The holidays always make me thoughtful. I’ll spend the whole year going from coffee pot to work to dinner to bed without looking up…until my wife starts baking cookies and kids start making lists to Santa.
So, I was sitting on the porch this weekend, reflecting on presents. I live in Florida, so the porch wasn’t covered in ice and snow...
I am fortunate, in that I’ve received many great Christmas presents over the years. When I was small, I received the greatest of all of them…a BB Gun. It wasn’t from my parents (mom was horrified). It was from my dad’s aunt Pearl, who loved me like another son.
After I’d unwrapped it, she took me aside and said, “Don’t shoot people, houses or cars. Don’t shoot dogs or cats…and don’t shoot the tweety birds that come to my feeder. I like those birds.”
That was it. My complete list of off limits things, and I shot everything else. Life was grand.
As an adult and parent today, I was reflecting on gifts this week. Gifts that are both coveted, like the BB Gun, but have some meaning. One gift stands out. It’s not much, really. A publicity photo of Mike Mauti, mid-leap for an interception. Signed to me.
You probably don’t know Mike Mauti, but he was a typical standout Penn State linebacker: outstanding hitter, smart, good in coverage, and fearless. His dad played receiver for PSU in the 1970’s and his brother played there in the mid-2000’s too. So, Mike came in as a legacy and with an understanding of Penn State history.
Mike came to Penn State in 2008, so he was front and center for the disaster that hit in 2011.
If you read excerpts of Bill O’Brien’s time at Penn State, there was a point when he was sure that all his talented kids would leave. The sanctions opened the door for any football player to transfer with no penalties. And this was a good Penn State team. O’Brien was concerned that they might not have enough players to field a team.
That’s when a small group of players, led my Mike Mauti and fullback Mike Zordich (another legacy), called each player. These were the seniors and leaders of the team. They said: “We’re staying. We’re going to see this through. We’re not giving up.”
It was those guys that formed the core that let O’Brien recruit great players and keep them. If not for Mauti and Zordich, this year doesn’t happen for Penn State.
So my favorite Christmas gift is that little signed press photo of Mike Mauti. Because of his leadership, this team found success far sooner than any of us (mea culpa) thought possible.
Anyway, put your mailbag questions in the comments below and happy holidays!