Over the years Mrs. Linklater's interest in men's professional sports has included more than just the firm derrieres belonging to the athletes. She often wonders what makes them excel and what makes them flounder. Aside from the usual suspects -- too much money, women, alcohol and drugs.
She calls it the Father Factor.
What part does dad seem to play in the success or failure of the great
ones? Or the ones who could have been great.
From where Mrs. L sits, which she
admits is pretty far away, she still feels free to play fast and loose
with her observations and twist them to suit her arguments. Just like
her idol, what's that bitch's name -- oh yes, Anne Coulter.
Mrs. L activated the Father Factor
machine last weekend. For some reason on Father's Day, a few
notable high profile athletes crashed and burned in spectacular fashion.
Phil Mickelson totally choked. On
the final hole of the US Open he lost his mind and decided to go for a
birdie instead of par, ending with a double bogie and coming in
second. Listening to things a critical person once said to you
can make you do dumb stuff like that.
Mrs. Linklater lost several tennis
matches during a difficult personal time in her life, when an inner
critical voice, who shall remain nameless, would interrupt her toss
during the serve. A year later, the voice and the trouble were
Tiger, very surprisingly, had
already choked earlier, not making the cut in a major tournament, any
tournament in fact, for the first time since turning pro. This Father's
Day would be his first without his dad.
Mark Prior, a former ace pitcher
for the Cubs, choked on Father's Day, too. Hewas making his first
start since his re-hab for his most recent injury this spring. The
first batter he faced hit a home run and it was down hill faster than
Jack and Jill from there. The day was a total bust, even though Prior,
the most recent hope for the Cubs' future, looked like he'd found his
old form during a very successful warm up game in the minor
Not to put too fine a point on all
this, but Mrs. Linklater thinks there were more than the usual issues
affecting those guys. Somewhere, she thinks, Dad played a part in what
happened to them that day.
Phil Mickelson has a long history
of coming in second. Recently he seemed to have broken through whatever
spell his demons had over him, winning two majors in a row with a
good chance for a third on Sunday. Finally he was winning the
tournaments that had eluded him for so long. He was on a roll at
least until Father's Day, when he reverted back to his old ways in a
manner that caused Mrs. Linklater to question what games dear old dad has been playing inside his son's head.
She made her Father Factor
observation before knowing anything about Mickelson's dad. Moments ago
she looked the guy up and discovered that Dad had been a top gun pilot
with some heroic exploits notched on his belt. A tough act for a son to
follow. Unless Dad gave him permission. Mrs. L wonders how competitive Phil
Sr is with Phil Jr. Based on Junior's blow up on father's Day she
would say Dad still looms pretty large in his son's legend.
Somewhere there's a reminder to
Junior that Senior is still the top gun. Especially on Father's Day.
Perhaps Pop is still not ready to relinguish his numero uno spot to
sonny boy. Certainly there's a good argument that Phil Junior
still feels intimidated enough by Dad's shadow to throw away his chance
to win when he had his eyes on the prize.
Yeah, you're not buying any of this, but humor me.
Tiger and his dad had an enviable
bond. Never in sports has there been a better example of how a loving
parent can elevate a child to greatness. But the bond was broken when
Tiger's dad died a few months ago. Not that all the confidence,
competence and unconditional love his father gave him were lost. But
the effects of Tiger's sadness following his loss were bound to surface
somehow on Father's Day.
Ironically, Nike made a commercial to
commemorate this iconic relationship that ran all during the
tournament, which only served to emphasize Tiger's absence. Thinking
about his father had to be a huge emotional distraction for Tiger with
his first fatherless Father's Day looming. Certainly something made him
shoot a couple of rounds of 76 and miss the cut.
Mrs. Linklater has no clue about
Mark Prior's relationship with his dad. But the play by play guys
talked about how tight and uncomfortable he looked on Father's Day. His
body language said LOSER. Was the Father Factor in play? When a
seasoned ballplayer suddenly seems to lack confidence, question his
ability, or behave inappropriately, Dad issues may be kicking in.
Clearly in front of the weekend's
Father's Day crowd of 40,000 at Wrigley, the tension of his long
awaited return got to Prior. Personally, when Mrs. Linklater heard he
was going to pitch on Father's Day she wondered why the Cubs'
organization didn't let him ease into the rotation with an afternoon
start sometime during the week. The Cubs haven't been winning and with
his return, Prior was carrying a huge burden on his shoulders to jump
start the franchise again with a great outing. Based on what the guys
calling the game saw, the problem wasn't that his skills were
impaired. His head was impaired.
That's where Dads do some of their
most significant work. Creating the Fear Factor tapes which play over
and over in a player's mind. Which begs the question, at least for Mrs.
L, what part did Prior's current or prior relationship with his father
play in his total ineptitude on Father's Day?
All of this brings our La-Z-Boy
shrink to a couple of prime examples of a father's power. In these
instances, the power is for good, not evil. She thinks it's no
coincidence that Joe Montana and John Elway are the two greatest
comeback quarterbacks in NFL history. Not just great quarterbacks.
Great comeback quarterbacks. Elway had 46 fourth quarter come from
behind victories and one tie. Montana had 31. Is there anything
tougher in professional sports?
But it wasn't their great
physicality that made the difference. It was their calm in the face of
enormous pressure that made the difference. And that kind of calm only
comes when Dad's in your corner.
