Dear 2017 Hudson Pirate Football Team,
Last Friday, my wife Stephanie, my son Matthew, and my mother Jill traveled to Belle Plaine to see you guys play. I want to start by congratulating your team on an undefeated regular season. Just an awesome accomplishment! Sadly, this was the first time that I had the opportunity to see you play in person this season. Some would say that makes me a terrible Pirate fan, but someday you will understand if you live out-of-town and have kids of your own.
I had the wonderful opportunity to watch part of one of your practices about a month ago as I was passing through town for work. What I saw in the first 5 minutes of that practice was only confirmed in what I saw in the game last Friday night. That is that this football team is special. This team really has what it takes to be a state champion.
Please understand that I do not throw around the word “special” lightly. I had the privilege to be a part of a very “special” Hudson football team in 1994 that went undefeated and won a state championship. I know first-hand what it takes to be able to do something that so few ever get to experience.
That team was a special group. Please don’t think that us accomplishing that feat was ever easy. We had a really outstanding team the year prior in the 1993 season and we suffered two bitter defeats in that season. The first came in a bitterly cold and rainy game at Grundy Center. Despite that loss, we still made the playoffs and we were determined to win state that year, but suffered a very bitter defeat in the UNI Dome at the hands of Aplington Parkersburg team that went on to win state and may have been one of the best teams that school ever put on the field. That loss made us absolutely sick and we made a promise to ourselves that we would never feel that way again.
We worked harder in that off-season than we had ever worked before. We did everything we could to improve ourselves in every way we could each and every day leading up to and during that season. Despite the athletic talent our team possessed, the biggest factor in our success in that state championship season was that we became a team in every sense of the word. It was never about individuals or statistics or trying to earn college scholarships. It was about our team and doing whatever it took to be successful. Anything less than a state championship was not going to be considered a success in any form of the word. It did not matter who shined in any particular game and often it was someone different in each game. We did not set out to beat teams, but to literally break the wills of our opponents.
Even with all that, we had hard times. We had a practice that we were starting to get a little full of ourselves. We were listening to everyone else tell us how great we were and we were believing them and we thought we could just let up and coast a little bit. We were having one of the worst practices we had ever had in my time as a Pirate. Lineman were missing blocks, QB was making bad throws, RBs were fumbling, and WRs were dropping passes. Defenders were missing blocks and it was apparent that we were not practicing to the standard we had set for ourselves. I give Coach Urbanek all the credit in making the decision to not settle. He decided that there was not any use in practicing like we were so he stopped practice and the coaches left the field. We were all standing there like, “what is happening?” We decided that if we wanted to accomplish our goals, we were going to have to do better and that it started with us. We had to take responsibility. As a team, we decided that we would go on and finish practice on our own, without the coaches. I can’t remember how long we practiced, but it seemed like forever. Our worst starting practice ever ended being one of our greatest practices ever and that day, more than any other I can remember, defined who we were going to be the rest of that season. We went on with the season, more determined than ever to not only not let anyone defeat us, but more importantly, we were not going to defeat ourselves. As hard times came, we drew closer and knew that as a team, a true team, we could do whatever our hearts and minds willed us to do. That led to an undefeated season, a state championship, and one of the best football teams in the history of Hudson. It was truly a “special” season and one none of us on that team will ever forget. I had the good fortune to go on and play at Iowa State and played against some of the best players in the country in the first 4 years of the Big 12 Conference. I was also so fortunate to make it to the NFL and play with the St. Louis Rams. They had just won the Super Bowl so I can truly say that I was a part of the team, who at that time, was considered the best football team in the whole world. Those were amazing experiences, but the team that I am the most proud of, my favorite team I was ever a part of in my whole football career, was that 1994 Hudson Pirate team. That 1994 season at Hudson was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life and I will carry that with me the rest of the days I walk this earth.
Enough about me and my memories. After all, that all occurred 23 seasons ago and none of you players were even born yet. I want to address why I think that this 2017 Pirate team is so special. I noticed right away when I watched practice, how great this team really was. I saw players pushing themselves to their limits to improve themselves in practice. I saw upperclassmen pushing underclassmen to do better when they needed motivating. I saw coaches coaching their butts off.
I am an old has been when it comes to the game of football. I have not strapped on pads since the 2000 season. But I do know the game of football well. I watch the game of football differently than most people do. I see things that most people don’t. I can see things in teams that make them championship level teams. Please know that I see some of these things in your team. For what it is worth, here are some of the things I think are key ingredients to having a state championship football team:
Great leadership is where great teams start. You have to have good coaches, but more importantly, you must have seniors that lead well. Players have to push each other to be the best they can be and I see that in your team.
Every player has to have great work ethic. You have to have the discipline to work hard when no one else is watching. Each player needs to pick one thing each day they focus on improving and at the end of practice, that player needs to be able to say that they improved that one thing. Do that each and every day and that is when you will see great improvement over the course of a season. You never stay the same. Each day you either get better or you get worse. You have to be willing to do what it takes to improve as a player. If every player does that, the team improvement will be good and special things happen. From the little bit I have observed, I see that happening on your team.
You have to have amazing hustle. That means that every player gives everything they have on every single play. It is not just going full speed through your block, but going full speed until you hear the whistle. If you are a defensive end and the play goes away from you, take the right angle and go full speed to where the ball is going. You never know when a fumble might happen and if you are going full speed, you might be the one who falls on it. I see amazing hustle with this team.
You have to play as a team. It is not about individuals getting the glory, but as a team achieving great things. A real team is truly in it together. If one player messes up, the whole team takes responsibility for getting it corrected. If a RB has an amazing run for a touchdown, each and every player shares in the glory knowing they were a vital part of that play. There is a reason you do not have names on your jerseys. It says “Hudson” on the front of your jerseys and no name on the back. This is because you are playing for your team and not yourselves. You are playing for everything that Hudson represents. You are playing for your coaches, your teammates, your family, every player who has ever wore the Pirate uniform, and the whole community of Hudson. Last on the list is playing for yourself. Small towns are special. Know whole town of Hudson supports you and is behind you. Your team does a really outstanding job of playing as a team.
You have to have really great lines, both offensively and defensively. No offense to the other position groups, but championship level success starts with the lines. The offensive line has to have the ability to move the line of scrimmage into the defensive backfield and get the play to the second level. Each OL has to occupy the DL and LB and the goal is to get a pancake, not a stalemate. The defensive line has to get penetration and disrupt the normal backfield of the offense. Don’t let them feel comfortable running their offense. Make the RB think he is going to get hit the second he gets the ball. Make the QB wonder where the hit is going to come from on this play. Make the other team adjust from what they are comfortable doing and you have them. We had a dominant offensive and defensive line on that 1994 team. We were able to do what I just described on most plays. I do not say this lightly, but from what I have seen, your offensive and defensive lines are just as good as or better than the lines we had. Just amazing line play in that Belle Plaine game.
Maybe the most important key, especially when it comes to the playoffs is how you handle adversity when it hits. Trust me, you will experience adversity at some point. Now you are in the playoffs and all the teams are good. There will come a time when something does not go how you had planned it would and you will get knocked down a bit. How you respond to that will determine if you are able to take it all the way to the state championship. If you don’t respond well, it can often mean the end of your season and regret for not reaching your ultimate goal. For our 1994 team, the adversity hit us in the first couple of minutes of the state championship game. Our defense had been dominant all season long. Pocahontas had the ball on offense and on the second or third play of the game they ran a dive play right up the middle. This should be one of the easiest plays to stop, but a bad angle here and 2 missed tackles later they ran the ball for a long TD. I believe it was the only time we trailed all season. I could be wrong though, my memory is fading. At that moment we had been exposed and felt a huge shift in momentum swing to their favor. They had never lost that season either and could well have taken control of the game. Instead, we were the team that responded and we came back and marched right down the field and put momentum back on our side. We continued to dominate the rest of the game and won the state championship by a large margin. How we responded, in that moment, is what won us the championship. I saw how you responded as a team when Belle Plaine came out in the second half and tied the score at 14. Momentum was clearly in their favor, on their home field, at that time. Your team responded in that moment and you took the game over from that point and won the game in dominating fashion. Adversity will come your way again in the playoffs. How you respond will determine your success. You have already shown you are capable of responding well.
I know that you won’t truly appreciate what I am about to say until about 20 years from now. I know because it was that way for me too. Being able to put on those pads and play the game of football is such a special gift. There will come a day, very soon, when you will be taking off those pads and never putting them on again. For most of you, high school will be the end of your football experience. For some of you, you will extend your career on into college, but know that time goes fast and before you know it, you will be putting on those pads for the very last time. Once you take them off, they never go back on. Know that I would give just about anything, to put on my pads and go out there for just one more series and play this great game. But that will never happen and that is OK because that is life. My point is to enjoy the moment. Enjoy each day that you do get to play this great game. Know that when you do take those pads off for the last time that you gave it everything you had. If you can’t say that, it will haunt you the rest of your days. You are doing something right now that so many Pirate teams from the past have never had the chance to experience. Enjoy every minute of the ride. You will remember it the rest of your lives.
Most importantly, the relationships you develop with your teammates, will be with you for life. Once you are a Pirate, you are a Pirate forever! Even today, some of my closest friends are my teammates from the Hudson teams I played on. We stay in each other’s lives because we love each other and we have a bond that will never be broken, even by time. We experienced things together that no one else will understand. It is the same for you and that is also something you will not truly appreciate until later in your lives.
Football is the best game ever created (in my opinion). It is about so much more than just the game. It teaches you about how to handle life. Ups, downs, wins, losses, how to handle victories with dignity, how to handle defeats, set goals, never quit, work as a team, never, ever quit.
The values, morals, character, attitude, and discipline learned in football is immeasurable in life. Football is like a miniature game of life. Football teaches life lessons that make us better men. The most important lessons don’t always affect the score directly. Loyalty, respect, the concept of being a team member (it’s about us, not me). Treating everyone as equals, regardless of abilities. Serving others, overcoming adversity (both as an individual and as a team). You will carry the lessons you learn in football on into your lives. Long after you hang up the pads for the last time, you will use what you learned from your days of playing football in your own lives. Those values you have learned through football will set you apart from others as you live your lives. These are some of the core values that make football such a special sport.
You can’t control what comes your way. How you handle it is what defines you as a person. When you step off that field, you should have no regrets. Go all out on every play and know that you did everything you could to be successful and you are a winner no matter what the score is.
I am writing this letter on behalf of every member of that great 1994 state championship team and for every player who has ever wore the Pirate uniform. Please know how proud we are of what you have accomplished, but know that your journey is not yet over. The most important part is yet to come. How you finish this season will define who this team is.
Your team has all the elements you need to win a state championship so why not you? Why not be remembered as one of the greatest teams ever in the history of your school? You have everything in place you need. Now go do it! I wish you only the best in your upcoming battle with Pekin this Friday. Let that game just be another chapter in your great story, not the conclusion of it.
All of Pirate nation is with you and behind you! I could not be any prouder of you!
Forever a Pirate!