"There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light ... "
Dateline: Palatka Greyhawkin'
There comes a time when all those who compete will face their greatest foe.
A foe you can't outrun.
A foe you can't outplay.
A foe you can't outcompete.
There comes a time when all those who play the game will come face-to-face with the foe who will not turn away.
Who will not run and hide.
Who will not back down.
Who will be in your face.
There comes a time when the greatest foe you'll ever face...
...will be your mirror.
And the doubt, it reflects. The doubt within.
I write scared. Not of those who compete against me, because I don't focus on them, I only focus on the word, my field of play.
I write scared, not of all of them with pens.
I write scared, of the man in the mirror.
And the doubt I see within it.
I can smell doubt. It's a carnal stink that oozes from the pores and consumes the body that carries it. It's the fuel of negative thoughts, the fire of self-destruction.
I don't fear you beating me, I fear taking myself out. The bosses don't scare me, the editors don't scare me, the English teachers don't scare me, all the other people on the dock with pens don't scare me.
My fear, lies in the mirror.
Have I used all the words? Have I given in, stopped pushing the boundaries only to conform? Do I have anything left?
If you compete and you say these words, your days on the field of play are numbered.
If you look in the mirror and say, "Do I belong here?" whatever here is, you won't be there long. If you wonder whether you belong, you don't.
I believe that there is only one thing between winning and losing, and it is not skill, nor desire, nor wishing for it.
It is confidence.
Those who know they can, will.
I've seen it, and you probably have, too. Team down by four, 95 yards from victory, and only a minute-thirty left on the clock. Joe Montana trots out onto the field with a smile on his face.
For me, confidence was defined on October 18th, 1977. A Tuesday. I was lying on the living room couch, half-asleep, drifting in and out of a game I didn't have any dogs in. Didn't care who won, didn't care who lost.
And then Reggie Jackson took over.
Three pitches, three home runs, and the Yankees win the World Series in game six. A lot of people will argue with me about this, but lying on the couch that night and watching it unfold, I thought (and still think) it to be the greatest clutch sports performance of all time. I sat up on the couch and clapped for the man who would be named Mr. October.
Years later I got to interview him and I asked him about that night, and all he said to me was, "I wasn't being paid to bunt."
In my mind, I clapped for the man one more time.
Some may call it arrogance, some may call it confidence, but to win you have to know you can do it. You have to know that wherever right here, right now is, YOU BELONG.
But for Shaw Grigsby, when he looked in the mirror, the man who stared back was full of doubt.
"I felt like I didn't have it in me anymore."
"... in the fine print they tell me what's wrong and what's right ..."
Bassmaster Elite Angler Shaw Grigsby is Jeff Foxworthy with working-man hands.
An outdoorsman who loves to hunt and fish, eyes that smile, a tanned face, and bright teeth. A man who embraces God, country, family, and does so gently.
Married 30 years to Polly, they have two children; Shaw Eric Grigsby, Jr., 24, a business major, and daughter Amy, 26, a RN at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. Shaw is also "Grampy Shaw" to 4-year-old Bryce.
And then, there's the man in the mirror. "Up until last week, db, I hadn't won a tournament in 11 years. That was a major personal deal inside me. Can I still do it, do I still got it? I've had a spectacular career, 9 wins overall, but inside, I didn't know if I could win anymore."
In this sport there is this crazy, stupid habit of asking the Elite Competitors to pick three people whom they think will win the event.
Ask that question of quarterback Tom Brady, and see how far you are going to have to pull that football out of your arse. Ask Shaq who he thinks will win his game and prepare to be dunked.
If I was a sponsor and my angler answered that question with anything other than "me, me, me!" he would need a new sponsor.
I never ask that question, but I did tip-toe around it when I said to Shaw, "So how many people had you favored on the Harris Chain," being that he almost lives on it in Gainesville.
His answer shocked me, and I know it shocked, if not hurt, him as well.
"No one is going to favor someone who hasn't won in over a decade."
And then he looked down at the all-you-can-eat BBQ chicken he had ordered and played with it.
And this is the exact note I wrote down at that moment: "Does he favor himself?" We weren't going to leave that BBQ joint until I knew the answer to that question.
Full disclosure -- I like Shaw Grigsby. Always have. With Shaw, you have grace in the sport, you have sportsmanship in the sport. But I wondered if the sport was still in Shaw.
