, but the pre-race festivities were not yet complete. As if on cue, a flock of birds, in “V” formation flew overhead just as the song ended. Everyone around me clapped for the fly-over.

Starting time had finally arrived. I crossed the start line at 96th Street in Central Park, the start of a 13.1 mile journey. But it was more than just those 13.1 miles. It was about those days where I ran in the rain. Or ran even though I was tired. Or remembering the days of the nine-minute runs in elementary school.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. My knees started to hurt around mile 12. But, let me tell you this: I have never felt better following a run. I have never felt more comfortable in my shoes and running than I did the last five miles.

The best moment for me, aside from crossing the finish line in a fast (for me) time, was exiting Central Park and running through the heart of Times Square. There are not words to explain what it felt like to see the people lined up along Seventh Avenue with the towering buildings and lights surrounding me. I couldn’t help but smile.

While I neared the finish line, I thought back to that day in college where I told myself I couldn’t do this. I know this wasn’t a marathon, but that is the next thing on my list. And I will do it.

But here I am: a runner. I smiled as I crossed the finish line and thought, ‘anything is possible.’

View my victory photo and like my new Facebook Fan Page!

Super ‘Flat’ Bowl

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This column tri-weekly column, “From Richard’s Oft Cluttered Desk” appears every third Wednesday.

The Super Bowl is over and the postmortem on the $3-million ads are over but I have a few final thoughts.

First, the game was mediocre. I had really been looking forward to the Super Bowl. First, it may be the last one we see for awhile with the current issues with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. But mostly I was excited because not only do I love the game, but I had just moved and watching the Super Bowl was my movement back to “non-moving” mode.

Secondly, while I don’t forgive Christina Aguilera for messing up the lyrics to the National Anthem, which I know happens, the song, in my musical opinion was bad. Sometimes when people make their own renditions of the Anthem it is amazing and makes my skin tingle and believe in the idea of America again. But this year, I just wanted it to be over. She sounded bad. Her rendition was bad. It was just bad. I should have taken that as a sign and shut off the television and prepared for four hours for the return of Glee. But I didn’t.

Granted, I did enjoy the time with Nathanael, his friend Brian, and this wonderful potato dish I made out of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution cook-book. But I wanted a good game.

But okay, the game was mediocre. I still had the mega-ads to entertain me, right? Wrong.

Those two fell flat on someone who enjoys them, but doesn’t watch only for them. I’m a sports fan who has the opportunity to enjoy these pieces of art. Or, crap as I’m going to call this year.

Watching the ads I will say that a few made me smile and laugh. But most left me scratching my head. I spend a lot of time reading and practicing marketing (of other companies as well as myself) and I couldn’t help but ask myself a simple question over and over: “What the hell were they trying to do with that ad?”

After a few commercial breaks, Nathanael and I, stunned at the amount of sub-par ads looked at each other and almost at the same time, said, “They are trying too hard.” The Super Bowl has become too big for it’s own good. The advertisers have two challenges when it comes to making a Super Bowl ad.

First, it has to be memorable in order to have people talking about it for weeks after the game.

Secondly, it costs $3 million to air; once! That is a meda-ton of pressure!

In my humble opinion, many of the advertisers failed on both accounts. Why? Because they were simply trying too hard.

This problem happens in life too. We can all get into ruts where we start trying too hard. Hockey players grip their stick tighter. Golfers pull out on putts. Musicians try to the No. 1 single. First-time novelists try to write the best-seller on their first try.

I’m not writing this column to urge you to not try hard. On the contrary. I am writing to encourage you to try as hard as you can – but be focused. Be deliberate. And do what you do best. If what you are doing isn’t feeling right, stop, pull back and evaluate.

The Super Bowl is an entertainment spectacle and I have a simple piece of advice for the NFL, the game’s advertisers and you: get back to basics, do what you do well and good things will happen.

Orange Crushed

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*Beginning in 2010, I started writing a bi-weekly column, “From Richard’s Oft Cluttered Desk” which appears every other Wednesday.

I am relieved. Bronco-Nation is “calm.” Let the re-building begin.

It never actually did back in 2009 when Josh McDaniels was hired. It was splashy. It was bold. It was wrong. McDaniels had only two years of coordinator experience, was in his early 30s and was now being asked to take over a team that had a top-15, maybe ten quarterback, one of the league’s top offenses and was considered just a few changes away on defense from becoming a contender once again.

Now, I have made no secret to my openness and wide-willingness to make change when change is needed. But I am not a dictator. A boss must be the boss, but what McDaniels did was blatantly against his highly-touted “team first” attitude.

Whose team was he working for? The Patriots? He certainly wasn’t working for Bronco-Nation that supported this team, helped build the new house and lost four Super Bowls before finally winning a decade ago. It all started with the trade of Jay Cutler. And for the record, the blame must start with owner Pat Bowlen. He hired the guy. He let his arrogance run the building.

