It was hard not to take note of the smile across Everett Golson’s face as he took off his helmet in East Lansing moments after the Spartans fell 20-3 at the hands of Notre Dame. What a long road taken in just a few short days, where one week prior Golson was a forced spectator as Irish quarterback Tommy Rees drove the Irish down the field to a two-minute drill victory against Purdue. Walking into Spartan Stadium against #10 Michigan State in prime time as a redshirt freshman quarterback and winning when benched at a critical juncture the week before would take a special player. But being labeled special is nothing new to Everett Golson.
Golson’s final game as quarterback at Myrtle Beach High School saw his team with their backs against the wall in their state championship match against South Pointe High School, a school that boasted the number one high school player in America in 6’6”, 250 pound Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive end that also possessed the speed of many wide receivers. The tempo was set at the start with a sack by Clowney on the very first play, and soon Golson found himself being relentlessly terrorized and hunted. Myrtle Beach entered halftime down by 9-points, with Golson posting the meager numbers of 9-19 (47.3%), 46 yards and 1 INT.
The soft-spoken Golson spent most of the half in solitude, and as Myrtle Beach began its walk toward the field for the start of the second half, Golson’s longtime friend and coach, Mickey Wilson, asked him if he was okay.
“Yeah, coach,” Golson responded, strapping his helmet on. “I kind of let Clowney get to me, but I’m all right. Don’t worry about me. I’m good.”
Those were the last words spoken before leading his team on three touchdown drives in the final 22 minutes of the game, throwing for two touchdowns as he led his team to a 27-23 come-from-
behind victory and state championship. Golson saved the most impressive performance for the fourth quarter, as he went 9-12 (75%), for 81 yards and 1 TD when his team needed him most.
There are certain terms used in football that are widely understood even if they’re difficult to define. A football fan will be hard-pressed to not hear the phrase “momentum shift” mentioned at least once during a broadcast, yet there is no stat sheet for momentum changes. In fact, momentum shifts are so difficult to define that there are even arguments as to whether momentum actually exists during games. The same can be said for a phrase like “special”, or describing a quarterback as possessing an “it” factor. So what criteria should be used to describe a quarterback that is “special”? Should it be statistics?
Statistics can be deceiving. Tommy Rees was thrust into Notre Dame’s starting quarterback role as a true freshman in 2010 when Irish QB Dayne Crist was lost for the season with an injury. Rees sparked the hopes of the ND faithful with a four-game winning streak. Rees helped down a ranked Utah on the heels of losses to Navy and Tulsa. He helped snap the Irish’s losing streak to USC, and he did it in the Coliseum. He also helped Notre Dame blow the Miami Hurricanes off the bowl game grass in El Paso, Texas, causing many pundits to predict ND’s return to the BCS in 2011. But the Irish return didn’t come to fruition, and the 2011 season was started with an 0-2 record, bolstered by a turnover bonanza that would eventually lead to Notre Dame being ranked 110th nationally out of a possible 119 teams in turnovers lost.
Using statistics to define specialness is even more muddled when attempting to apply them to Golson. There are few programs in the country that have enjoyed more success than Boise State in recent years. To showcase the point, since 2006 Boise State has won 73 games (compared to Notre Dame’s 42 during that same stretch), a seemingly unstoppable Smurf-turf force that is able to replace its components without consequence. Boise State kicked off the 2012 season at Michigan State with its new starting quarterback, junior Joe Southwick. The Broncos’ new quarterback went 15-31 (48.3%) for 169 yards and 1 INT in Boise State’s 17-13 loss to MSU.
As special as Golson appeared in Notre Dame’s 20-3 victory at Spartan Stadium, Golson, the redshirt freshman, went 14-32 (43.7%) for 178 yards, and accounting for 2 TDs. When looking at the numbers, in completion percentage and yards, there isn’t much difference. So what explains the magic Golson seemed to possess against the Spartans? Many have tried to grasp what exactly it means to be something above the norm. One of my favorite sayings on the subject is courtesy of Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi (I refuse to say whether I’ve been paid to wear a Pepsi hat and shirt while I write this). “Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.” Or, to put it more succinctly, as writer Peter Drucker said, “Leadership is defined by results, not attributes.”
Many can recall Joe Montana’s infamous “The Drive”, where, with the Super Bowl on the line and San Francisco needing a touchdown to win, Montana looked at his teammates in the huddle and excitedly pointed out that he could see comedian John Candy in the crowd. The completely off-topic sighting brought some comic relief and relaxed his teammates, and the 49ers won the Super Bowl. A similar story occurred during Super Bowl XXXVI when the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams. It was reported that Tom Brady, the eventual Super Bowl MVP, took a two-hour nap before kickoff, telling the media he was able to rest because “it’s just another game.”
The great ones, the ones who possess a specialness that cannot seem to be defined, have a unique gift for blocking out the unrelenting voices of pressure inside their head, and an ability to replace it with serenity and silence. While Everett Golson’s numbers were nothing spectacular against #10 Michigan State, when he was truly needed by his team, he rose to the occasion. His spinning out of a sack, rolling to his right and throwing a 36-yard touchdown to John Goodman across his body was unbelievable for even a seasoned veteran. His 6-yard touchdown scamper was entirely his own doing, spinning out of the pocket when no one was open and hitting the corner of the end zone with a nifty juke move. Mistakes were made – such as Golson overthrowing what would have been long touchdown passes to wide receivers T.J. Jones and Chris Brown – but they only served to illustrate how much more potential Golson has yet to tap.
The book on Golson has been far from written, and to follow the metaphor, we’re much more likely to be on the table of contents or acknowledgements than the first chapter. But it took a special player to beat Michigan State the way Golson did, a feat even the constantly-winning Boise State Broncos failed to achieve with a junior at quarterback. Is Golson truly the special player he appears to be? He has a chance to turn the next page this Saturday against a #18 Michigan squad searching for its fourth-straight victory against Notre Dame.
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