The Other Kind of Championship
- by Bobby Warshaw, '11 Political Science Stanford Men's Soccer
Most of the stories about Stanford athletes involve hard work and grueling hours. They are incredible accounts about persevering through adversity and performing countless hours of painful training. They are both breathtaking and true. But they leave out an important part that cannot be explained in training schedules or game scores. I want to tell you about a different part of my Stanford experience, the part that I find most exciting. It’s the most important victory that I achieved.
I showed up on the Stanford campus expecting to win a championship. I had no doubt in my mind that I would walk away with a couple rings on my fingers. Four years later, though, I have no trophies to display or medals to flaunt. We had many more devastating losses than breathtaking victories. Our record shows a lot more setbacks than celebrations. Yet I leave Stanford feeling like I won more than I lost. Our record in the Pac-10 doesn’t reflect it. You will look at the standings and think I’m crazy. But you’ll just have to bear with me for a second.
On October 31st, 2010, the 2010 seniors played our last home game at Stanford’s Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. After the game, I cried. Next to me, Dominique cried. A few feet away, Shaun sat on the bench with his head in his hands. He would have cried, but some guys are too tough for that. Behind the bench, Daniel and Garrett put their cleats in their bags, slower and more deliberate than usual. Nearby, Taylor and Ryan stood on the field, not moving, feet planted, eyes focused on the grass below. We each felt an emptiness. A weight anchored in our stomachs. Our bodies felt a little heavier and our legs a little weaker. It was the feeling that something was taken from us and we would never get it back.
It had nothing to do with soccer. None of us had played our last game. There is always more soccer to be played. It was about each other. It was about sharing a feeling with people you care about. Playing soccer is one thing. Playing soccer with people you respect and enjoy is another. The tears in our eyes weren’t about not having any more games. They were about not having any more games that we could play together.
Four years of hard work with the same guys builds a unique feeling. Every feeling, good or bad, runs the same way through the person next to you. As you pant after sprints or curse through a set of squats before the sun is up on a Friday morning, there is a teammate and a friend next to you. You wake up at the crack of dawn for each other. You bike through the cold morning air for each other. You lift a silly amount of weight for each other. You run fitness, make tackles, and block shots for each other. When you score, you always know your teammates will be there, running to you to celebrate. The rush going through your spine is going through theirs as well.
It establishes a bond. You have someone willing to work as hard for you as you are willing to work for him. You both believe in a common goal and you are both willing to give everything you have to accomplish the mission. You are giving every ounce of physical, mental, and emotional energy that you have towards a goal and your teammate is exerting the same energy and sweat. It goes beyond any regular friendship. It extends beyond roommates, classmates, or buddies. It is a trust, an inspiration, and a bond that only teammates can share. That feeling is a victory.
Someone recently asked me for my best memory from my college athletic career. She prompted the question with a couple of our bigger wins and nicer goals. She expected to hear about an overtime win or a deep run in playoffs. Yeah, those are all good memories. But they are not at the top of the list.
I told her that I miss playing Trivial Pursuit on an iPhone in the cold tub with the freshmen. Five or six teammates clench their teeth and get into the piercing cold water. As their upper bodies shake to fight off the cold, they laugh and find ways to make the painful experience more enjoyable. When a person goes on a streak of getting three or four in a row correct, he promptly declares himself the smartest person in the world. A good teammate knows just the right way to tell his friend that he is full of crap and bring him back down to earth.
I told her that I miss hanging out in the locker room before the game. Everyone sitting down and putting on their shoes, feeling both nervous and excited. Out of nowhere one guy makes the soft sound of a chirping bird. A few seconds of silence follow, then another person mimics the light rhythm of a cricket. A final moment of silence and a third person offers up the bark of a dog. Any thought of quiet is over. Another person contributes the voice of a dinosaur, another a horse, a cow, and so on until twenty young, educated men sound like an amped up petting zoo. A person walking by might think a kindergarten class is doing a science activity. No doubt it was weird. Really weird. But that is what teams do. They make things their own. They do stupid things, but they do them together. And when they do them together, everyone smiles and knows that they are a part of something special.
I told her that I miss the night after a game at the end of the weekend. Everyone gets back to the locker room and talks about the big plans for the night. We have just spent a week preparing and 90 minutes battling and now it’s time to have fun. Whether a player usually goes out or not, he will come out that night. Although there are plenty of options around campus, the whole team ends up at the same place. And even though there are a lot of people at the party, everyone on the team makes sure to find his teammates and say hi. We don’t think about it or plan at the time. Sometimes we are still pissed about the game and don’t even want to say hi to people. But we always do. We always take a walk around the party, find our teammates, and do a quick high five. It’s a strange gravitation. Everyone else on the team feels the same pull and appreciates the feeling.
I told her that I miss early morning practice. A bunch of guys stay up late the night before and feel terrible in the morning. We make sure to do the warm-up jog with the guys that we went out with the previous night. It’s seven in the morning. It is a miracle that we even made it out of bed, but the entire jog we are reliving and laughing about the night before. Only a couple hours before we were dancing at a formal in downtown Palo Alto, all wearing black jeans and black sweatshirts with Jabberwocky masks over our faces, loving life because that is the stuff you can get away with in college. And then there we were the next morning at the break of dawn, getting ready to train. Five minutes into the first drill, one of the lead guys on the dance floor the night before blasts one into the upper corner. Everyone who had been wearing a Jabberwocky laughs as the ball shakes the back of the net. Two hours of sleep or not, we were always ready to get back to work.
The girl that asked the question was a little surprised by my answer at first. But as I explained the memories, she began to understand. She began to get that a win is cool, but it does not mean anything without the hours of hard work with your team the week before. She started to understand that a game-winning goal is a great feeling, but it is not complete without the celebration afterward. She realized that an individual award is special, but it would not be possible if your teammates had not woken up early and biked through the annoyingly cold air to get to the morning workout.
I entered Stanford ready to play soccer. I expected to finish my career with awesome stories about playing in front of big crowds and lifting championship trophies. I certainly like to tell people I meet about Saturday night games against Cal and beating UCLA under the bright lights. But Stanford soccer meant more than that. It extended beyond hard work in the weight room and hours on the field.
The relationships with my teammates are more important than any Pac-10 win. Nobody at my day job will care how many All-American awards I won. They won’t want to hear about the game-winning goals I scored or big tackles I made. The stats will never have a meaningful role in my life again. I don’t brag about the goals or awards. I brag about my friends. I’m proud that I talk to my teammates on a weekly basis. I’m ecstatic that they text me to see how I’m doing. I’m glad they take the time to talk when I call. I’m excited to see what they do next in life, to get to know their wives, and to play with their kids. I have a group of people that I will be close to for the rest of my life. That is a win and it is the biggest victory that I could have asked for.
Bobby Warshaw, ’11, grew up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He has two older brothers and was fortunate enough to go to school with one of them at Stanford. He majored in Political Science and found a separate interest in courses on energy and the environment. Warshaw received three First Team Pac-10 honors and a First Team NSCAA All-American award. He was selected in the first round of the MLS Superdraft and currently plays for FC Dallas.