One Year Later, We’re Still Humble (and still victorious)

A flashback to some of my thoughts after we earned  beat Michigan last year in Ann Arbor. I can report that almost every fan interaction I saw in East Lansing was classy. I’m sure there were probably some alcohol induced slip-ups, but I was very proud of my Spartans, both on and off the field.

“True merit is like a river: The deeper it is, the less noise it makes.” – Edward Frederick Halifax

This Saturday, I had the honor of watching the Michigan / Michigan State game in Ann Arbor. ABC commentator Keith Jackson calls Michigan Stadium “The Big House” and it’s 113,001 capacity has become a metaphor for the university’s storied football program.

There’s a risk with anything that’s bigger than life. It can attract small minds who feed a culture of arrogance.

As I walked the perimeter of The Big House, I could feel it. Decked out in Spartan Green and White, I was taunted and harassed. But not by genuine Michigan alumni. These are the hangers-on, The Walmart Wolverines who never took a class, who probably spent more money on their maize and blue man caves than they did on their own education.

I thought of Rabindranath Tagor’s words, “We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.”

When one particularly vocal, alcohol fueled fan got in my face, I smiled, held out my hand and said, “Good luck today. I hope (Michigan Quarterback) Denard (Robinson) has a great day!”

He was speechless.

In football, as in life, the loudest critics are usually in the minority. As I came to the teeming corner of Main and Stadium Blvd, there was a sea of Green & White and maize & blue, laughing and talking. Getting along.

The thing I love about the Michigan State / Michigan rivalry is how so many of us share common roots. As I told my old friend, Congressman John Dingell, “The best thing about today’s game is that a team from Michigan will be the winner.”

And that’s what happened.

When you are successful, and you will be, always remember that the same combination of preparation and opportunity that brought you good fortune is how Abraham Lincoln defines “luck”.

When you fail, and you will fail, remember that humility has the power to quickly put you back on your feet.

So be humble.

William Temple writes, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

A. Whitney Brown puts it in perspective when he says, “There are a billion people in China. It’s not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it. More than a BILLION people. That means even if you’re a one-in-a-million person, there are still a thousand people exactly like you.”

Jim Cotter, Michigan State’s director of admissions might say, “Let’s find those thousand people and admit them to MSU!”

Humility means recognizing and celebrating excellence wherever it is.

There’s a funny thing about celebrating excellence. If you do, you’ll tend to attract it.

My Spartans are now 6-0. It will be easier to sign up new Alumni Association members and attract new investors to MSU. And if we keep we keep winning, it will also be easy to fall into the same culture of arrogance that former Coca Cola president, Don Keough, warns of in his “Ten Commandments of Business Failure

He told Spartan Jana O’Brien, “When you are associated with.. a great brand, the people just automatically endow you with a little bit more wisdom than you are entitled to have, and they give a little more, deference than you deserve.”

So be humble.

And remember the final moments from Patton, the film about the legendary general. These are his own words.

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”