This weekend, many Americans will witness a historical event, as two teams battle for the championship title in Superbowl XLI. While we cheer our favorite players on the field, we will also cast curious looks to the sideline, where for the first time in the history of the sport not just one, but two African American head coaches vie for the coveted trophy. Meanwhile, a small town, only miles from where I live celebrates Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith’s ascent to Superbowl fame with special ardor: Smith’s home town, Big Sandy, Texas.
Not much of a town, really, Big Sandy had little to boast about in the past. Primarily known for its accumulation of liquor stores, the community is strewn across only a few intersecting streets and consists mostly of one-story homes and small businesses. Yet on Sunday, this town of about thirteen hundred residents will emerge into the spotlight.
I drove through Big Sandy today. It is one of those “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” towns. No wonder that folks show a little pride when one of their own made it into national headlines. I saw many signs, hand drawn and printed, that proclaimed Big Sandy’s admiration for the soft-spoken, likeable coach. And older folks are fond of remembering that he once played as both Defensive End and Linebacker for the local high school team.
Lovie went on to play for the University of Tulsa, but he did not forget his roots. He returned to his sleepy home town to coach high school football in 1980, before moving on to coach in various positions in colleges from Tulsa to Ohio State. He went Pro in 1996 with Tampa Bay, then St. Louis in 2001 with the Rams and finally became head coach of the Chicago Bears, where he was honored with Coach of the Year award in 2005.
Smith is well liked by his players and popular in the community he serves. He donates time and resources to charity and stands as an example to young men of all colors through humility, goodness and strength of character. Big Sandy folks remember him fondly and are honored to call him one of their own.
There will be many Superbowl parties across the country this Sunday, but some of the grandest could likely take place in a small town, cluttered with liquor stores and old, decrepit buildings. And if the Bears should happen to win, the cheers in Big Sandy may well raise roofs and carry down the highway across the miles to my home. I’ll be listening. And I’ll raise my glass to salute the accomplishments of a first class football team and its distinguished coach. The wine in my glass – of course! – comes from Big Sandy.