Over the weekend when former Cardinals QB Kyle Sloter told me that when Southern Miss pulled his scholarship after three years, 5 hours short of him earning his diploma, he sat in his car and cried—-on the verge of losing his lifelong dream of being a star college QB—-wondering why and how this ever happened—-and pondering which road to take from there—-
Oh how I could relate.
I wonder how many of you have found yourselves crying alone in your car in the midst of sudden detour off the regularly scheduled path of your life—-heartbroken, shaken and suddenly cast adrift and imminently facing one of the biggest decisions in your life.
In the spring of 1974, after spending 6 months as a freshman on the Rollins College (Winter Park, FL) baseball team, playing for a coach I loved, I learned that my parents back in Connecticut were contemplating a divorce and I felt like I needed to go back home. I left Rollins, went home and tried my best to help out around the house. I got a job as a journalism intern at the local newspaper and applied as a transfer to Boston College.
When I was accepted at BC, I was told that I would be placed on the list for on-campus housing, but for my first year I would have to find an apartment near the college. I called the only friend I knew in Boston, one of my childhood friends named Brian.
Brian told me that he and his girlfriend Laurie were living in an old Victorian house in Brighton and that they were actually looking to take in a boarder. It was a short walk from the house to the Green Line (trolley) and from there only a ten minute ride to BC.
Perfect! Brian and I agreed on the rent and when September came my parents gave me one of the two family cars for three weeks so I could bring all my stuff and get settled.
The house was amazing. I had a nice room on the first floor near the large kitchen, while Brian and Laurie’s bedroom was on the second floor adjacent to the Victorian style turret.
In one of the rooms downstairs, Brian had a pinball machine and for hours we would play marathon pinball contests.
It was joy to take the “T” to BC each day. The only drawback was that, as a student in the School of Business Management, I was feeling like a fish out of water. I was finding the classes tedious and uninteresting. Man, if you are going to take classes that are 3 hours long, they sure had better be interesting. Right?
Toward the end of my second week in Boston, I started to notice that Brian was acting a little strangely. One afternoon while we were playing pinball, he took the tilts out so that we could swing the machine if the pinball was heading toward the gutter.
Well, suddenly Brian was swinging the machine so violently from side to side that on one of his abrupt swings the machine smashed into the side of the wall, creating a small hole in the wall. Instead of stopping, Brian kept swinging the machine like a madman and suddenly blood was dripping from his nose onto the glass of the machine. Even that didn't stop him.
I ran and got some paper towels and finally Brian walked away from the machine. I took him into the kitchen and encouraged him to wash-up and and tilt his head back to stop the bleeding. I asked him if he was ok and he asked me if I could keep a secret. “Of course,” I said.
“You have to promise me you will never say anything to Laurie,” he said.
“Of course, what is it, Brian?”
“I’ve grown quite a taste for cocaine. I have been trying to keep it under control and lately I haven’t been snorting as much, but if Laurie ever finds out, she will leave me on the spot.”
Two nights later, Laurie came rushing down the stairs crying. She said, “Something is wrong with Brian. He’s been acting weird and tonight he’s passed out and when I tried to ask him if he was ok, he snapped at me.”
“Do you know anything, Mitch?” she asked.
“No,” I lied.
“He’s doing drugs, isn’t he?”
“Not to my knowledge,” I lied, once more.
The very next night, Laurie rushed downstairs and knocked on my door. She was frantic.
“He’s even worse tonight,” she cried. “We have to do something. Please, Mitch, you have to help me. He’s going to kill himself. If you know anything, anything at all, you have to tell me.”
Frightened at the thought of losing my friend, I told her.
For the better part of an hour we came up with a plan as to how to help Brian. We planned our own intervention. We agreed that it had to happen immediately. I told Laurie that I had promised not to say anything and she promised she wouldn’t say anything to Brian.
At five am that morning Brian came smashing through my door with a butcher’s knife. Before I could react he was on top of me and was pressing the blade to my throat. His eyes were boiling with rage while he was screaming over and over, “ I am going to kill you, m-f-er.”
Thank God, Laurie screamed from the living room and said he was going to call 9-1-1. The minute that Brian jumped off me and ran toward her, I grabbed my jeans, jacket and car keys and bolted out of the house to my parents’ car.
I immediately thought of calling the police myself, but for some strange reason I was 100% certain that Brian would not hurt Laurie. But, another thing I knew for sure was that I would never spend another night in that house.
