Navy SEAL’s story puts sports clichés into perspective

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 08, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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engel Asking Marcus Luttrell to compare his world to a football player’s, while understandable, is almost insulting. Luttrell is a Navy SEAL. He does not have to say much of anything for you to know that he is not messing around and that he can kick your ...

His bestselling book, Lone Survivor, is now the inspiration for a movie, which will be released nationally this week. In 2005, Luttrell and three SEALs set out on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Despite being potentially outnumbered 50 to 1, the four men fought — three were eventually killed. A rescue helicopter was shot down, killing all 16 aboard. How Luttrell survived this ordeal is a combination of toughness, skill, valor, strength, persistence, training, luck and humanity on a level most of us can’t conceive.

(BTW — The book is amazing; the movie is good.)

A lot of our favorite sports icons routinely display toughness and skill, but then you come across Luttrell’s story and are reminded that sports tough just doesn’t compare.

Today, a lot of coaches are using Luttrell’s story as an example of how to thrive under dire circumstances.

The Patriots, Broncos, Redskins and Cowboys all privately screened the film. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher called Luttrell the night before the BCS title game trying to find one more thing he could tell his team.

“I went into the differences between the teamwork and camaraderie they have as a football team and the teamwork and camaraderie we have as a SEAL platoon,” said Luttrell, who lives with his wife and their three kids between Austin and Houston. “Ultimately, death is on the line when we go into our game.”

Which is why asking how to keep the faith when trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter seems a bit unfair.

“It’s all relative,” he said. “I didn’t master my trade with my feet, my hands and my weapons for myself. I did it to protect my guy. We aren’t here for glitz and glamour or a trophy. We’re here for these guys, and we’re going to do something amazing.

“In our world, it’s, ‘We’re gonna’ live.’ 

In an effort to understand how a man like Luttrell and many of his SEAL brothers define words that are often so frequently used in sports, I had him play word association.


“People say, ‘The guy is tough, he can take a physical pounding.’ There is mental, physical and emotional toughness.

“[In SEAL training], after they beat you into the ground, it’s just starting. They beat you down physically. You have nothing to stand on. Bones are broken. Bleeding.

“That’s when they come at you with the mental part, and they tap into that forever. Then it’s the emotional toll — you are the mistake. You are not good enough. They keep hitting at you. Nothing is ever good enough in our community. There is no, ‘Good job.’ When I made it through [SEAL] Hell Week, I said to my instructor, ‘I made it.’ He said, ‘So what? I did, too.’ 


“That word gets thrown around a lot, ‘I’m loyal to a fault.’ Really? What does that mean? Does it mean, ‘No matter what I throw at you or what I do, you are not going to balk?’

“Undying devotion and loyalty to your teammates enables us to do what we do. No matter what, if I’m shot or blown up, if I watch my buddies die, I am going to get up and back you up.”


“I would imagine my definition is a little different than most people’s. You learn more about yourself when things are difficult.

“When I speak to groups I’ll ask, ‘Why is that guy your friend?’ They’ll say, ‘Because we watch football and drink beer together.’

“They ever been in a tight spot with him? When things are tight and you slip and fall into a vise and they start to squeeze you? Does he look at you and say, ‘This sucks but I’m not going anywhere.’ That’s your buddy.

“Everybody has friends when things are good. You want to test somebody’s loyalty, get in a pinch with them.”


“Somebody who is willing to step outside of themselves and willing to give everything they are or will be to protect my life.”

Listening to Luttrell is educational, inspirational and a reminder there are far greater tests of courage than coming back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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