"As I've aged, there are more battles I've had to fight other than just being on the water. You get so busy, your body starts to break down, it just takes a toll on you."
I watch as Shaw dumps a ton of pepper on his cole slaw and starts eating the all-you-can-eat chicken. When he puts a thigh down and starts wiping his fingers with a tiny white wet napkin, I ask, "So, how's Polly?"
And he stops with the wet nap, his fingers hovering over his wedding ring.
"My wife is the real Shaw Grigsby. She does all the behind-the-scenes stuff so I can keep doing what I do. Without her, I couldn't do this. I get all the limelight and she gets all the dirt."
I know the feeling, as does my wife, Barb.
With talk of Polly came talk of family, and with wet napkins and the next plate of BBQ chicken, we became just two guys at a BBQ restaurant swapping stories of family and how much we both miss them.
"My father, 'Doc Shaw' they used to call him, was a professor of Sociology at the University of Florida. A Ph.D., the whole nine yards. He used to tell me that if I put the same effort into business that I put into fishing, I would be a millionaire. I used to fish with him growing up, and later on in life, he started coming with me on the tour. It was great having him with me. Dad was a real special guy."
Doc Shaw passed away from lung cancer in 1996. Doc's wife, Sigrid, who he met in Germany while working for the state department after the war, is still alive at 85, and still bakes stuff for Shaw to take with him on his boat. When a 50-something-year-old guy tells you his 85-year-old mother still bakes cookies for him, that's a breakthrough.
So, all I ask is this, "When did you know, dude?" That's the exact quote, and he knew exactly what I meant.
"There was this ten-pound biggin' on the second day, and I land her with this treble hook. It's just barely attached, just hanging on, and when I get her on the boat and see it, I just knew things were going my way."
Then with the mirror, that was me, came the truth, "It was magical, like back to the day when you make a cast and you know while it is still in the air that you will catch a fish. Magical."
And when the magic comes back, there is no doubt.
"... there was a dream and one day I could see it ..."
"This is a win to cherish, but you know what, db? I know (he stops for a minute to find the words) now, that I belong here."
Not only do you belong here, Buddy, but we need you here.
At this point, I pretty much thought I was done, dinner was over. Thanks dude, for picking up the bill, and I ask what, for me, is normally the last question. "So, Shaw, what kind of music do you like?"
If I know the music, it helps me pick the lyrics, but he said, "You know, I don't listen to music a lot, I have Sirius and I pretty much just keep it on station 118. The old radio show station."
I look up. "Huh?"
"I love the old radio shows. Growing up, my father didn't make a lot of money, so we didn't have a TV for the longest time. I would go to the neighbor's house to watch TV, but at home, the radio was always on. I just love those old radio shows."
His favorites -- Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Philip Marlow and Johnny Dollar.
"That's the coolest. Sometimes I get so engrossed in the shows or books on tape that I run out of gas, forget to watch the fuel. I've actually had to pump gas out of my boat and put it into a truck, because I was listening so attentively and not paying attention to the fuel level."
"Those old radio shows bring me back to my childhood, sitting there with my father listening along with him."
"Really Shaw, huh. Let me ask you this, when you are alone out in your boat, how many people do you have in there with you?"
I have asked that question of athletes before, how many people are in your helmet with you, how many people in the race car with you?
Without hesitation, Shaw said, "Five. Me, my wife Polly, my two kids, and Jesus Christ."
Every champion I have ever asked that question of has answered basically the same way.
Then Shaw says, "You know what the most special part of the win was?"
I know the answer to this, but I want to hear him say it.
"It was a couple nights AFTER the win. Polly and I had a date night, I took her out for dinner. It was just us. And I told her we BOTH won this thing. It was also very special for Polly. I'm not ashamed to say both of us shed tears."
With the mirror, comes truth.
When I drove Shaw back to his hotel room, I thanked him for the dinner and the friendship, and said goodbye.
As I drove out of the parking lot, in the rearview mirror I watched Shaw go into his motel room, and to the goodbye I added, "Welcome back, my friend."
When I stopped the rental car at the motel driveway, for Shaw Grigsby, the Bassmaster Elite winner, I clapped.
As I once did, for Reggie Jackson.
"...like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it."
Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise
The Avett Brothers
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.