Inside Lane

What Leon Lett Taught Me

In 1992, Superbowl XXVII was a blowout for the Cowboys against the Bills. It’s a game that I will never forget, not for the win, but for one play in particular.

Toward the end of the game, Leon Lett recovered a fumble and ran it toward the goal line. Just yards away from a touchdown, he slowed, lowered the ball, and started a celebratory shuffle, cut short when one of the Bills slapped the ball out of his hand like your mother slapping the sass off your face. He crossed the goal line in a tumble, rose, and looked around in confusion. What had happened?

I think I’d have slunk off the field, out the stadium, and never shown my face again. But you know what Leon Lett did? He lined up for the next play. (When it was his turn.) You know what his teammates did? They lined up with him.

That has stuck with me, and framed every goal I’ve chased after since then. Don’t celebrate too early. Don’t let embarrassment defeat you. Be a team player, and even if you mess up, show up to fix it.

The night before the Presidential election, Thor was trilling with excitement about the probability that his candidate of choice would win. I told him the story of Leon Lett’s celebratory fail. “Don’t start celebrating until it’s done,” I told him. Then I told him about the Truman/Dewey election.


We also had a very quiet conversation about assuming that everyone around you shares your political leanings, and why it is important to be polite and respectful, and not use the term “idiot” to describe someone who doesn’t agree with you.

It’s been an interesting year of quiet conversations with him, mainly regarding the election. We’ve listened to a lot of NPR in the car, and after listening to candidates speak, I’ve asked him questions, hoping to help him unpack the rhetoric, and learn to reason his way into an educated decision of preference. I’ve tried to be the training wheels as he’s come to his own conclusions, rather than being the driver at the front of a bicycle for two.

We’ve talked about things like healthcare, and immigration, and human rights, and fiscal responsibility. We’ve talked about where the money for social services comes from, where the money for public education comes from, and why we have a budget for military spending. We’ve talked about NATO, the UN, and a bunch of things that have mostly dripped out of the holes celebrity gossip has punched in my brain, and I’ve had to say, “I don’t know. Let’s look that up,” more than once.

If nothing else, 2016 has given us a lot to talk about, and when he woke up the day after the election, we had a lot more fodder. How to conduct himself with people who might be feeling vulnerable. How to be gracious in defeat. How to be an ally. How to find the good.

He seems to get it. He seems to understand that even when there is a fumble on a play, or even when the ball gets slapped out of your hand, it’s more than just the individual, or the moment. There is a whole team, and regardless of whether or not you get the W, you still play together. You still work together. You take your lumps together, and you move on together.

You protect the weak. You defend your principles. You uphold liberty. You look at the people next to you, and you either work with them, or around them.

Over the past few weeks, he’s mentioned Leon Lett in conversation. Today, it was with my mother, watching the A&M/LSU game. “Never celebrate until you’ve finished,” he said, nodding at the television. “You know what happened to Leon Lett.”




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