PROVO — Mind games.
Great plays are tattooed in the brain, the body’s CPU, before action. It takes great mental courage and motivation to win and winning breeds confidence.
You could go on and on.
Utah State stumbles against Colorado State, Utah’s two interceptions in the fourth quarter doom the Utes against Stanford, and BYU loses leads against USU and Boise State and, well, kind of melts under the lights.
This week BYU assistant coach Ed Lamb, the Yoda of Cougar coaches, made the following statement as the Cougars battle a 1-5 start:
"As coaches, we have to be on high alert for players who don't have the mental toughness to fight through a situation like this."
Football is hard.
But it isn’t as hard as what Art Berg went through. And he earned a Super Bowl ring from a wheelchair.
I first met Berg at Thanksgiving Point for lunch and an interview 16 years ago. What I saw was a man in a wheelchair who radiated such mental fortitude you could feel it a mile away.
His belief in himself, regardless of circumstances, was stirring.
Berg, who died at 39 in 2002 of complications from a dose of pain medication, told me he was on his way to meet his fiancée, back in 1983. He was driving along a freeway in Nevada when he was involved in a head-on collision that broke his neck and left him a paraplegic.
His girlfriend was Dallas Howard, 1981 Utah Junior Miss, and the love of his life. A man who would never walk again decided he would continue to chase his love, marry and tackle everything else in his life that he wanted. And he did.
Berg became an author, created his own business, and was inducted into the National Speaker Hall of Fame. He stood along Tony Robbins as a motivational speaker and spoke to corporations and youth and church groups, inspiring masses. He became a wheelchair athlete, a rugby player tethered to his chair. He pushed himself from Salt Lake to St. George in that chair. He and his wife had four kids and she became Mrs. Utah in 1992.
Berg earned a Super Bowl ring. And here’s the football intersect.
Before the Baltimore Ravens won the 2001 Super Bowl, they had Berg speak to them one morning during two-a-days before preseason games began.
He told them nothing is impossible, that everything is within reach — everything.
It stirred something inside that team, seeing a man the world labeled as limited calling out the physically gifted.
Berg created a vision, a fire inside the Ravens. He shared his favorite poem, from English poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), which became the motto of his life. It's titled “Invictus.”
The Ravens won and kept winning and owner Art Modell began placing the word “Invictus” on the stadium scoreboard. At the end of the season, they gave Berg a Super Bowl ring.
That day at lunch, Berg brought out a box given to him by Ravens coach Brian Billick. He opened it up and there it was, a $30,000 14-carat-gold piece of jewelry with 40 diamonds circling a stunning ruby.
Berg and his ring.
I’ve met plenty of superstars in my day, men who’ve soared and raced and reigned over gravity and the forces of physics on the fields and courts of sport. I can’t remember any who’d conquered the mental gymnastics as completely as Berg — literally pushing mind over matter.
Following losses by BYU, Utah and Utah State, I wish Berg was available this week to give a locker room speech, a pick-me-up moment.
But in his honor, I reflect on the man Berg and can only share what he did with me that day and the Ravens in 2001.
Here are the stanzas of “Invictus,” so often cited by Berg during his 39-year journey:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.