The poetry of “how you played the game”

An oft-quoted line, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” sometimes prompts the pithy but wrong response that whoever said it must have lost a game. The truth behind the line, which is actually a paraphrase, is that it carries wisdom even for winners. Especially for winners who aren’t winning off of the field.

Henry Grantland Rice did spend time as an umpire and referee, but the Vanderbilt University graduate is mostly known for writing an estimated 67 million words across 22,000 columns and three books of published poetry. Living from 1880 to 1954, he was recognized as an authority on sports, as the producer of sporting event motion pictures, and as an influential writer of descriptive prose. He often described athletes in heroic terms: Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen” backfield was called that because of his writing. Since 1954, the Football Writers Association of America has awarded the annual Grantland Rice Trophy.

One of his poems, “Alumnus Football,” is about what happened to a star college football player after he left the field. It praises striving despite difficulty:


Bill Jones had been the shining star upon his college team,
His tackling was ferocious and his bucking was a dream;
When husky William tucked the ball beneath his brawny arm
They had a special man to ring the ambulance alarm.

Bill had the speed — Bill had the weight — the nerve to never yield;
From goal to goal he whizzed along while fragments strewed the field;
And there had been a standing bet — which no one tried to call —
That he could gain his distance through a ten-foot granite wall.

When he wound lip his college course each student’s heart was sore;
They wept to think that Husky Bill would buck the line no more;
Not so with William — in his dreams he saw the field of fame
Where he would buck to glory in the swirl of life’s big game.

Sweet are the dreams of campus life — the world which lies beyond
Gleams ever on our inmost gaze with visions fair and fond;
We see our fondest hopes achieved and on with striving soul
We buck the line and run the ends until we reach the goal.

So, with his sheepskin tucked beneath his brawny arm one day,
Bill put on steam and dashed into the thickest of the fray;
With eyes ablaze, he sprinted where the laureled highway led —
When Bill woke up his scalp hung loose and knots adorned his head.

He tried to run the ends of life — when lo — with vicious toss
A bill-collector tackled him and threw him for a loss;
And when he switched his course again and crashed into the line,
The massive guard named failure did a two-step on his spine.

Bill tried to punt out of the rut— but ere he turned the trick
Rick-tackle competition tumbled through and blocked the kick;
And when he tackled at success in one long vicious bound,
The full-back, disappointment, steered his features in the ground.

But one day when across the field of fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, experience, came up and said to him:
“Old boy,” spoke he, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking failure till you’ve worn the lobster out.

“Cut out this work around the ends — go in there, low and hard —
Just put your eye upon the goal and start there, yard by yard;
And more than all— when you are thrown — or tumbled with a crack—*
Don’t lie there whining — hustle up — and keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back for all they’ve got and take it with a grin
When disappointment trips you up or failure barks your shin;
Keep coming back — and if at last you lose the game of right
Let those who whipped you know at least they, too, have had a fight

“You’ll find the bread-line hard to buck and fame’s goal far away,
But hit the line and hit it hard across each rushing play;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name —
He marks— not that you won or lost— but how you played the game.”


Want to learn more about Grantland Rice? Here’s the first of a 52-part video on him:

Songs about jobs and working

In honor of Labor Day, here are some songs about working. A common theme is to remember the value of labor provided by others and yourself. The work you do is more than a job. It is a portion of your life.


Many people have Labor Day Monday off, unlike the typical “Manic Monday” that The Bangles sing about.


John Lennon‘s use of profanity in his solo 1970 song “Working Class Hero” inspired a Federal Communications Commission complaint. As other songs below indicate, it’s not all that uncommon to associate “rough” language with job satisfaction. Radio stations adopted an edited version. The version below contains the F-words left in.



One of the classic odes to the struggle of working is Dolly Parton‘s theme song from the 1980 film  “Nine to Five.” Technology changes make the song dated, such as the sound of typewriters, but the sentiment lingers for some.


“Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck. Another country song, this questions the purpose of working hard if one isn’t able to enjoy the reasons for living, including relationships and the ability to live without fear and debt.


The blues-rock song “Workin’ for a Livin'” by Huey Lewis also laments the feeling of trading effort for too little reward. Also check out this later duet of the same song, with Garth Brooks.


Don Williams sings about a working woman in “Maggie’s Dream.”


Donna Summer reminds people that “She Works Hard for the Money,” so they’d better treat the working woman right.


A song about the pull of the heart while on the job is Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.”


Bill Joel sang of giving up the workaday life in “Movin’ Out,” which is also known as “Anthony’s Song.”


