Eleven Adjustments #11: Fix The Sideline October 27, 2012
The game starts in 22 minutes. I’m home for an Illini game for the first time since Louisiana-Lafayette in 2008. At least I think that’s the last game I missed. Feels like I might have missed an FCS game in there somewhere, like Eastern or something. But I think that was maybe 2006 or so. Anyway, I have a Thing at 2:30, and I can’t go to the game and also make it to the Thing.
So I saved this last Adjustment for game time. Because I want anyone who reads this to watch for this during the game. I’m a huge believer in sidelines. I feel like a team can gain so much energy from an enthused sideline. When there’s a momentum shift in a game, and you either feel excited that we’re about to make a comeback or dejected that we’re about to blow a lead, you can watch it swell on the sideline.
My first experience with sideline momentum was in the fall of 1992. We were playing Northwestern, at home, on Homecoming, and I want to say we had a 27-10 lead. Or maybe it was 27-7. Either way, Northwestern needed three fourth quarter touchdowns.
There was a kid from my high school who played for Northwestern. Really the only kid from my high school to play D-I ball in the 20 years prior or the 20 years since. Since my seats were right behind the Northwestern bench, I spent a lot of time watching the Northwestern sideline. And I noticed how enthused they were despite trailing 27-7. There were guys going back and forth on the sideline, encouraging their teammates that the game wasn’t over.
And the game wasn’t over. They scored to cut it to a two touchdown lead, and their sideline was going insane. Our sideline was a lot of standing and staring. I wasn’t worried, though. I mean, it’s Northwestern. Do you really think we’re going to allow some wide receiver named Lee Gissendaner to run all over us and score twice in the fourth quarter and take away our Homecoming…
Northwestern won. It felt like their sideline willed them to victory. 85 guys all believing they were going to come back and win the game.
I’ll pause here to say this. It’s not a formula. When we’re trailing 28-0 at Michigan, we can’t just say “OK, time to do the sideline thing and will our team to a comeback”. Of course it doesn’t work like that.
But we can stay enthused. And we can stay together. And we can focus on one goal. And we can congratulate any player who comes off the field after a good play. And we can stay vocal. And we can fire up our teammates. And our coaches can show emotion. And we can keep our team in the proper state of mind.
Or, we can do that “both hands hold the collar/shoulderpads” and just stand and stare. Which is what I see a lot of this year. No emotion. Nobody fired up for a special teams hit (er, well, nobody making a special teams hit, but who’s counting?)
I want to see an improved sideline. I want to see a united team. The last two years, especially the defense, was so incredibly united on the sideline. Remember the whole “two hands over the head” thing? Cheesy, I know, but that defense kept their military mindset through most games. They fed off each other. The backups screamed for the starters.
This year, I see very little of that. And to me, that’s on the coaches. They must build a culture of togetherness. It seems like such a little thing, but every coach from Nick Saban to Bill Snyder will tell you how important it is.
So today – in five minutes, actually – I’m hoping that the coaches showed game film of our morbid sideline during this losing streak. I’m hoping they talked to the team about how important it is for all 105 guys to stay together. It’s very easy in football to go hard the first play of the game. It’s really difficult to keep that motor running high on play #56. It takes mental fortitude. And a fired-up sideline can nurture that.
Adjustment #11: work on sideline togetherness. This is a team. Those are your brothers. Fight for them. Starting…. now.