I had lunch with former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano yesterday to pick his brain before our first game on Saturday. We talked about quarterbacking and what it really takes to be great, whether it be at the high-school level, D-III or the NFL. What most people don't realize is that football is the same game no matter who is playing; the only thing that really changes between the different levels is the speed of the game and the haste with which you have to make your decisions.
During my talk with Rutigliano he brought up stories of NFL players and their agents and contract negotiations and all this other stuff that you see in The League, and sometimes, even in Division-I. It got me thinking that in D-III, where the odds of getting a pro tryout, let alone actually making a squad, are so slim, we have the purest form of ball there is beyond the high school level. No scholarships. No contracts. No crowds of 100,000 people. We play because we love it.
It's strange the way some people can have an affect on you like coach Rutigliano does. When he talks, he has a presence about him. People listen. He was using jars of crushed red pepper and parmesan cheese on the table to demonstrate a receiver beating a Cover 2. Then he drew up a play he called for Brian Sipe to hit Ozzie Newsome on second down near the end zone against the Raiders in the late 1970s. It resulted in an interception, but coach Rutigliano said he trusted Sipe's instincts and would have called the play again. He said "in times of chaos you go to great players not great plays."
My lunch with Rutigliano reaffirmed many things: I play football because I get an adrenaline rush unmatched by anything else I've experienced, I have a blast doing it, and I love making my parents proud. That's why most people in D-III continue to play. And I know that even guys in the NFL, though rare, can still have the same fire and passion for the game that I do, because I see it in coach Sam. He loves football, he's given his life to the game, and it has given him something great in return. And now I know that if you can read a defense and be on the same page with your receivers and linemen, that red pepper should always beat parmesan.