The following is an excerpt from "FOX & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade's new book, "The Games Do Count, America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports." Television host and former part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers Pat Croce discusses how sports became a way to celebrate and learn that your dreams can come true. Mr. Croce can be found on the left of the photograph attached to this story.
I was first exposed to sports as a fourth grader playing knee-high baseball. I wasn’t a very good player, but I enjoyed being a part of the team. From sixth grade all the way up into college, I played football. I loved the hitting, the camaraderie, the working out, the discipline, the locker room, and especially the celebration after the wins. To me sports was a way to celebrate, to show that when you practice and prepare and prioritize and prepare some more and then practice some more, your dreams can come true; you can get better at anything.
Sports didn’t actually have to mold me, because my father was a very strict Italian task master. I guess you’d have to say that he was almost like my head coach in life. My father was really tough, and my brothers and I were almost like his team. If you didn’t do it right, he wouldn’t give out grass drills or pushups to do, he’d smack ya! But I think tough love made us do things right.
My old man was crazy! At the games, he would be in the stands, yelling, “Put Pat in!” He was a vociferous, emotional, passionate Italian guy, and everyone in the stands was laughing because he was so nuts. But he was the biggest fan of mine, even though I wasn’t playing at the top level. He’d even come to some practices. So I think throughout my life—and I’ve never said this before—I strived to be better and ultimately to be the best at anything I’m touching because of him. Now, he’s looking at me from heaven, and I believe he’s still watching everything I’m doing. Fortunately, the other side of my family, the Irish part of me, always gave me positive thoughts: Pat, you can do this, you can do this. And everything in life, whether it’s going to physical therapy school, or trying out for a team, or taking over the Sixers, or whatever it might have been, was always a case of, You can do this. So, I never had any real self-doubts. And I never thought of myself as a failure. Ever. Everything I did was a learning experience. If I failed, I just thought that I wasn’t good enough yet. I still think that! I’m not good enough . . . yet! But with practice, with more will, with more skill, I’ll be successful.
“I DIDN’T HAVE THE SKILL, BUT BY DAMN, I HAD THE WILL!”
I wrestled and played football in high school, but I never really started, probably because I was always outsized. As a senior in high school, I was probably about 5′8″— I’m 6′ — and 150 pounds. I matured a little later in life, physically and mentally. My goal was to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, but I realized I wasn’t big enough, nor fast enough, nor strong enough. I’m a hometown boy here in Philadelphia, and that, I thought, that would be the epitome. How great it would have been to be able to play for the Eagles! But when I realized that I was going to get killed out there, that’s when my whole mind-set, my goals, my focus and my dreams changed to a different path in life that led me to become the physical therapist for professional teams. But I think that same pursuit of starting on the football team in high school transferred over to my work ethic in the classroom and in the work environment.
Not starting bothered me tremendously. In my mind, I believed I should have started, regardless of my physical immaturity or my being incapable of running the 440 or bench pressing 300 lbs. I believed I could hit. I believed I could read the offense better than other players. I believed I was smarter. But it didn’t matter what I believed. The fact was, I didn’t start. But I didn’t say, “Okay, I give up.” I just took it as impetus to do better, to train harder. And that’s why probably to this day, I’m known as one of the fittest guys, because I still train hard. I think that was ingrained in me in my high school years, at a time when I said to myself, “I’m gonna start, by golly, I’m going to start no matter what it takes, even though maybe I don’t have the talent of some of the other players.” You know there’s will and there’s skill Maybe I didn’t have the skill, but by damn, I had the will!
As a freshman in college — I was only seventeen and was six feet, weighing 170 pounds — I played at Westchester University. One day, the coach put me in because one of the linebackers got hurt. It was a close game, and I had the opportunity to make tackles that counted. When the game was on the line, I didn’t let him down, I didn’t let the team down, I didn’t let the fans down, and most important I didn’t let myself down, and that was very important to me.
“COACHES SEEMED TO LIKE ME. PROBABLY BECAUSE EITHER I WAS UNDERSIZED OR OVER-ZEALOUS.”
What I went through as a young athlete helped me relate to the professional athletes I helped train. I’ve worked with some of the best—Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Mike Schmidt, Bobby Clark — and you get to the point where you can immediately recognize the guys who are given the skill but lack the will. You say to yourself, “Oh my goodness, if only I was blessed with these talents, I could play Michael Jordan . . .” I was fortunate enough to see some of the best athletes work miracles on the court, on the ice, on the field, and I could deal with them successfully because I always trained with them. For instance, when I was a conditioning coach and physical therapist for the Flyers and 76ers, I would never ask them to do something that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do. They’d be there at 7:00 in the morning every day or every other day, and I’d be waiting there with a key in the door, and, boom, we’d go at it. I call it the sweat factor — it’s the common dominator among all people; when you sweat with someone you can relate with them. I never was in awe of them, no matter how great an athlete they were. I’m in awe when a writer writes a great book, or Bruce Springsteen sings a great song, or Mikhail Baryshnikov dances, but I was never in awe of the people themselves, rather what they accomplish. I like taking the big shots, whether it’s CEOs in Fortune 500 companies or professional athletes, and breaking them down, ripping them off that pedestal, and letting them earn their keep.
The foregoing is excerpted from "The Games Do Count" by Brian Kilmeade. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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