Creative Nonfiction

False Starts & The Benefit of Falling On Your Face

On November 27, 2005, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning led his team into Seattle to play the Seahawks at Qwest Field, the loudest stadium in the National Football League. On that day, Manning and his offense set a dubious record when they were called for 11 false start penalties.

1936 Olympics false start
Image via WikiCommons user ryan junell

If you know nothing about football, a false start is when an offensive player other than the center (guy who snaps football to quarterback) moves after he has taken a set position. The cost of such a penalty is five yards a pop which means the Giants moved backwards almost sixty yards that day on those 11 plays. If you REALLY don’t know anything about football the goal is to move forward.

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve tried over the years, specifically as a writer and teacher, and how many of my projects/ideas/efforts never got off the ground. As I described one of these to a friend recently I said, “Yeah, that was a bit of a false start.”

We all screw up big ideas, but I’m not so sure my analogy of a false start applies because that mistake does nothing but penalize and set back. I hope my mistakes offer some redeeming value. We can stumble and still be moving forward even if our momentum includes a painful moment of falling on our face.

Mistakes are inevitable in the game of life and we won’t succeed without making them. People who never make any mistakes are doing it wrong and probably aren’t moving ahead nearly as much as they could. The least penalized team of all time was the 1937 Detroit Lions who committed only 19 infractions during that entire season.

They did not make the playoffs.

Like offensive linemen in football, we face persistent distractions. Those pros get into trouble when they try to anticipate the snap instead of keeping their eye on the ball. Like a good player, we need to focus, block out the noise as much as possible, and learn from our mistakes.

Let’s stop calling our missteps false starts. They are learning experiences, sometimes painful, but we get up and realize we are still moving forward.

“We are people who learn from our mistakes,” director Penny Marshall once told her legendary brother Garry.

We should all try to be people who do the same.

By Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.