Do they need to have a top flight player at a certain position?
Do players need to run a certain speed, jump a certain distance, or lift a certain amount of weight?
What if I suggested that a perfect team, a real perfect team, could be none of those things?
Yet strive to be all of them.
Today, as the BCS goes into chaos as to who will be the most deserving teams to compete for a National Championship, that I believe rightfully so, will go to a team that won the most.
Yes, there are statistical barometers that can be used and measured to equate the past National Champions: the average weight of a lineman; the heights and 40 times of a wide receiver; the amount of reps by a linebacker.
You can literally measure success to some degree.
But not to every degree.
To date, there is no meaningful or agreed upon method to measuring Will, Comradery, and Loyalty, though these are things that may matter the most. Because these are the things we can control.
To begin, let's talk about will. The ability to give full effort, in the face of whatever obstacle is being confronted. I believe that will is the most important aspect of any team. To perform the drills in practice to the best of one’s ability with the goal of improving. To work with the strength, speed, and conditioning coaches to persevere through physical fatigue and make an effort to becoming the best possible athlete you can be. To study a playbook, in spite of life's other acts and distractions, with focus and intensity. To not give up, because in your heart of hearts you believe you CAN DO something, and you can improve. To get back up, either emotionally or physically, after being knocked down.
That to me is what Will is, and we all possess it, though clearly to varying degrees. We also, to a certain extent, control this. While we may be limited by our genetic make-ups, we are not limited to the amount of effort that can be put in.
Also of significant importance is the ability to coexist with each other. The social ability to empathize with one another, push one another into positive common goals, and get along with one another through difficult times and disagreements. Keeping each other focused and humble when circumstances are going well. To encourage one another and recognize accomplishments and be supportive to each other's lives outside of the time that is spent together. This is what it means to be a teammate, and to be part of a family.
To some, this ability may come more naturally. For others it must be worked on, but again, the output is controlled by the individuals. It is always up to us, how we treat each other. To function as a successful team, individuals must recognize that they are part of something greater than themselves, and that shared successes are greater than any individual ones.
In the aspect of loyalty, we must look at what you pledge when you join a team or family. An act of loyalty is not an act of unwavering faith, but one of mutual trust. Trust that you can see the same aspects of will and comradery with those around you. Trust that as a player you pledge to give everything of yourself to a cause, knowing that your teammates will do the same.
Or more simply, great teams need to be developed more than they are assembled.
Penn State has developed over the course of this season to become a great team. They have pushed themselves to heights many did not believe they were capable of reaching. And do it while understanding they were human and had limits.
They did stumble out of the gate. They came out with the intensity and fire, but they were still not there in terms of discipline, execution, and composure.
Things did not quite go as planned.
But they did not give up. They bonded. They looked out for one another, and they got better. In every area. In every single position.
They did not go undefeated. There would be more setbacks against two very good teams themselves in Nebraska and Ohio State. (Nebraska has two losses, one to UCLA and one to the undefeated Buckeyes) Yet still, the team responded each time with blow out performances the following weeks.
Now the team has one last chance to show how much they've grown, how good they can be. Because, with the exception of the National Championship, that is exactly what every other game is.
This Saturday is Penn State's last chance to leave an imprint on the football landscape and show who they are.
Sadly, for one Nittany Lion this will not happen.
Michael Mauti, has given a lot for Penn State football, more than the University could ever hope to repay him. Yet on Senior Day, as he will no doubt be torn in emotion about not getting to suit up one last time; one last chance to spark his team to victory; to hit and tackle and run and jump with his teammates, he should know this. He was the best defensive leader I've ever seen at Penn State. I've seen more athletic players in LaVar Arrington and Derek Cameron Wake. I've seen more productive players in Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. But I have never seen anyone take charge of a team or inspire a team more than Michael Mauti.
The greatest honor that I could possibly give him, is that as it appears to me, and I would guess every single fan that has ever seen him play, that he played as hard as anyone I have ever seen play football. He was human; he missed a few tackles, read a few plays wrong. But those plays were few and far between and really not what came to the forefront. Instead, I saw a player who wanted to WIN every play. He took no plays off, and only asked that his teammates and brothers do the same. And the rest of the team fed off that energy, bringing forth some of their best efforts.
He helped keep together a team that could have easily fallen completely apart.
Perhaps he will never set foot on a football field ever again, as cruel realities of the world seem to have taken away that last opportunity. He will not get to play on Saturday. But he will have a chance to make an impact.
To inspire a team to play a perfect game. Without him on the field.
This team, with 4 losses, still has an opportunity to show how far they've come, how much they've grown, and just how great they are.
This Saturday, they have an opportunity to attempt to play a perfect game.
What does a perfect game look like? Well, statistically and with a sense of realism it would resemble this. Zero penalties, zero turnovers, zero incompletions, zero sacks allowed, giving up zero first down and holding the opponent scoreless. Averaging roughly 4.5 yards a rush or greater, averaging roughly 8 yards or greater on pass plays. Not missing an extra point or field goal. Scoring, at minimum, 35 points.
Those are the measurable achievements that I would say warrant a 'perfect' game.
This game in all likelihood will never be achieved. Yet I believe this should always be the goal.
This Saturday, I want to challenge the football team, a team I was once briefly a member of and still hold with reverence, to be 'Perfect'. To excel in every moment of adversity and to give all that they have on every play. If they should fail, due to the circumstances or the opponent, they pick each other back up and fight back even harder. They must do it now, with the urgency and intensity of knowing that the next play, or next game, or next season, is never promised.
Know the details, your assignments, trust your coaches and each other.
Be what Penn State has always tried to be.
Be what you, as a person should always strive to be.