It’s safe to say we’re all painfully aware of the setback suffered by our football team this weekend. What might have been a glittering home debut for the energetic and enthusiastic new face of Yale football, coach Tom Williams’ first home game, was tarnished at the hands of a despised Cornell team. Yet perhaps overlooked by the disappointment in the loss was a shining moment for one Bulldog senior: Tom Mante’s ’10 Yale record-tying 54-yard field goal.
Now, that Mante kicked the longest field goal in one of the longest-standing football programs in the history of sports is impressive enough. But what is more impressive isn’t that one kick, but rather the fact that he has made hundreds of kicks just like it in his career.
The position of punter/kicker, like that of the closer in baseball or the goalie in hockey and soccer, is one of the most mentally demanding roles in sports. More than 90 percent of a kicker’s game is spent on the sidelines, trying to convince himself that he can, in fact, kick a ball high enough and far enough, in the exact direction required, at the exact moment required, to score. The closer, too, spends the majority of his team’s game sitting on the bench, waiting for the call that will bring him out of the safe confines of the bullpen to the center of the field, the center of attention, and the center of his team’s hopes of winning the game. If his or her offense is dominating, a goalie can spend almost an entire game inactive, all the while trying to maintain the edge that will allow him or her to be ready for even one play — a play that can, and almost always does, mean the difference between victory and defeat.
That anyone is able to maintain the focus, edge, and (in?)sanity required to be good at any one of these jobs is astounding. While the kicker, closer and goalie may find themselves in these high-intensity moments more than most, all Yale athletes face a mental grind equal to, if not far beyond, that which their bodies undergo. Failure is an inevitable, though never accepted, part of every single day. At practice, coaches identify and force repetition of precisely those things that their athletes cannot do well. A day in the weight room is not worthwhile if everything goes smoothly — only through being pushed to failure does an athlete’s body build up, and despite all the strength coaches’ enthusiastic assertions to the contrary, it is not through “getting it” that one improves, but rather through the struggle.
With so much failure drilled into the most banal moments of their daily routine, it is practically inconceivable that athletes like Mante can succeed so often in the most crucial ones. But that is exactly what all Yale athletes are able to do. Some may describe the ability as mental toughness. Others, insanity. But, more accurately, it’s a combination of both.
Athletes have to be at least a little insane to convince themselves repeatedly that they can perform feats that, for the majority of people, are impossible. They also have to be tough enough to turn off their short-term memories and forget the failures they’ve experienced in the past. And they have to be both insane and tough to alter the circumstances of even the most seemingly insurmountable situation (i.e. convincing oneself that it is not only possible, but easy, to kick a football 55 yards with pinpoint accuracy) to reassure themselves of the inevitability of their success.
We, as fans, do the exact same thing. Fans identify with athletes because we, too, can’t be told that our team is not the greatest to ever play. While we may not experience the daily mental grind, nor the immense pressures of high-level athletics, we do have the strength to forgive our teams for failure after failure, time after time, in hopes that the next moment is the one that lets our team break through. We have the insanity to convince ourselves that nothing is out of reach, no comeback impossible, no achievement too far-fetched (see me circa mid-March willing to put money on the fact that the Yankees were going 162-0 this year … or Cubs fans around the same time believing that 2009 would finally going to be the year …). We have the toughness and insanity to keep coming back in rain, snow, sleet, hail … and exam week, to support the teams we love.
So even with Saturday’s loss, there’s no way Bulldog fans’ hopes for a memorable football season should die. Sure, the dreams we might have had for a perfect season culminating in an epic, last-second, comeback defeat of Harvard might not be possible now. A 10-1 season with an epic, last-second, comeback defeat of Harvard and an Ivy League Championship, however, still is. As fans, we have to learn from the example of athletes like Mante: We must turn off our short-term memories, convince ourselves that our goals are within reach, and do everything we can to prepare ourselves (or, as fans, our team) for that pivotal moment where the line between success and failure is just millimeters wide.
In other words, Bulldog fans, be a kicker. Be a closer. Be a goalie. Basically, be an athlete. Forget Cornell. Work hard all week. Get focused during pregame, and come out ready to win Saturday. If you do, there’s no way we can lose.
Chelsea Janes is a sophomore in Pierson College.