Self Praise Stinks

This is a story about a teacher, my teacher and football coach.  His name is Joe (Bush) Bushofsky.  Coach, as I called him as a player and later as a member of his coaching staff was then and remains my hero.

I was a senior in high school and playing in what would be my last season of football; injuries took their toll.  At the beginning of that season we were greeted by a new head coach.  The previous one left after winning the Catholic League championship with an undefeated season.  A season capped off by a 2-0 victory over our hated crosstown rival Central Catholic, in a game that lives in our hearts until this day; arguably the greatest victory in North Catholic High Schools ( Troy Hill version) fabled history.  My money was on Joe Bush to be our next coach.  Administration had a different plan and brought in a jerk.  Less said about him the better.  I am still bitter over 50 years later.  But I digress.

The story takes place at Mt. Lebanon High in the wealthy Pittsburgh, south hills suburb.  South Catholic, a not so bitter rival played its home games there.  To us it was a treat because our home field did not have grass…theirs did. Our field was dirt that was oiled to keep the dust down.  Playing on grass was like playing in bed.  The “cake eaters” from South were led by an all-everything linebacker named Mike Burns.  He was better than good and tough as a North Sider…well maybe not that tough.

For some strange reason the coach I openly despised named me as one of the Captains for that game.  Sometime in the second half I was in  the pattern (for those of you from Penn State that means I quite possibly could be thrown a pass).  I have no idea why I was in the pattern as I had not caught a pass since the eight grade picnic.

Our QB, Joey B sprinted out to his right and it became abundantly clear that he was going to be sacked.  Joey shouted “fire” which meant get out of the pattern and hit somebody.  So I pealed back and eyeballed the pursuer…Mike Burns….Mr. Everything.  He was snorting and chasing and Joey was screaming and hauling ass.

Remember those old spaghetti westerns directed by Sam Peckinpah in which everybody died in slow motion?  That is what transpired at this moment; my moment.  I sucked it up and barreled full blast into Burns and flipped him up in the air.  I remember thinking…did I do that.  As I got my whits about me I jumped up, fists clenched and said to my self…yes!  Assistant coach Joe Bush was standing right there on the sideline and witnessed not only the hit but my momentary lack of composure.

Confuscius said, and if he didn’t he should have…”When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”  At that moment…the teacher appeared.

Coach jumped off the sideline and pulled me off the field by my birdcage face mask and shouted, centimeters from my face…”SELF PRAISE STINKS!”  I was devastated, probably the bravest thing I had done in my life to that point and I was castigated, publically.  I wasn’t angry just confused.  Later as I reflected he was right.  I acted as if I had never been there before and he hated that.

That was a seminal moment for me, remembered to this very day.  It became my professional mantra.  I taught that lesson to my staffs over my 42 year career in business.  Some might say that if I had been the least bit braggadocious the big corner office would have been mine.  That would have been against our grain, Coach and me.

Six years later I worked for head coach Joe Bush just one season at my Alma Mater and we won the Catholic League championship again…once more beating Central.  Do you see a pattern here? On the 20th anniversary of their championship the players invited the coaches to a picnic.  As the day wound down to sunset Coach and I were alone with a bottle of Jack and too much food.  That day had been about remembering so I remembered that night at Mt. Lebanon Stadium.  After all the derails were laid out for Coach and the admission that what he screamed at me had become my mantra he responded.

“Bobby, I don’t remember that at all.”

“A teacher,” said Henry Adams “attains a kind of immortality because one never knows where a teachers influence ends.”

…I just think of this stuff!