© Copyright 2011 Terry Tibbetts - Author All Rights Reserved.
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A Defining Moment
"Colonel, you're not going to
take that walk tomorrow."
Most people think about age and experience in terms of years, but it's really only
moments that define us. We stay mostly the same and then grow up suddenly.
--- Glenn Beck, The Overton Window
On the evening of Friday, November 25, 1955, Colonel Earl "Red" Blaik, the head
football coach at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, was taking his
team on a stroll through the golf course of the Philadelphia country club where he had
housed his players. They would face Navy the next day in what was in those days the
greatest rivalry in all of college football. It was Blaik's custom, just before bedtime on
the eve of most games, to walk leisurely with his players in a tranquil setting, to relax
and chat with them.
It was an uncomfortable walk this time because his team had endured a mediocre
season by Army standards, losing three games, two by substantial margins. Navy, on
the other hand, had a powerful team and was a solid favorite. How could Blaik boost
the morale of his players? What could he possibly say that would rouse their utmost
potential? How could they muster the capability to compete, let alone win?
Blaik halted, and so did his team. He had grown weary, he said, of trudging across
the field after those three losses to congratulate the winning coach. He added that he
did not relish the prospect of making the trip the following day, in front of 100,000
people, to congratulate the Navy coach. Such a walk would be the longest of his life.
Blaik paused, and then came a voice from one of the players gathered in the dark.
"Colonel, you're not going to take that walk tomorrow."
That voice belonged to Don Holleder, who the previous year had been an
All-American end, but this year, at best, was an average quarterback. Because Blaik
believed the team desperately needed a leader at quarterback, he had placed Don
into that frighteningly unfamiliar position. The responsibilities required play calling, ball
handling, and, most difficult of all, passing. Nonetheless, he would be in charge of the
team on the field against Navy, in the nation's spotlight. And he had assured his coach
clearly and confidently that the team would not let him down.
It was Don Holleder's defining moment. Indeed, Blaik did not make the loser's
congratulatory walk the next day. After a slow start, Army took full charge and pounded
out a 14-6 victory. When the sportswriters typed their stories after the game, they did
not dwell on Don's nonexistent passing game (two passes attempted: one intercepted
and one incomplete). Instead, they heralded his play selections, ball carrying, pass
defending, tackling (in 1955 the rules required both offensive and defensive play)-and
most of all, his leadership. Because of his leadership, the writers said, this game
would go down in the books as the greatest team victory in Army football history.
How did he arrive there? How did his life proceed from that point? And how many
other lives have benefited as a result?
In 2009 Don's oldest daughter, Stacy Jones, told a gathering of his former classmates
at West Point, "It's amazing the number of people who still contact me and tell me
about the positive influence my father had on them. They know what his life was all
about. I wish that there was some way to let today's generation know that his life was
about courage and perseverance to overcome great obstacles."
That is the essence of this book.