Todd Bowles said all the right things when the New York Jets introduced him as their new head coach on Jan. 15.
“I can’t help but be humbled by the chance to coach this team,” the former Arizona defensive coordinator said.
And so Bowles joined the rapidly growing ranks of the humbled. Never have so many sports people been so deeply humbled by so many glowing tributes. Honestly, you have to wonder if the earth’s reserves of humility will soon run dry.
“I’m very honored and humbled to earn this award named after one of the greatest defensive players and sack masters of all time,” Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said after winning the Deacon Jones Award on Dec. 31.
“I’m very humbled, and I’m very honored,” Peyton Manning said after setting the NFL career record for touchdown passes against the 49ers last October.
Which is weird, because my American Heritage dictionary defines humble, in verb form, as “to humiliate” and “to make lower in condition or station.” And it would seem that becoming the head coach of an NFL team or winning a major award or being acknowledged as the greatest touchdown-producer in the history of your league is, you know, the opposite of humiliation. That it might actually raise your condition or station.
But that’s not what Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman implied when fans voted him onto the cover of Madden NFL 15 last year. “It’s a humbling experience to do it in front of all these great people and do it for the city of Seattle,” Sherman said.
He may have misplaced that newfound abasement somewhere along the way, because he was seen hand-signaling the number “24” when teammate Doug Baldwin beat Darrelle Revis for a touchdown in Super Bowl 49 yesterday, bolstering his claim that he, Richard Sherman, and not Darrelle Revis, is THE GREATEST CORNERBACK IN THE NFL.
When he was on the verge of breaking the great Emmitt Smith’s single-season franchise rushing record in December, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray said: “It’s definitely a humbling experience.”
I’m gonna go out on a limb here. You’ve never really had a humbling experience, have you, DeMarco. Let me help you. A humbling experience is dropping a fly ball with a runner on third base or stalling your car in the school parking lot when you’re learning to drive a stick shift. A humbling experience is when your child vomits all over you from a baby backpack, in the St. Louis airport, and you have to dab at the mess with paper towels while other travelers glare and hold their noses.
Breaking Emmitt Smith’s rushing record? Oh, the abject embarrassment!
These guys just have it wrong. They are the winners, the saluted, the glorified. They are, in fact, the least-humbled among us. You want humbled? Talk to the people they beat to get to the top – the second-place finishers or, more to the point, the last-place finishers.
“When you get honored like this, and make this kind of list, you’re very, very humbled,” retired quarterback Kurt Warner said when he was announced as a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist.
If Warner was humbled when he became a finalist, what was he three weeks later when he failed to get enough votes for Hall of Fame induction? Inflated? Conceited? A boss? Did he prance around like Ali when he got the bad news, yelling “I am the greatest!”?
We don’t know. But we do know what Jerome Bettis was feeling when he got the opposite news and was greeted on Saturday as a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2015: “I am humbled and grateful to all the voters who saw my career as being worthy of a gold jacket,” Bettis said.
Poor guy. He probably lives in a shack and subsists on brown rice and the vegetables he grows in his own small garden.
And it isn’t just football players playing the humble card. Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria, when voted into 2014 FIFPro World XI, said, “To be named among the world’s elite players is truly humbling.” LeBron James described fans chanting “LBJ!” as he entered a store in Hong Kong as “very humbling.” Jim Thome, receiving news that he would be honored with a statue outside of Cleveland’s Progressive Field, said, “It’s humbling.”
Well, of course. Why wouldn’t you be humbled by the erection of a statue in your likeness? It’s why those Roman emperors were such down-to-earth, launder-your-own-toga type of folks, and why Joseph Stalin always blushed and nervously tugged at his mustache when a Soviet general saluted him on the street.
And now the humility gene has spread beyond athletes.
Here’s Idina Menzel on being afforded the opportunity to string out our national anthem to 11 heartfelt minutes before Super Bowl 49: “I am so humbled and honored to be asked this year.”
Here’s former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, last August: “I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.”
Guys, have you ever seen video of Steve Ballmer? He tends to enter the room like a cross between the Tasmanian Devil and a drunk Mardi Gras Indian, hoovering up every available speck of attention. Or at least he used to. Before he was humbled by the act of writing a check for $2 billion dollars to the NBA.