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Coach’s Rejection

In 1988, I was playing for the Seahawks against my old team, the 49ers, when I learned first-hand that there are two competing value systems. Now, I wasn’t bitter that my old team had traded me, but I wanted to beat it, all the same. Dave Krieg had been injured, and I was to start. I had a great week of practice and felt totally prepared. I entered the Kingdome in Seattle brimming with excitement. I envisioned leading my team to victory and establishing myself as the Seahawks’ starter.

Coming out of the pregame meal, one of the offensive coaches put his arm around me and strongly affirmed his faith in me. “I want you to know how happy I am that you are the Seahawk quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.”

I felt honored, valued, esteemed. This was going to be a great day!

Well, we ran the ball in our first two possessions, and we didn’t gain much. On third down and eight, I threw to Hall of Famer Steve Largent. He split two defenders. There was tight coverage. I hit him right in the hands, and yet he dropped the ball. Next to Jerry Rice, Steve is, statistically speaking, the greatest receiver in history. He is also one of my best friends. But all I could do at that moment was chuckle and moan, “Steve, what’s the matter? You never drop the ball. Why are you doing this to me?”

After that Steve didn’t make any mistakes. I did. In fact, I played the worst game of my life. At the end of the first half, the 49ers were ahead 28-0. Every person in the Kingdome, with the exception of my wife (and there isn’t even a witness to vouch for her), was booing me. Have you ever heard nearly sixty thousand people booing you? It’s quite an experience.

As I came off the field at half-time, I knew that I might be benched. But I wasn’t defeated. Ever since I had been a small boy, my father had been drumming into my head Winston Churchill’s brave words to the students at Harrow School in the dark days of 1941: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

I waded through the players to find the coach who had been so supportive before the game. I wanted to discuss some offensive strategies that might turn things around in the second half. As I approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on me without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, and began to discuss plays he would run in the second half.

Now, I understood that I was being taken out of the game. That made sense. I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I understood. But that coach didn’t say one word to me for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. Nor did he say anything on Monday when we watched the game films. For about a month, there was complete rejection. He simply couldn’t deal with the fact that I hadn’t lived up to his hopes, that I hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected me relationally because my performance fell short.

Jeff Kemp, “Rules to Live by on and off the Playing Field,” Imprimis, July, 1998, p. 3