I love playing football more than I love my Roth IRA. I know; it’s hard to believe.
Some guys dream about beautiful women or winning the lottery. I frequently have dreams about playing high school football. I really only have one true regret in my life, and that is not playing football my senior year of high school. I love playing the game. I love bonding with my teammates. I love cheerleaders. And more than anything, I love the life lessons you can learn from a stupid little game.
I played on the freshman football team in high school and I loved every minute of it. I’m not trying to brag (that was a bold faced lie. I’m definitely bragging) but I started at wide receiver and cornerback and pretty much played every snap on offense and defense that year. I preferred defense, but I was actually a really good blocker out on the edge as a wide receiver. Since we basically ran the ball on every play, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t catch. I could just block, block, block my happy little butt off and never have to worry about dropping a pass.
There are two problems with freshman in high school playing football. 9th grade boys aren’t very smart in general, and 9th grade football players think they are tough like Chuck Norris. I was waiting for mom to pick me up from practice with two friends (we’ll call them Jeremy and Brandon because those are their actual names) and Jeremy kicked off the convo with this gem:
I have an idea. If you and Brandon get in a fight I’ll give a dollar to the winner.
A dollar? Any normal person would tell him to go dunk his head in the toilet, but Brandon and I were freshman football players! We jumped at any chance to show how manly we were. We started with just a playful slap fight to prove our manliness without actually hurting each other. Then one of the slaps landed a little too hard, and instantly it became a real fight.
I started throwing real punches but I didn’t really want to hurt him because we shouldn’t have even been fighting in the first place. I didn’t want to hit him in the face but I did want to win the fight, so aiming for the middle of his stomach I reared back and swung as hard as I could.
My punch landed squarely on his hip bone. It was like punching a brick wall with every ounce of force my 14 year old body could muster. The last time I cried from physical pain was getting hit in my manhood with a basketball in fourth grade. The only thing that stopped me from crying at that moment was an enormous amount of willpower. Football players don’t cry when they’re hurt.
However, I did immediately concede the fight to Brandon and started pacing back and forth. I don’t know why we do that, but it seems like if something hurts really bad guys think walking back and forth really quickly will make it better. Or maybe that’s just me.
My hand was throbbing (and his hip wasn’t feeling too well either) and completely swollen within minutes. The unofficial diagnosis was a fractured growth plate in the right index finger. It wasn’t the pain that made me so upset; it was the idea of going to practice tomorrow. How could I possibly explain such a stupid “injury” to my coach?
I say “unofficial diagnosis” because I didn’t go to a doctor. I didn’t tell anyone about it; definitely not my mom or my coach. I didn’t want to tell anyone who might tell me to stop playing football. I kept playing through the pain and let the bone heal on its own. The diagnosis came years later from a doctor I met socially when I was in college. If you don’t believe the diagnosis, here is a picture of my hands where my right pointer finger is noticeably shorter than the left one.
The pain was tolerable. Sure my hand hurt so bad in between plays that I wanted to chop it off with a dull knife, but once the whistle blew I never gave the hand a second thought. That is, until our next game.
I don’t remember much about that game except that we were undefeated going into it and the game was close all night. We were driving for a score in the third quarter and I was out at wide receiver blocking the cornerback. My running back ran a sweep right behind me and actually pushed me into the guy I was blocking. Except I wasn’t ready to be pushed and I fell to the ground.
And then he stepped on my hand.
I thought punching my friend’s hip hurt, but that felt like a little tickle compared to the pain of having a 170 pound running back plant his foot onto your broken hand. I ran to the sideline and told my coach that my hand was stepped on and I couldn’t go back in. Here was his response (before you think he’s an irresponsible coach and adult, keep in mind I never told him about the original injury)
Is it bleeding?
Is there a bone sticking out?
Then you’re going back in on the next play. You’re my best blocker and I need you out there.
I’m not going to lie and pretend his words meant so much to me that I forgot all about the pain. It still hurt like the dickens, but I knew he needed me and he believed in me. It wasn’t going to be fun, and it definitely wasn’t going to be easy, but I went back out there and played the rest of the game. I wanted to win that game and make my coach proud of me, and it didn’t matter how painful it was going to be. We did win that game and kept our undefeated record intact.
The literal financial lesson to take from this story is, “Never get in a fight over a dollar.” Actually physical violence in general is pretty dumb most of the time.
The metaphorical lesson is a lot more meaningful. If you want to achieve something worthwhile, there’s a good chance it’s not going to be easy. In fact, it might be excruciatingly painful at times. But if you make it through all the pain, you can accomplish your goal.
It reminds me a lot of saving money that I won’t see for over 40 years or making a payment on a credit card instead of buying a new toy. It hurts a little, but if I can play football with a broken hand that was recently stepped on, then saving for retirement is a piece of cake.
*Note: All stories this week are about why I’m not qualified to give you professional financial advice while I am qualified to make you laugh while I give my financial perspective that’s generally pretty good.