DIANE PHILLIPS: The least among us can inspire so long as we have a dream


Diane Phillips


Local drama aside for a moment, this was a very good week to watch history unfold and think about why some events move us, others shake us to our core and still others make us so proud we have to contain ourselves or we might just burst.

On the event calendar, it was Super Bowl Sunday. The underdog Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a stunning upset beating five-time champs the New England Patriots 41-33. Nearly 200 million people around the world watched while some in the packed Minneapolis stadium paid thousands of dollars for last minute tickets to experience the action live. One man spent everything he’d put aside for his wedding and honeymoon, leaving those who heard his story wondering if there was still going to be a wedding and need for a honeymoon.

Random thoughts about the Super Bowl later, but happy to report that I won $50. Of course I was rooting for the underdog not because I know a lot about football but because I could see the hunger in Philly’s eyes and Nick Foles’ arm and well, because, truthfully, when a reporter asked New England quarterback Tom Brady when was the last time he was unsure of himself or lacking in confidence, he tried to come up with something but couldn’t. Who isn’t unsure of himself before a big game, at least a little bit? And in the full disclosure of truth category, Philadelphia is the city of my birth.

Before I ask you to explain much of what I don’t get about football, there is another remarkable piece of history that took place this week.

Less than 48 hours after Philly kicked New England’s buttocks, on Tuesday afternoon the most advanced, most powerful rocket ever launched blasted off at Cape Canaveral Space Center in Florida headed toward Mars.

Everything about the SpaceX launch, the journey and the mission was the stuff of science fiction and comic book fantasy, except it was happening in real time with real people watching, a half million spectators, according to news reports. The curious who wanted to see the launch live paid $195 for tickets (How much did that man pay for the Super Bowl, the one who may have traded love for a game based on 11 supersized, incredibly fit men per side chasing a small spherical leather ball?)

Those who watched the lift-off said it was the experience of a lifetime. They were still stunned and in awe hours later. I’ve watched it over and over and my goosebumps still get goosebumps. Three boosters equipped with 27 Merlin engines firing in unison produced five million lbs of thrust at lift-off. With rocket launched, two of the three boosters returned to earth, sliding back down as if guided by a higher authority, landing on a small circular pad with incredible exactness. Most of us who struggle to parallel park and achieve less precision than powerful boosters taking off and returning to an exact intended spot, parking perfectly, cannot begin to relate to what it would take in design, planning, computer model testing and execution to pull off such accuracy in high speed motion.

Meantime, the rocket, now free of its thrusters, soared into space where while you are reading this and for the next six months it will travel 400 million kilometers until it reaches solar orbit where it will continue for more than a billion years. The rocket’s payload, a cherry red Tesla with a dummy driver and a sticker on the dashboard that says Don’t Panic in case a Martian finds it and can read English, was a tribute to billionaire engineer, businessman, inventor, film producer Elon Musk, product architect of Tesla, maker of the sleek electric sports car and founder of SpaceX, the company that wants to make space travel a reality.

While a third booster failed to land on the designated pad offshore, the rest of the launch was so successful that Musk, who had predicted a 50-50 chance, said the outcome proved you could create re-usable boosters and would advance efforts to get man to Mars. Musk has said that he won’t rest until Mars is colonised.

As unlikely as it seems, the Super Bowl and Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch have a lot in common. Both depend on goals and strategy, both require incredible vision, leadership, teamwork, intelligence, stewardship and dedication. Both are expensive games, driven by desire and a spirit of competition and rivalry. Both have immense economic impact, one measurable, the other incalculable now.

Yes, one takes place on a field and the other a field so distant most of us will never live to explore it. But the thread that ties them together and causes us to be fascinated spectators is that both are built on dreams. We may not understand perfect thruster re-entries or why the linebacker goes left when everyone in the room is yelling, screaming, ‘Right, dummy, right’s open.’ It is not as though if they scream louder, the guy on the field is going to hear them. But we keep watching just in case. We remain transfixed because even if we don’t understand every move, we understand dreams.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles was so discouraged in the game that he nearly gave up the sport at the close of last season, but the dream kept him going. When Philly quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL and LCL in December and Foles was called in as a sub, he seized the opportunity and he brought everything he had to the game, saving the win against the Rams that day and going on to greater victory. On Sunday, the 29-year-old with almost no experience as a starting quarterback walked away with the Most Valuable Player trophy after leading his team to one of the most exciting, nail-biting Super Bowl games in NFL history.

Elon Musk has grand dreams – to make space travel and exploration part of our travel reality and our scientific world. Maybe there are cures for cancer or germ-free utopias, maybe there is an Avatar and a Pandora world.

We applaud all who try like this week’s history makers when they are working with shifting goals. The thing about dreams is that to make them come true you have to manoeuver with constant change for there are no constants in human behaviour. A boat making its way to a nearby destination, one the captain may see on the horizon, still must navigate waves, winds, tide, other craft. Nothing is fixed.

In football, making the right call quickly is a constant challenge, first in third, second in fourth, the need to listen to coaches, make the unexpected play, lead a team, inspire greatness and please a crowd has to take place in an instant and the next instant all over again. In space exploration, the goal can shift with the advent of a storm, a screw that comes loose, a fitting that is not what it was supposed to be.

The history makers that we refer to so casually probably deserve more of our respect. There are no real winners and losers in their very public arenas. The Delta company that wanted to explore space but had not yet proved its thrusters could be recycled and the New England Patriots who made it all the way to the Super Bowl are all winners. Look at their dreams and how far they got. We are only being cruel by calling one party a winner and another a loser. Yes, they lost a game or appear to have lost a race to space. Maybe those second place finishers and all of us who finish somewhere outside of first are dreamers-in-waiting. Even the least among us can inspire so long as we have a dream.

When the crowd cheers for a national anthem, when that anthem stirs the heart and fills the people in a stadium with pride at a massive gathering or a local school courtyard, when it moves grown men to wipe tears from their eyes, then we are all caught up in the world of dreams and we thank everyone who brought those dreams to us.

There could be one loser though. Would the man who used his wedding and honeymoon money for a Super Bowl ticket please contact us and let us know what he would do if had to make the same call again.


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