I don’t care who lied to whom, but McDaniels let ego, his own and Cutler’s to get in the way of what could have been a good relationship. So, Cutler left and McDaniels got paid.

Then McDaniels traded away Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall. So, Marshall left and McDaniels got paid.

Then he traded Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn, a third-string quarterback and now Hillis is having a career year in Cleveland while Denver’s running game is anemic. Oh, and in case you didn’t know and without getting too technical, from about 1997 – 2007, a strong decade of dominance, Denver’s running game was one of the best in the league year after year.

McDaniels came in, changed the system, and now the running game is flat on it’s back. But still, McDaniels signed the back of that little piece of paper while the losses piled up.

Back in 2008, Nathanael and I were relaxing on the couch after the final weekend of the regular season when the news flashed that Mike Shanahan had been fired. And another on-the-record comment: I love Mike Shanahan. He won Bronco-Nation two Super Bowls. But it was time for a change. McDaniels was never my choice. He was never a Bronco. And I hope that hoodie keeps him warm. But still, McDaniels will get a check. For two more years.

So, let the real rebuilding begin. I never thought my once-proud franchise would become a laughing stock. Would lose 17 of their last 22 games. My team, my passion is a joke. I have always worn my Blue and Orange with pride. But for the first time in my life this year, I didn’t want to wear it.

But I am still a proud card-carrying member of Bronco-Nation. And together we will rebuild. Together. All the while, McDaniels will keep signing his checks while we clean up his mess.

Running Scared

For those who have been following this blog anytime in the last two years, you know that in early 2008 I began to run. It all started with my birthday when Nathanael gave me the Nike+ running tool to use with my iPod.

Over the last 18 or so months, I have found successes. I remember when I started running that my max distance was about 1.5 miles. A month ago I had my longest run at just over 9 miles.

The great thing about my story is that I am not a runner by trade. No, sir. I am a tennis player. (And I throw a pretty mean football, but I digress.) But I wanted to find an outlet for my energy, get in a solid workout and challenge myself. So, I started running.

I’ve written about my running journey here, here and here.

Last month on my second to last run, before I was to go after 9.5 miles, which would have been a record, something happened. At the time, I wasn’t sure. But a few days of pain and a doctors visit later, I was diagnosed with IT Band Syndrome. For those who have had this, you know it is not fun. For me, just walking was painful.

But for the last month, I have been getting treatment but the process has been slow. I never thought I’d say this: but I want to run! I ache to. I didn’t realize how much I had enjoyed and how much my mind and body needed that time.

In fact, writing this all down has me thinking: maybe my lack of running (by doctors orders) is the reason why my energy level and my motivation has dipped. Needless to say, I am not happy.

So, a month later, my longest run is now at 5 miles, but it feels like I am just starting out. My knee still hurts after a long run like that, so I will continue to go to treatments and hopefully get better. I am tentatively scheduled to run the New York City Half-Marathon in March; and I desperately want to be there, shoes on and laced up.

What’s the lesson here? Not quite sure actually. I have two thoughts to leave you with though. First, never think that you can’t do something. I never thought I’d be able to run two miles, let alone 9 and be dreaming of 13.1. My other thought is this: There will be growing pains but the key thing to remember is to push through them.

My leg may have me down right now, but I’m coming back. I have my goal in mind and my focus is still clear.

Ready to lace them up with me?

(flickr photo via mediaflex)

Do What You Do Well

It’s baseball playoff time and so I’m spending nearly every night watching at least a little baseball. I’ve been a baseball fan since I was probably old enough to pick up and hold a plastic ball. I played little league up until I was about 13 when I moved to tennis. I was simply better. Or at least, I wasn’t bad. I wasn’t good at baseball and it wasn’t fun anymore because of that.

Now with the playoffs here, I am able to learn about other teams I don’t usually follow. I learn about their players. I learn how the team was built, either through the draft or free agency.

So in the first round, the Minnesota Twins again faced off against the high-powered New York Yankees. I first must say that I am an avid Twins fan. I grew up watching them and have been to countless games, including postseason madness. But these two teams are very, very different.

First, the Yankees have a bigger budget – by far. It doesn’t even compare. The market itself is different. And how the franchises have gone about building their team is different too.

When you look at the Twins, the have been built predominately through the draft and their minor league system. In rare occasions they have gone out and landed free agents, but that is rare and usually only one a year.

The Yankees on the other hand build predominantly through free agency. CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera are their two major recent free agent signings. It’s just what they do. The Twins have to do it one way and the Yankees can do it either way and they’ve chosen (and been quite successful I might add) to build championships through free agency.

My point is simple: figure out what you do best and commit to it. Own it. Live it. And be the best you can be with the plan and the resources you have.

(flickr photo via Parl)