Taking B.Y.O.G. Beyond the Gridiron

Dear Notre Dame fans: I sympathize with your loss last Saturday night.  As a Catholic with some Irish descent, it’s natural to support your squad in most games. (I can’t recall ND playing my alma mater, Colorado State, but it could happen someday!)  I certainly admire the legends and legacy of your program, along with its commitment to academic excellence.  Many, if not most, Catholics in the United States take a measure of familial pride with much of your history and your place in our nation.

But in the wake of your football loss, likely ending this season’s bid for a national championship, you might have missed something else that is now legendary: This postgame interview by Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney.

Perhaps now the sting has subsided and you can watch this clip for what it is: a brilliant slice of motivation, American style, for everyone. A message that travels way beyond the gridiron.

In order to get the most out of this free column, I suggest watching the interview now, it is only a minute and 44 second investment, with a much bigger return.

Ready for some analysis on why this is such a powerful message?  Let’s break it down:

Gracious Beginning

Dabo begins with some standard discourse in his interview with ESPN’s Heather Cox (By the way, the source clip is on ESPN’s website, though we could not embed that here. We don’t know how many views this actually got but it made a splash after it happened)

He begins with a regular volume, in a slight southern drawl throughout— that so connotes football and salt-of-the-earth good sense. He then compliments his team’s vanquished opponent:

“Hey, hats off to Notre Dame.  You know, we had ‘em down, they fought back, that’s what great teams do—well coached.”

We all appreciate good sportsmanship, especially in times when it is in short supply.

Shifting Gears to the Legendary, Giving Thanks

Around the 26 second mark, something shifts in his delivery and message. Dabo’s voice rises and becomes more intense. He recalls what seems to be a locker room speech and this becomes the treasure quote, coining or at least passing on an unfamiliar acronym.

“What I told’em tonight was ‘Listen, we give you scholarships, we give, you know, stipends and meals and a place to live, we give you nice uniforms—I can’t give you guts. And I can’t give you heart.’ And tonight, hey it was B.Y.O.G., bring your own guts!  And they brought some guts and some heart and they never quit, till the last play!”

And then, even though he drew some laughs from Cox with the last quote, he shifts again with continued intensity, to a deeper realm by giving thanks to two fathers.

“And thank you to the good Lord, and my dad who was with me tonight!”

Dabo’s father, Ervil Swinney, passed away on August 8  after an extended bout with cancer.

A good part of the dramatic punch with this interview is the setting.  Dabo and Cox are embedded in jubilant Clemson fans and rain is falling, but the joy is hardly dampened.  State troopers, also in the frame, are protecting the coach and add to the mystique of this college football evening.  All of these elements strike familiarity with those of us who grew up with football. The crowd seems to swell with Dabo’s words, eventually chanting his name and this quite possibly helps fuel his discourse.


Like a father, Dabo expresses pride in his team and colorfully gives a lesson on taking things one moment at a time.

“I’m just so proud of my team, I mean, you know, that’s what we talk about.  I told ‘em, ‘Just play the next play! Just frickin’ play this play, don’t worry about—  our screwups, play this play, win this down,’ and I’m just happy they never quit.”

He again commends Notre Dame and with due celebration, gives a lesson on showing up in adversity and the ability to rhyme on the cuff.

“But let me just tell you: Rain, sleet or snow, Tiger nation they show! And they were here tonight!”

Faith Life Takeaways

The great majority of us have never or will never play college football.  And truth be told, with the raised awareness on concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) we should all examine our relationship with tackle football, as it is today.

But despite being knocked around when I played high school football my junior and senior years, here are two basic theological reflections I can draw from the coach’s interview.

First, when Dabo was listing all the things provided for his players, I can imagine God the Father, listing all the things he has given me, the different talents and blessings.  He has set me up for Godly success, but he does not force my hand to serve him, or to live a good life.  He gives us free will and unlike Coach Dabo, he does give us guts and he does give us heart.  We just have to bring them to the situations we face. Of course, we need to pray and I know, I can pray more.  We need to pray, but eventually we have to bring our own guts and act.

Problem at work or maybe considering a big career change?  B.Y.O.G.  Need to reconcile with someone, never mind whose “fault” it is, or who should approach whom?   B.Y.O.G.  Thinking about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life and a retreat is offered to you? B.Y.O.G.  Gents, pursuing a vocation to marriage and there’s that special lady you have put off asking on a date?   B.Y.O.G.  Ladies, how about that quiet guy who just needs a nudge, inviting him to a group event? B.Y.O.G.

In this October, Respect Life month, can we all step up our efforts to defend life, from charitably speaking up when it’s awkward or peacefully praying with a group, such as 40 Days for Life, in front of an abortion mill?   B.Y.O.G. 

The B.Y.O.G. list goes on, unique to each of us, but the same in our need for the virtue of courage and strengthening our will to do the right.

Second, finishing the race of life.  St. Paul gives the imagery of running the race, and Dabo reminds us to never quit, despite our failures.  He and his team are focused on their goal: a great season. We have the mercy of God, the sacraments, our guardian angels, the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ, all that help keep us going for a great life, until we have played the last play on this earth.  And an immeasurable blessing, we have also have a mother, one we should ask to pray for us now and at the hour of our death.  We have a mother, Our Lady, or in other words, Notre Dame.