Tonight the Auburn Tigers will play the Oregon Ducks for the National Championship in College Football. I’ve not looked forward to a game more since the undefeated New England Patriots played the New York Giants in the Superbowl. Still grieving that America didn’t get to see a perfect season by those Patriots.
Regardless, it’s promising to be a good game tonight. Both programs are fielding incredible, fast-moving teams, so even if the score gets lopsided, you shouldn’t turn this game off. Either team can score three or four touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone.
I love the Auburn tigers. I love the tradition, the fans, the commitment to excellence, and all season I’ve loved to watch Cam Newton play. But as the season went on, and Auburn came back against Alabama, I hung my head. One of my favorite teams in all of college football would have to play my very favorite team, the Oregon Ducks. I couldn’t even watch Cam get the Heisman. It was time to protect my heart. It was time to name the enemy, and the enemy was holding a thirty-pound trophy (I was secretly hoping he’d sprain an elbow lifting it).
It’s been a long ride for the Ducks. This team has never won a National Championship. Compared to most SEC teams, they only have a fraction of the fan base. Their recruiting has been aided by the facilities and uniforms (a different combination for each and every game) provided by Nike founder Phil Knight. Like it or not, kids coming out of high school all have one eye on Oregon. They are simply more slick than any other team in America. But are they as good?
I think they are, and while it’s hard for me to say they are better than Auburn, I think the Tigers are going to get a surprise tonight.
But the main reason for Oregon’s success is not Phil Knight or flashy uniforms. It’s Chip Kelly, Oregon’s second-year head coach. Chip joined the staff several years ago from New Hampshire, and came to Oregon because he wanted a place to start a family. He cared about winning, but didn’t care about fame. On his visit to Oregon, he looked around at the rest of the coaching staff to realize he was the youngest guy in the room. The current staff, which remains there to this day, had been at Oregon for more than twenty years. Twenty years in college football is a long, long time. This is a school devoted to its faculty and Kelly liked that. When head coach Mike Beloti left for ESPN, Kelly took over.
Kelly preaches a single message to his team, and it’s this: Win the day. Who cares about tomorrow, who cares about yesterday, all that is demanded of you is that you win the day. That means have an excellent practice, that means have an excellent day of rest, that means every hour of every day, be there, be present. That also means do not think about the National Championship, just think about today, just get up and do your work.
The mantra has become state-wide now and I confess I’ve found myself applying the wisdom to my own life. Who cares about the next book release, whether it sells well, whether chapter four is as good as chapter three, all that matters is that I get up in the morning, walk the dog, sit down with a cup of coffee and do my work. Tomorrow may hold a victory for me or a defeat, but all I’ve got to work with is right now.
When Oregon beat Oregon State in the final game of the season, and for the first time assured their fate as National Championship contenders, you did not see much celebration amongst the team. People in the stands were shouting their heads off and sports announcers were literally crying into their microphones. But not the football players. They’d bought into Chip Kelly’s system: Win the day. They hadn’t won the national championship yet, so there was nothing to celebrate. They had won the day, but the next day there would be another battle to fight, and the next day another. It’s safe to say they’ve won plenty of days. Here’s hoping they can win just one more. Go Ducks. Win the day! Win today!!