Columbine (Colo.) High School head coach Andy Lowry is a man who wears his religious convictions proudly. He credits his faith as a means for making correct decisions on a daily basis.As proud as Lowry is of winning five state championships at Columbine (1999, 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2011), he seems to derive even more personal satisfaction from passing along a code of behavior and sense of personal accountability that will stick with his football players for long after their playing days are over. It’s part of the reason Lowry won the 2012 AFCF Power of Influence Award – an award that has grown in notoriety and is now officially presented by TeamSnap during the general session of the AFCA Convention
Never was there a more perfect example of this than Lowry’s incredible display of self-control and adherence to his long-standing mantra of personal accountability, than a playoff game in 2007 that featured a famously bad call by the officiating crew that tested the very limits of the coach’s patience and inner peace.
It’s an important example to review, because we see similar situations unfold all the time. Check out the video below. Spanish Fork (Utah) High School quarterback Jason Money has his team ahead with 3.7 seconds left on the clock. All he had to do was run out the clock and go down or throw the ball away and Spanish Fork would be headed to the state tournament.
But the game didn’t unfold like that.
Lowry and his 2007 Columbine team experienced something very similar. Riding a 24-game winning streak stretching over two seasons (2006 and 2007), Lowry’s 2007 Columbine squad was steamrolling its way into the tournament and appeared headed for consecutive state championships.
In an early tournament match-up against an opponent they had beaten handily only weeks earlier, Lowry’s team got out of the gates quickly and jumped out to an early 19-point lead. At that point, something extremely unusual happened. Lowry’s players took their foot off the gas, lost their sense of urgency and began to coast, playing the second and third quarters at half-speed. The opposing team took advantage of Columbine’s lackadaisical play and made a furious second-half comeback.
Unable to regain their momentum, Columbine actually fell behind and found themselves trailing by 3 points with 5 seconds to go and watching helplessly on defense.
Using the first of their two remaining timeouts to stop the clock and force a fourth down snap, Lowry watched the opposing punter take the fourth down snap and run toward a vacated portion of the field in an effort to burn the remaining 5 seconds off the clock. At that moment – a surreal ending unfolded.
“As the opposing punter ran around to burn the clock down to zero, he was looking up and watching the scoreboard clock wind down,” says Lowry. “When the game-clock struck zero, the punter, who was still running with the ball, began to celebrate. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, he threw the football high into the air after he ran the clock out.”
Only this isn’t basketball, it’s football. A football game isn’t over until the play ends. This means that when the opposing punter threw the ball into the air, it became a live football.
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A heads-up Columbine defender scooped up the live football at the 2-yard line and ran it into the end zone for the apparent game-winning touchdown. Both teams rushed the field, each team thinking they had won the dramatic playoff game.
Chaos ensued, and much to Lowry’s dismay, he discovered that one of the officials had also been watching the game clock and erroneously blew the whistle to end the game.
“It was so loud at the end of the game that almost no one heard the ref’s whistle,” says Lowry. “My players were celebrating, their players were celebrating, fans and media were streaming onto the field, and I watched nervously as the officials huddled for about six minutes to talk about what happened.
“During those six minutes that the referees were meeting, I found an isolated area and prayed for the wisdom and strength to handle the situation as best I could, regardless of the decision and outcome of the game.”
As the officials made their final decision, Lowry’s prayer for inner strength and calm would most-certainly be tested.
Lowry Teaches Personal Accountability
After conferring, the referees informed Lowry that they had concluded that the whistle blew the play dead and that the game was over. With one bad call, Columbine had lost the game, ending their 24-game winning streak, eliminating them from the 2007 tournament and dashing their dreams of back-to-back state titles.
As Lowry arrived in the locker room, the Columbine players were outwardly angry and extremely emotional. Drawing strength from his earlier moments of on-field prayer, the head coach gathered the team, and proclaimed an edict that no one, including himself, would ever comment publicly on the bad call. In the post-game press-conference, Lowry quickly squashed any potential drama or controversy by congratulating the opponent and refusing to comment on the call.
“Ultimately, it was our own fault we lost. We had a 19-point lead and didn’t give maximum effort. That’s on us,” says Lowry. “If we had continued to play hard, then an official’s bad call doesn’t even factor into the game. It’s a matter of personal accountability.
“In the big scheme of things, football is just a game. It would have been easy to blame the refs, and it probably would have emotionally felt better. But blaming someone else is the easy way out. This was a perfect opportunity for a life lesson for my players.”
“It was a shining example of us needing to take personal accountability for something bad happening. It’s an example that will hopefully stay with my players for the rest of their lives as they grow older and become leaders in society.”
Coaches at every level should look at how Lowry handled this situation, and watch how despondent that quarterback looks at the end of the video, and understand this: There is a right way and a wrong way to handle very difficult situations. How we handle those situations ultimately determines what kind of men we are and what kind of example we set for players.
This article was written by Mike Podoll, associate publisher of AFCA Magazine and AFCA Insider. Podoll can be reached at @fcdaily_podoll.