Elway had the classic size and arm
strength for his job, but it's worth noting that he finally won his
Super Bowl rings well past his prime while playing on a knee held
together with spit and string.
Joe Montana went in the late rounds
of the draft, his height and arm strength not given much of a chance in
the NFL. Technically, the scouts were right. He never threw with rocket
power. However, his timing and throwing accuracy were almost
infallible. But it was his composure when the going got tough that
became legendary, prompting a nickname: Joe Cool.
The story of Joe Cool has been told
many times. With 3:20 left, the 49ers were down by three points to the
Bengals in the 1989 Super Bowl. In the huddle the team was waiting for
the call. Montana sees someone on the sideline. "Isn't that John
Candy?" he asks the other players. In the middle of the biggest
game of the year, with their chances for winning ticking away, Joe Cool
remained so unflappable he could think about something
else. Then he marched the 49ers 94 yards for the winning
touchdown with only 34 seconds left.
The reason those two Hall of Fame
players have joined the ranks of the NFL's greatest comeback
quarterbacks is in large part due to the Father Factor. Their dads
gave them the confidence to do anything, especially when push came to
Listen to players in any sport who
talk to themselves when they're in a difficult situation. How
often do you hear -- "You idiot." "What are you doing?" "That was
so stupid!" Those are critical parental voices they're
Based on stories told about Elway
and Montana, neither one had to deal with negative parental head
noise. They had dads who told them early and often "You can do
it, Son." Peyton Manning also comes to mind. Ben Rothlisberger
did too, until his recent helmet free crash.
Montana's dad, Joe, Sr, was always
supportive. His only child waited for him to come home so they could play
catch, shoot hoops or throw the football together throughout his
childhood. Joe Sr backed his son, regardless. Against a high school
football coach who kicked him off the team for not following the prescribed
weight training program, even though it interferred with playing
baseball. When he was a high school All American, but languished at
seventh on the Notre Dame depth chart. When he wasn't a first or
even a second round draft pick. Montana overcame doubters and
naysayers all along the way because his dad was always 100% behind him.
John Elway, who spent his childhood on the
sidelines shadowing his football coach father, honored him best in his
enshrinement speech for the Hall of Fame:"
"My dad wasn’t just my best friend,
he was my hero, my mentor and my inspiration. He was the keeper of my
reality checklist, and the compass that guided my life and my career.
And he taught me the No. 1 lesson of my life – always make your family
proud. Now that he’s gone, I thank God every day for letting him see
the Broncos win two Super Bowls.
"My dad didn’t so much teach me how
to play football, but why to play it. He taught me to compete, to never
give up, to play every down like it’s your last. He taught me to
appreciate the game, to respect it, to play it like it was meant to be
played. He taught me to enjoy my successes and learn from my failures.
And above all, he told me, 'Make sure when you go out with your
offensive linemen, you pick up the tab.'”
Michael Jordan had a similarly close relationship with his dad. When his father
was murdered, Jordan quit basketball to play baseball for a couple of years, refusing to
link his abrupt departure to anything associated with his father's
death. The Father Factor works in unusual ways. I
wonder how his own sons will fare as they embark on their own youthful
In a Monday Night 41-7 win over the Raiders, Brett Favre paid his father a final tribute, passing for an
amazing four touchdowns in the first half and 399 yards for the game on the day after his father's sudden death. "I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play. I love him so much
and I love this game. It's meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family,
and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching
On the flip side of the coin, how
about an example of very talented, physically gifted players who could
have made it, but failed miserably?
Like Ryan Leaf, who even in
college revealed the behavioral signs of his impending implosion.
Had to be a bad dad there. Drunk, abusive, critical, whatever,
Mrs. Linklater doesn't know exactly. But she's invoking the
High school and Ohio State star
quarterback, Art Schlichter, is another example. His gambling addiction
has caused him to continue to commit felonies for which he is currently
incarcerated. Mrs. L thinks that the Father Factor played a huge
part. But she also thinks there were probably other abuse issues, too.
Jeremy Shockey, tight end for the
Giants, was on the short road to ruin spending his free time getting
lapdanced in strip clubs, drinking escessively, and running off at the
mouth. A magazine article described his difficult relationship with his
absent father and his life with a wacko Mom. But someone seems to have stepped in to help the guy get his over the top behavior back in line. However, he's
There's one notable lefthanded quarterback from the eighties whose
father controlled every part of his life from what he ate to how long
he slept. The plan was to create a superstar athlete who would succeed
beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Last I read this unfortunate young man
was arrested for yet another drug possession. [SEE COMMENTS]
Mrs. Linklater thinks that an idiot should be able to identify players
at risk. Unfortunately professional sports lets those people coach instead.
And those players deemed at risk as rookies should be mentored by Hall
of Fame father figures in their sports who should call them, give them
advice, and offer encouragement.
Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw sent a message via TV to NFL youngster, Ben Rothlisberger,
after his motorcycle accident. Pointing his finger at the camera,
Bradshaw invoked the Father Factor. He shook his finger and told Ben he was an idiot for not wearing a
helmet. And Ben is one of the good ones.
At a time when immature, uneducated, fatherless teenagers
are leaving school to join professional sports, more young players
could use some of that tough love.