One might expect to hear names like Pop Warner, Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi drop at a press conference for the BCS championship. But if reporters can get a football coach to talk long enough, legends from other sports are bound to come up. Even one from our greatest game, baseball.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, in explaining the importance of keeping mentally focused against Notre Dame on Monday night, invoked New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. One of the best pitchers ever — even if for an inning at a time — Rivera requires keen focus in order to ignore the distractions that come with finishing off a tight ballgame. The best athletes in the world tune out all sorts of distractions, Saban said:
"We just watched a video of Mariano Rivera, and he talked about when he struggled at some time in his career because he was trying to be a perfectionist. And that when he's in the bullpen, he sees the crowd, he hears the crowd ... but when he runs out and they hand him the ball, he's got one focus; he's not worried about the crowd, he's not worried about any of the external factors. One focus: Three outs. 'How am I going to get three outs?' I think a team's ability to do that, to stay focused on the things that are going to affect the outcome of the game, are critical in games like this."
Saban certainly picked a good player to emulate in Rivera. But, it's interesting. Can things such as focus be taught? Or is it just what Mariano Rivera and his ilk are like?
At this level of college football, coaching seems to be as much about psychology as it is X's and O's and other tactics. There are few (if any) coaches better than Saban. For his purposes, it probably doesn't matter if Rivera's best traits are transferrable. It seems like, if it were as easy as wishing you had the focus of Mariano Rivera, then most players would — and we wouldn't be lauding Rivera for being the best closer ever, because there'd be 50 guys like him.
The key for a football coach, therefore, must be to persuade the players into thinking whatever it is you want them to think. It's like one of those seminars about how "You, too, can be rich."
Best of luck to both schools Monday night. And may the most deluded team win!
Big BLS H/N: CBS Chicago
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