Moments later I found myself sitting in the car outside of a convenience store. With one of the 17 dollars I had left to my name I purchased an orange juice. When I returned to my car, I noticed that I was a mere 100 yards from the westbound entrance to the Mass Pike.
With my life now seemingly in shambles, I sat in the car and cried my eyes out. All I wanted to do what drive up that Mass Pike ramp and go home to Connecticut and leave Brighton in the rear view mirror.
As crazy as this might sound, my biggest hesitation at that point was the thought of abandoning my life-long dream of pitching in the major leagues. I figured that having held my own as decently as I did as a freshman at Rollins College, I could make the Boston College team and get my dream back on track.
I knew that leaving Boston College in the rear view mirror would be the end of my dream.
But, when I was playing baseball in Florida, what became readily apparent to me is how many extremely talented baseball players there are in the USA. At times, the competition is overwhelming. Heavy competition like that can create profound personal doubts—-but—-the challenge of welcoming the competition also can create profound determination.
I will never forget, sitting in the car, shivering and feeling all broke down and helplessly all alone—-heartbroken, but still clinging to my dream—-with the Mass Pike with its tall, buckled pilgrim’s hat ramp staring me in the face.
Then I thought to myself, “it’s time to grow up, Mitch. You can’t run back home forever.”
The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler, long I stood/And looked down one as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair/And having perhaps the better claim/Because it was grassy and wanted wear/Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black/Oh, I kept the first for another day!/Yet knowing how way leads on to way/I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.
As virtually everything in life is paradoxical, between all of the light and darkness and the joy and pain, so are the tough decisions we make in life.
The genius of this poem is on the lines” “yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
That’s the thing about making tough choices—-as Jay Gatsby learned the hard way—-”you cannot repeat the past” (Nick Carraway).
Ultimately the final paradox of the poem reminds us that while we are proud of the tough decisions we make in life, it is completely human to look back on some of our toughest choices with a “sigh” of regret—-for no one gets to know what “both roads” look like.
Interesting too that on the path to fulfilling one’s dreams, one undoubtedly will be confronted by an overwhelming host of cynics—-those who will go out of their way to remind you that your dream is an impossible one and that you are wasting your time. Even ones who will laugh in your face and call you a fool.
When Frost, as a young man, took his poems to the publishers in Boston he was told that his poems wouldn’t sell because they were “too folksy” and that they would only appeal to farmers and back country rubes. Sorry they said, but there wasn’t a market for his brand of poetry.
I can imagine that Frost had a good cry (or two or three) in his car.
I believe that Frost was talented enough of a poet to write poems that his Boston publishers might find more widely marketable—-but—-like so many dreamers who stay true to their conviction—-Frost forged ahead in the belief that his poems—-as is—-were worthy of publication.
What did Frost do?
He took his poems over to England and presented them to the publishers there. Conversely, the British publishers found Frost’s rural backdrops charming and universally metaphorical.
By the time Frost returned to America, he was a published poet who was garnering literary acclaim in London—-so much so that the American publishers engaged in a bidding war over the rights to his next portfolio.
In my “A Vote for Sloter” article, I was eager to express the sense of profound respect I have for Kyle Sloter.
One of our members wrote in the comments section that if Sloter had been smart, he would have simply finished out his last 5 hours of coursework at Southern Miss on his own dime and then taken the finance job that had been offered to him.
That member could very well be correct, because as Robert Frost illuminates in his poem, there is no way to know where “The Road Not Taken” could have taken you.
However, one thing is for certain—-Kyle Sloter, by doggedly pursuing his childhood dream of playing in the NFL, will never have to look back with regret for giving up on that dream too soon, even when al/ of the odds and cynics were stacked against him.
For everyone who still fiercely clings to a life-long dream—-for those who have had that cry in the car when everything looks bleak—-isn’t it the hanging in there—-that “makes all the difference”?
Undrafted players in the NFL have exactly what Kyle Sloter described as an “uphill battle.”
Thus, I wish to caution NFL fans who tend to describe undrafted free agents as “camp bodies.” As Atticus Finch said, “you never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
If we take the time to hear the stories of those who face the stiffest odds of making it in the NFL, and we consider the bildungsromans of undrafted players like TE Antonio Gates, QB Kurt Warner, QB Tony Romo, DT John Randall, QB Warren Moon, T Jason Peters, RB Priest Holmes, WR Wes Welker, LB James Harrison and K Adam Vinatieri—-these were men who took to the paths closest to their dreams—-and they took them precisely the way Yogi Berra suggested:
“When you come to the fork in life—-take it!”