December 20, 1999

Leaving no question unanswered

More news about: Pacific Lutheran
Indeed, this was a championship Christmas for Lutes fans.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3football.com

By Mark Simon
D3football.com

I'm sure someone at some point has referred to reporters as professional hemorrhoids.

That doesn't and shouldn't insult us. After all, it's our job to be a pain in the ass. There are plenty of people who don't like us, which makes those who do all the more fun to meet.

Throughout the course of the week, I had the opportunity to scan the Internet for stories about the Pacific Lutheran football team. With each article I read, I became more and more curious about how such an unusual system could succeed.

Caring and compassion is wonderful fodder for romance novels, but how could it work on the football field? And how could an 18-to-21-year-old kid, regularly surrounded by all the machismo that fills football fields, possibly become a believer? It couldn't have been something that was accepted quickly. There had to be something special about the message, or the messenger.

When it came around to asking the final question at the Pacific Lutheran press conference, that was the one piece of the puzzle that was missing in my mind.

After answering a series of questions for the Tacoma, Wash., media and introducing themselves and their philosophies to a New Jersey media that was unfamiliar with them, the Lutes were more than happy to oblige that last query at length.

As Todd McDevitt started to reply, he was interrupted by PLU head coach Frosty Westering. I learned later from one news story that before the news conference began, Westering wanted to know if his team could sit amongst the reporters, instead of separated by an elevated table. Every Man a Lute had to include the media as well.

"Todd," the 72-year-old Westering said in his soothing, Reaganesque timbre, "tell them about Western Washington."

So the Lutes wide receiver talked about two years of unhappiness and what it was like to see the PLU team pray on the sidelines for an injured player. Linebacker Luke Jacobson talked about how at first he rolled his eyes at some of the things players did, but then began to accept it once he saw that everyone else was.

Star running back Anthony Hicks was next. He explained the recruiting process that brings people in. PLU doesn't recruit, Hicks and Westering said. Players refer their friends and relatives to the coach. As each group of seniors leaves, younger siblings (44 brothers have played for the Lutes in the past 28 years) take their place.

PLU quarterback Chad Johnson was the last of the players to speak. Johnson told how he had been around the program as a ballboy, but always harbored doubts about his grandfather's way of life. Eventually they subsided. Though his story of success was filled with enough references to Jesus to cause some reporters to raise their eyebrows, there was no doubting his sincerity.

Just moments before, he appeared deep in thought. As one of his teammates was about to speak, he leaned over the table a bit and raised a 'thumbs up.'

"Good question,'' he said.

That caught me by surprise. That doesn't happen often, if ever to most reporters. It was for real. Johnson immediately sat back in his chair and continued to contemplate his response.

Some people shy from the spotlight, others shine in it. The basking period didn't end for the Pacific Lutheran team when Frosty Westering raised the championship trophy. He immediately walked over to the team's fans, to thank them for their support and good wishes. It didn't end with the postgame press conference. Westering stayed for another 15 minutes, regaling reporters with one story after another. It probably didn't end at the "Afterglow," that would have occurred win or lose.

Come to think of it, thumbs up was certainly the appropriate response, not necessarily for that question, but for the team as a whole.

As several reporters pointed out afterwards, if a movie had been made about this group, it could only have been labeled as "The Feel-Good Story of the Year."

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