By now we've all seen it. Sunday. Overtime. The hard luck Buffalo Bills on the verge of upsetting the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick throws the pass of his life, a perfect spiraled heave that hits receiver Steve Johnson in stride in the end zone. If he catches it the Bills win.
Only he didn't catch it. He dropped it. The Bills lost the game in overtime.
As a kid playing sports, i heard a lot of platitudes from my coaches. As a journalist covering sports, I would hear many of the same.
"You learn more about yourself in adverse times than you do in good times."
"The heart of a champion shines through more in defeat than victory."
Blah, blah, blah. I wonder of Caesar shouted these to his Roman troops before they invaded Britain. Of course, defeat wasn't really an option for him, was it?
Most of the time, these utterances are worthless cliches masked as inspiration.
But Sunday, we were exposed to an athlete who has been listening to his coaches all these years after all. His name is Steve Johnson.
Not only did Johnson take questions on his dropped pass, but he insisted on doing so at the podium, in full view of dozens of cameras and lights, with no place to cower and hide. He answered every question, and in a moment of stunning candor, admitted he would never get over the dropped pass. Never? In Buffalo, there are fans who still haven't forgiven Scott Norwood. I'm guessing they wouldn't be as hard on Johnson, but they don't have to be.
Not when he is falling on his own sword.
And while Johnson was a bit melodramatic in that proclamation, we have learned more about this 5'10" wide receiver from San Francisco than anyone not playing fantasy football would have otherwise.
We learned that you can admire somebody more for how they handle adversity. Rather than pout after his mistake, Johnson faced up to it.
We learned that in defeat, a champion can be revealed. Johnson showed heart in answering questions about what happened.
We learned coaches speak in cliches for a reason. Because they can be true.
We also learned that Twitter can be a dangerous tool, especially when athletes try and connect religion with outcomes. Someone should have taken Johnson's iPad away from him after the game.
You don't need a coach to tell you that.