Have you ever been called a loser? In our culture, the will to win and succeed as it seems to be all that matters. No one is given much credit for being second best. Today, winning has morphed into beating countless, faceless others in anything – even if it’s just getting to the next traffic light before other drivers.

Whether it’s a game or an argument, our culture values only winning.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” said Grantland Rice, a sportswriter for the New York Herald-Tribune, in a 1923 poem, “Alumnus Football.”

As long as we win, Rice’s win-or-lose motto works just fine. But to anyone who ever really has competed in anything, that aphorism is as hollow as a jack-o-lantern. Defeat is among the most painful of life’s afflictions. Some will go to great lengths to never lose, so great is their need to be winners – or perhaps, not to be losers. Jimmy Connors, the “brat” of professional tennis, said, “I hate to lose more than I love to win.”

Babe Ruth was a winner! He was called the greatest slugger in baseball because of the 714 regular-season home runs he hit, but he also struck out more than 1,000 times!

Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to pick-up a football, never won a championship. In peewee, high school, college and professional football – The National Football League’s “Most Prolific Passer” – never won at all! How is it possible that Marino retired without a Super Bowl ring? Consider this: Had you not read it here, would you have known or remembered that Marino came up “empty handed,” so to speak?

And speaking of the Super Bowl that happened on Sunday, February 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston, again there was a winner and a loser. But let me ask: who won the Super Bowl last year, or the year before that, so forth and so on?

We’ve all experienced the heartbreak of losing when our favorite team comes up short on the scoreboard.

But someone has to lose! No one wants to settle for a tie score.

Today or tomorrow, in some way, large or small, you will lose! As you experience this “heartbreak,” think about Roy Riegels. On January 1, 1929, the California Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl. Riegels picked up a fumble and ran 69 yards in the wrong direction. He was tackled back to the 1-yard line. And when his Golden Bears’ team chose to punt, Tech blocked the punt for a safety. Tech ultimately won the game and their second national championship 8–7. But it was Tech’s safety score after the wrong-way run that made the difference in the outcome of the game.

Years later, Riegels said his blunder made him a better person. “I gained true understanding of life from my Rose Bowl mistake,” he said. “I learned you can bounce back from misfortune and view it as just something adverse that happened to you.” In 1991, Riegels was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. And, he was posthumously elected to Cal’s Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2003, a panel from the College Football Hall of Fame and CBS Sports chose Riegels’ “Wrong way run in the Rose Bowl” one of six “Most Memorable Moments of the Century.”

Were he not a “loser,” he would not be so famous!

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer