Chapter Excerpt: "The Games Do Count" — Geraldo Rivera

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 journalist Geraldo Rivera explains how, through sports, he learned that morale is the most important ally.  

I am not excellent at anything. Certainly not sports. I was average at almost everything, but I was able to maximize my average abilities. I guess you could say that I was way above average in terms of motivation. You know, I couldn’t throw the ball as far as most of the guys, I couldn’t hit as hard. I just wasn’t as skilled. I was a competent athlete. But the difference between being a winner, or competitive, and being a loser, is attitude. There aren’t that many Michael Jordans or Muhammad Alis. But you’ve just got to go out there and do your best. I think that the person who’s most motivated most often wins in that kind of match up.

I was a marginal kid in high school, in the sense that a lot of my leadership skills were misapplied. I was a very street-oriented kid and I was cofounder of a group called the Corner Boys, which was kind of a gang. I was constantly at war between going the route of the football team or going the route of the streets. I really have to say that two of my coaches steered me toward the team, and really helped me in very important ways to get off the streets and to dedicate that energy, and whatever leadership skills I had, to something much more productive than the street life.

I was an asthmatic kid; I weighed only 75 pounds in seventh grade. When I was a freshman and weighed all of 115 pounds, I took up wrestling and football. I was so relieved to finally have mastered this crippling affliction, but I’d take three steps and I’d start wheezing. Sometimes I would do a wind sprint and I would be wheezing at the end of that. But gradually those wind sprints began to help expand my lung capacity and stamina. It was interesting to see my metamorphosis from a 98-pound weakling into a person who would ultimately be the sand kicker rather than the sand receiver.

What I found is, as Napoleon said, morale is the most important ally on the battlefield, more important even than the artillery. And it was really true. One particular game comes to mind. We were playing Amityville, the perennial powerhouse in our neck of the woods. It was pretty early in the game and we were already down by two touchdowns, and we were dragging our asses on the field, thinking, “Oh my god, it’s going to be a ninety-to-nothing game.”

The coach saw this and came over, whacked me on the helmet and said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you see you’re only down by fourteen points? That’s two scores. This is only the second quarter! Now get these guys fired up!”

I remember thinking, Oh my god, we’re only down two touchdowns. It isn’t inevitable. We went on to give them the fight of their lives, barely losing the game.

After high school, I attended Maritime College, which was part of this whole evolution from street kid to being more career oriented. When I got there, I joined the rowing team. We rowed whale boats, eight-row crew and one coxswain, in the international seaman’s race every year. We’d race against other maritime colleges in the country and overseas. And that, even more than the high school football team — getting up at five o’clock every morning to be in superb shape — helped me go from being the 98-pound weakling to someone who really was physically fit and formidable.

Knowing that seven guys could do great, but that one guy could sink it if he crabbed his oar, or if he didn’t put out, if he didn’t help, taught me the importance of working together as a team. The nucleus that developed between the nine of us was a very emotional thing for me. Even now, years later, I can still remember in great detail specific competitions — and with boxing, later on — specific matches, what the emotional feeling was at various points along the way.

I really love competitive sports, and I love team sports more than anything. The touch football game I played in for twenty-five years every Sunday in Central Park was a classic example of that. It was an eleven-on-eleven game, while most touch football games are six-on-six or seven-on-seven. I’d show up and play against these kids that every year got younger and younger, harder and harder. But it was such a wonderful event: the environment was wonderful, here we were all living in the city, but you get out every morning in Central Park. And then, as people started prospering, as they got older, people moved to the suburbs, but some of them would still drive two or three hours to be at that 9:00 A.M. choosing of teams. Because if you missed that, then you’d have to sit out until someone went out for an injury. We played all morning. You could cross body block and you could leave your feet to block, and in most touch games you can’t do that. It was a really rough, tough game. I was a flanker, mostly, and a corner back on defense. Even today, I remember a certain catch or a certain “tackle” in a particular game. Some great people played in the game, like H. Rap Brown, who wasn’t a great person, he was a political radical and later an alleged murderer; and there was Jerome Snyder, who worked with Milton Glazier who was the first designer of New York magazine. A lot of very successful people went through that game, and the fact that I played in it for a quarter of a century makes me very proud.


I also got something else out of playing sports that was very important. There’s always the “thrill of victory, the agony of defeat,” but it’s also about matching your skills up against someone else, as well as answering the question, “Can I still do this?”

It’s just the pure pleasure and the aesthetic of playing the game, like when you catch a pass with a full body extension, or when you leave your feet and make contact and tag out one of your opponents; or when your team does win when the other team was the favorite.

There were and are a lot of people who didn’t credit my potential or the chance I had to compete. I know a lot of people along the way who said I’d be an overnight wonder. But I’ve been in this business now for almost thirty-five years and I’m still here. That’s a very long night.

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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