Sunday, November 25, 2012

What Lou Holtz Told Me

It was in June of 1986, and I was flying from South Bend to New York City with my parents.  We were off to celebrate my graduation from St. Mary's, and the first leg of our trip was the short commuter flight to Chicago.

My Mom and Dad were across the aisle, and I was sitting next to a somewhat slight gentleman of indeterminate age.  I wasn't feeling fabulous that morning, as the previous week had been a whirlwind of trying to wring every possible drop of fun out of the last days before graduation.  Although I had avoided alcohol for most of that school year due to one of my perpetual diets,  I remember that I pulled a few all-nighters that week.


I was tired, and I withdrew into my magazine.  That is until I nearly got elbowed in the head.

Now I am a polite and usually a cheerful individual, but I was trying to ignore the man in the seat next to me, which was made impossible by the fact that he was trying to put in eyedrops in a tiny commuter plane.  Put yourself in his place, and you'll see that it's impossible to do unobtrusively.

The gentleman apologized, telling me that he was having trouble with his eyes, and that he had been so busy that he hadn't had time to seek  the right treatment for them.  That woke up my compassion, and my manners, and I brightly told him not to worry.

At that point, I became aware that my Dad had become quietly excited about something.  He had started to twinkle.  If you'd ever met Dude Noble you'd know what I'm talking about.  He had a way of delighting in the foibles of other people that made his eyes sparkle his shoulders jiggle up and down.  My Dad was laughing at me and trying to hold it in.

I turned my gaze on my Dad.  It was not amused.  He leaned toward me and spoke in a low voice.

"I don't think you know who you're sitting next to."

Anyone who knew me at age 22 knows that I couldn't stand not knowing something.  If the man sitting next to me was someone I should recognize, but didn't,  I wasn't about to admit that to my Dad.  So I just widened my eyes at him without saying a word.

"That's your Coach.  Lou Holtz."

Anyone who attended Norte Dame (the Communications and Theatre departments of ND and SMC were combined at the time), even a self absorbed aspiring actor like me, would find it to be a very big deal to wind up sitting next to the football coach.  The '86 football season hadn't been particularly stellar.  ND's record that first year of Coach Holtz' tenure was 5 wins and 6 losses, but he had finished the season with an exhilarating win over USC.

I am not ashamed to admit that I no longer had an issue with my seat mate's elbows.

I remember we talked about the challenge of finding time for family when a job thrusts you onto the world stage.  I told him that I had earned a theatre degree, and that all I really wanted was to be a working actor.

The last thing he said to me was a shock.

"I hope to see you on Broadway."

The last thing I said to him was no surprise.

"I hope you win the National Championship."

My wishes for his success were added to the sea of thousands of prayers for a championship season for his storied program.  Not a big deal.

What was a big deal was that fact that Coach Holtz had taken the time to encourage a stranger with the best words she could possibly hear.

Lou Holtz thought I could make it to Broadway!

In January of 1988 he led the Fighting Irish to the National Championship in the Fiesta Bowl.  My family lived in the Phoenix area at the time, and with my Dad's encouragement I got to volunteer during the week before the game, and be there to watch the Irish win over West Virginia.

He had done it.  With that unbeaten season he helped an untold number of dreams come true.

Broadway?  No, I've never been on Broadway.  I've had the privilege to work with several actors, directors, and choreographers who have, but I headed to Los Angeles to pursue my career.  New York frightened me quite frankly.  No guts no glory I suppose.

Something about this ND football season has got me thinking though.

Over the past 26 years the echoes have faded somewhat since that championship season.  This year, my doubts didn't start to fade until the game against Stanford.  Hope didn't truly start to spring up until the astonishing game at Oklahoma.

Right now, when I think of Notre Dame I see goal line stand after goal line stand.  The image of this year is of the defense never, Ever, EVER giving up.  I look at this team and what they've accomplished and sacrificed, especially Manti Te'o, and I realize the difference between me and the gallant athletes.

I have given up too many goal line stands.  When stress and hunger and pressure and fear have pushed against the structure of some of my fondest dreams, I have given way.

 Not every time.  There have been times when I've been able to combine faith with determination and action.  That's how I won the TT Transformation contest back in 2008.  That's how I got the cast of "West Side Story" at Summerville High School to learn Jerome Robbin's choreography, and that's how I managed to open Gordon Studio- with Van and Colin's help of course!

This morning I'm thinking,  "What if I learned to win those goal line stands?"  What if I could teach my clients to make their own goal line stands and win them, over and over when it really counts?  Could I still make it to Broadway somehow?

What is your Broadway?  What are your goal line stands?  Do you have the determination of a Manti Te'o in your heart?

I pledge two things today.  First, from now until the National Championship on January 7th in Miami.  I will commit to and follow my eating and exercise plan with the same determination the ND defense uses in their games.

Second, I will publish "Keep the Change: Transform Your Body For Good" in plenty of time for the New Year.

Lou Holtz believed in me, way back in the Summer of 1986.  It's time for us to make a stand and believe in ourselves.