Thoughts from Dr. Joe: To the Spartan football team

Throughout life my allegiances have varied. I’ve gone from the Yankees, to the Mets, to the Dayton Flyers, and back to the Yankees. Since my daughter, Sabine, began high school, I’ve become a Spartan, a true blue fan of La Cañada.

Last Saturday I attended the Booster Fest. The Boosters are the die-hard supporters of the activities programs at La Cañada High.  We were there for the kids. I’ve always been an academician, but students’ involvement in extracurricular activities is what they remember about their formative years.

During the evening I heard lots of talk relative to the difficulty the varsity football team is experiencing. There was a lot of wincing going on. It appeared a malaise had overwhelmed the good intentions and all that remained was a sinking ship with the promise of next year.

I wanted to grab the microphone from the guy juggling on the unicycle and scream: “Hey!  What did Yogi Berra Say?  ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’”

I would have done that, but the line at the buffalo wings truck had subsided and I was hungry.

Win or lose, I’m captured by this Spartan team and held spellbound as the drama of football unfolds.  Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the man in the arena.”  Each Friday night I watch Greenberg, Paynter, Murray, Ruta, Owen, Fueling, Del Cueto, Massimino and all the others strive, yet come up short.  But they know a great devotion.  Football is like any endeavor. It’s life in extremis and necessitates the best within us. Its appeal is grounded in a nature whereby an arduous struggle actualizes our best effort.  Tom Landry says, “Football is an incredible game; it's so incredible, it's unbelievable.” 

It’s not the score; it’s the game itself and what you can become by participating.

As a kid I played football for a neighborhood team in the Bronx, the Bullets.  The Bombers were our rivals and from another neighborhood.  We met in a grudge match in the fall of ’63.  With a minute left in the game, we were losing 63-0.  The Bombers were poised to score again and had moved the ball to our goal line.  Both teams realized the outcome of the game would not be a product of the score but whether or not the Bombers scored a final touchdown.

Our coach sent a note to our defensive huddle. It read, “Don’t quit!” It was fourth and goal. The ball was snapped, both lines surged and the Bombers fell short. We had held!

The perspective “don’t quit,” has saved my life during some tough times in Vietnam.  Guys, if you scribe these words into your soul they will do as well for you.  Anyone can fight a battle when he’s sure of winning but I’ll take the guy who continues to fight when he’s sure of losing.

It’s tough to lose, but losing is inevitable in life.  It’s how you lose and how you’ve changed because of it and what you take away from it that you never had before, to apply to other games.  If you're willing to examine failure, look not just at your outward physical performance, but your internal workings as well, losing can be valuable. Losing, in a curious way, is winning.

There’s nothing in life that destroys you but yourself. When you are losing you don’t fall apart; you fight back.  You lose with dignity. Dignity is the only gift you give to yourself.

Of course winning is euphoric, but it hardly defines you. How you behave when you lose can be more self-defining than winning could ever be. Sometimes losing shows you for who you really are.

Pass this on to one of the players.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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