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Play for the win, all the time

| Friday, January 14, 2022

If you follow the NFL at all, you’ve probably heard something about the controversy involved with the Los Angeles Chargers-Las Vegas Raiders matchup Sunday night. What transpired in the final regular season game of the season will serve as the foundation for this inside column. I apologize to Viewpoint editor Abby Patrick for invading her department with this sportsball hullabaloo, but for anyone who’s read my stuff in the past, you probably recognize that it’s damn near impossible for me to turn my sports brain off. What I’m about to describe is a complicated situation as far as football games are concerned, but I promise it will all make sense in the end if you keep reading.

Heading into Sunday night’s game, the Chargers and Raiders held the final two playoff spots in the AFC. If the contest ended with only one team victorious as per usual, only the winner would go to the playoffs. But in a unique final-standings twist, if the game ended in a tie, both the Raiders and the Chargers would go to the playoffs. Before kickoff on Sunday night, Twitter was ablaze with pundits imploring the two teams to do the rational thing: agree to kneel the ball on every single play so the game would end in a tie, sending both teams to the playoffs. That, however, did not happen. Instead, the Chargers and Raiders both played for the win, and it was one of the best games of the NFL regular season. The contest was a thriller, with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throwing a tying touchdown pass as time expired in regulation to keep Los Angeles’ season alive, only to have his heart shattered by a game-winning field goal as time expired in overtime by Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson.

So why did the two teams play to win if they easily could have agreed to tie and guarantee themselves playoff spots? Because deep down both teams recognized that playing for a tie just didn’t feel good. Despite the unusual circumstances handing both teams a playoff spot on a silver platter, the players on both sidelines couldn’t live with themselves if they trotted out to the field and kneeled the ball for four quarters. The players on the Chargers and Raiders are so competitive and believe in themselves so much that they were willing to sacrifice a playoff spot if the alternative was not giving it their all. Every “expert” under the sun running algorithms and waxing poetic about the prisoner’s dilemma told them otherwise, but the two teams didn’t listen and defied all logic, doing instead what they believed was right. Instead of using their heads to decide to play for the tie, the Chargers and Raiders used their hearts to decide to play for the win.

I believe everyone reading this can learn from what the Chargers and Raiders did on Sunday night, but their actions apply especially to any tri-campus students who decided to pick up today’s paper or visit our website. In many ways, we have reached this point in our lives by making decisions with our heads, by playing for the tie. We rationally decided to take the path beaten by so many others before us to get here, studying hard in the classroom, beefing up our resumes with awesome awards and activities, and most of all, listening to the advice of the people that care about us the most. We’ve done the smart things, made good choices and eaten the carrots on the end of the sticks provided to us as a result.

But I’ve come to find that those carrots stopped fulfilling me long ago, and that taking the path my head is telling me to travel has never truly made me happy. Something always makes me hesitate when I continue to do what everyone is telling me to do. It doesn’t feel like me, like somehow, I don’t have agency over the decisions I’m making. It’s hard to really explain the feeling, but there’s just always something tugging at my heartstrings to tell me what I’m doing is wrong, guiding me to do what I know deep down is right. There’s a poster above my desk provided by my new employers, the Alliance for Catholic Education (thank you ACE!) that says in bold, capital letters: “YOU WERE MADE FOR GREATNESS.” As my time at Notre Dame rapidly and ominously nears its end, I have learned that greatness can only come from deciding with our hearts, from playing for the win all the time.

Let me give you a pair of examples from my Notre Dame career so far that illuminate what I’m trying to say. Way back in my sophomore year of college, I was accepted for an ISSLP in Bangladesh with three of my friends from the Notre Dame Men’s Boxing Club. I had known for a long time since joining the club in my freshman year that I wanted to serve the country if I could, to put meaning behind the training, the camaraderie and the fundraising that makes Bengal Bouts so special. My family of course had a lot of questions, and many of the people I love didn’t want me traveling halfway across the world to serve. Why would I want to spend eight weeks in a third world country when I could look for a paid internship? Why would I want to inject myself with a laundry list of vaccines to be able to withstand the country’s environment? Why would I choose the completely uncertain when I could just come back to New York and spend the summer with my family? My grandmother told me she lit a candle for me every single day to make sure God prevented me from going. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic shut down the ISSLP, but the feeling of intense disappointment I felt showed me my heart was putting me in the right place, and that I had made the right decision.

In my junior year, I made the unthinkable decision to switch my major from finance to political science, transferring out of the Mendoza College of Business to the College of Arts and Letters. It was also something I had been thinking about for a long time, as I was completely unhappy and unfulfilled. I’m not knocking Mendoza at all, as it really just wasn’t for me. My family of course had their concerns. Why would I throw away the prestige of Mendoza, the biggest “feather in my cap” I had at Notre Dame? Why would I give up better job prospects for the sake of a more holistic education? What the heck was I even going to do with a political science degree? But I put all those questions aside and followed my heart, and everything worked out in the end. I loved my classes my last two years of school and learned more than I ever have at any other point in my life. I grew as an intellectual and as a person in the way I wanted to, meeting new professors and classmates that have helped shape who I am today. And I even found a post-grad opportunity through ACE (thank you ACE!). I always knew I was making the right decision switching majors and transferring colleges because at the end of the day, it was where my heart was leading me.

I hope my stories will inspire you if you’re looking for a spark to do what you know your heart is telling you to do. Quit playing it safe if you don’t want to play it safe anymore. Quit listening to other people if you don’t want to listen to other people anymore. Quit making yourself sad wondering what could have been. If you follow your heart and you fail like the Chargers, you can dust yourself off knowing you have no regrets. Justin Herbert will never wonder how things could have turned out and will come back stronger next season, motivated more than ever.

For the love of God, do what sets your heart of fire. Play for the win all the time, and I guarantee you will be fulfilled.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Colin Capece

Colin is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in political science and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He hails from the great state of New York and currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer for the 2021-2022 academic year. You can sometimes find him on Twitter at @ColinCapeceND

Contact Colin