Fourth and Long

Published 1:17 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

The New Year is fast approaching but before we focus on all the possibilities 2013 brings with it we must first reflect on all we learned in 2012.

The biggest lesson we may have learned this year is that coaching is far more important than many people (I am not one of these people) had previously thought. The New Orleans Saints have suffered dearly without Head Coach Sean Payton and the impact of him missing from the sidelines has been evident on the field.

On the flip side of the coin Penn State and Bill O’Brien showed that the value of a good coach on the field can turn tragedy into triumph.

Following unprecedented scandal and turmoil Penn State administrators brought in O’Brien to salvage what he could of a storied program in rambles. The reasons for Penn State to fail were numerous. Between sanctions, media scrutiny, transfers and distractions few thought Penn State would compete, never the less win against Big Ten competition this season.

After starting the year with two losses, I assumed the Nittany Lions would take their lumps and continue focusing on the future. I did not give O’Brien, his staff and those young men enough credit. Penn State finished the season with an 8-4 record and gave their blue-collar fan base a reason to cheer again and hope for the future.

We also learned that some coaches can lead their team without even coaching them. Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year and responded as one would expect a football coach to respond… with an attitude. He made clear his intentions to beat the disease and his expectation that the Colts find a way to win.

Admittedly inspired by Pagano, the Colts have done just that. With Pagano set to return to work on Monday (his leukemia is in remission) the Colts find themselves in playoff contention and continue to improve each week.

While coaches are important we also learned how important referees were in 2012. The NFL’s unwillingness to compromise further against the referees union brought to the NFL replacement officials. We the fans were not impressed and neither were the players and coaches.

After several weeks of botched calls and disgruntled fans on sports talk radio Roger Goodell and the NFL folded like cheap lawn furniture and begged the regular NFL referees to return to action. If their absence taught us nothing else it taught us that while we all think that we could do a better job than a lot of referees do, we probably can’t.

This year taught us that nobody cares about the NHL. Maybe some people care but with the exception of my wife, Gattis Hodges, Canada and Minnesota nobody seems to have noticed that the players have been locked out and there is no NHL season. I love going to Hurricanes games but I have not once been sad about missing hockey on television.

2012 taught us that the truth comes out and heroes are human. Lance Armstrong has been the face of cycling for more than a decade, but even he couldn’t keep a secret forever. Unfortunately the news of his PED and the ensuing stripping of his Tour De France titles overshadowed what should have been his most revered victory of all, his win against cancer.

I am not certain what lessons 2013 holds for us, but I sure hope they are more positive than 2012. Sports are supposed to serve as a distraction from the struggles and negativity of everyday life. They should not add to them.


David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at