Lee Dorsey’s “Working in a Coal Mine” is about labor that is so exhausting that enjoying non-work time isn’t possible.


Tennessee Ernie Ford also sings about heavy labor in “Sixteen Tons.” Some company stores, owned by the employer, would charge workers so much that they would go into debt.


Not all songs characterize work as miserable or disappointing. Especially Disney’s “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work,” both from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”


Master of Mockery Weird Al Yankovic “praised” the corporate culture in “Dog Eat Dog.”


Feel sorry for the musicians of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, who are “Takin’ Care of Business.”


Dire Straits also celebrated the creative industry with “Money for Nothing.”


ZZ Top sings about one of the rewards of working, and rocks with guitar and drums, in “Just Got Paid.”


Macklemore & Ryan Lewis remind people to “Make the Money” but don’t let the money make you. This version includes uncensored profanity.


As you celebrate Labor Day, remember that the country was built and runs on those who work, so honor them and yourself.

Al Jolson sings “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”

Don’t get stuck in an identity rut

You may have this thing you do that you associate with your identity. You’re the one who takes the photographs. The computer guru. The great cook. The super skier. If someone has a question about cars or investments or how to solve a relationship problem, they come to you for that Thing.

Don’t let that Thing define who you are, however, or you risk becoming boxed in by it. You’re always taking pictures, not appearing in any of them. You’re always cooking but never enjoying the feeling of being served. You become seen as the source of information or assistance rather than a whole person with feelings and thoughts beyond your central defining Thing.

By reaching beyond your current skills or passions, you can discover strengths you did not know you had, ways to contribute to the world or your own life that you might never have experienced had you let your existing strong identity trait confine you. Or, maybe you’ll find something that you enjoy but that you’re not necessarily good at doing. It is OK to be the computer guru who paints abstract watercolors that are never displayed beyond a loved one’s living room or the stock market aficionado who enjoys making mostly tasty cakes that are somewhat decorative.

Stretch yourself. Grow. Learn. Discover who you might be.

Looking for some inspiration? Check out “Put on Your Crown,” by Queen Latifah.



Songs about America

In honor of Independence Day approaching, here are some songs about America, along with some history and context.

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

Francis Scott Key wrote a poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry” during the War of 1812, as British ships in Chesapeake Bay bombarded the fort. Key, a lawyer, had gone to secure the release of an American civilian prisoner and was on a British truce ship during the battle. He had the melody “To Anacreon in Heaven” in mind when he wrote his poem of being inspired by the fort’s lack of surrender. Also known as “The Anacreontic Song,” the tune and its original lyrics belonged to a gentleman’s club in London. Anacreon was a Greek poet known for his drinking songs and hymns, and the original words are included in this performance link. Using the club’s tune and the poem’s words, the song’s popularity spread and it became the nation’s official tune in 1931. Read more about “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the Smithsonian website. Here’s Jennifer Hudson singing the National Anthem:



Here’s the full version, with lyrics:



“Battle of New Orleans”

Johnny Horton’s song of the last major battle of the War of 1812 is more lighthearted. In 1814, Gen. Andrew Jackson (later president) had several encounters with the British and, toward the end of the year, he and a collection of inexperienced volunteers, free blacks, riflemen from Tennessee and Kentucky, Louisiana militia and pirates were vastly outnumbered by the British in New Orleans. However, the Americans had built a long, earthen barrier. The British rushed the barrier and faced overwhelming fire from rifles and canons.



“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”

In 1831, Samuel Francis Smith wrote the words to another American song that took over a British tune, in this case, “God Save the Queen,” the British National Anthem (with lyrics here). Smith, who later went on to be a minister and writer, penned the words as a seminary student. Here’s Crosby, Stills & Nash singing it:



“America the Beautiful”

English literature professor Katharine Lee Bates wrote the poem after a trip to Pikes Peak, in Colorado, and it was published in 1895 in a weekly journal. The poem was sung to a variety of lyrics, and revised a few times, but the modern version is to the tune “Materna” by Samuel A. Ward, composed in 1882. Here’s a beautiful version by Ray Charles.



“God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land”

Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” after being irritated by the often-played “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin and sung by Kate Smith. Berlin , an immigrant at the age of 5, created the God Bless America Fund to handle donation of the song’s royalties. Both songs are below:



“God Bless the USA”

Written on a tour bus in 1983 by Lee Greenwood, the song was an expression of his passion to see more unity in the country.



Neil Diamond’s patriotic song about immigrants was among the songs Clear Channel Communications asked its stations to not play after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.



“Our Country”

John Mellencamp’s song was used by Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 until Mellencamp objected.



What are your favorite songs about America?