From the very beginning they are conditioned and prepared to do one thing, and to do it well. The work that goes into their development both from within their predisposed inner-drive and also from the vast network of support that surrounds them often goes unnoticed; often goes unappreciated. Then, suddenly, their time with us ends.
And we rarely consider all that went into putting that thirty-seven cent banana into our fruit basket on the kitchen counter, or into that football team whose players and coaches gave us all they had.
In other words, in order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees - originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container - until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.
What this means is that ripening must then be artificially induced, in a specialized architecture of pressurized, temperature- and atmosphere-controlled rooms that fool the banana into thinking it is still back on the plant in tropical Ecuador. New York City's supermarkets, grocers, coffee-shops, and food cart vendors are served by just a handful of banana ripening outfits - one in Brooklyn, one in Long Island, a small facility inside the main Hunt's Point Terminal Market, and our field trip destination: Banana Distributors of New York, in the Bronx.
The Short Lives of Bananas
Their lifespan is incredibly short and their window for usefulness is small. If eaten too early, the consumer will experience a tough, almost tasteless fruit that's surprisingly difficult to swallow. If eaten too late, the consumer will experience a fruit too soft, bruised and aromatic for many to enjoy. According to the site EatByDate, the shelf-life of a banana is between two and seven days, but everyone knows the best time to peel one back and consume is late in the evening on day four.
Finding that sweet spot, that ideal time to eat a perfectly ripened banana is fleeting, but so gratifying when it happens. I was reminded of this over the weekend when my daughter told me that my wife bought her a banana to help calm her nerves before a big violin tryout that she was about to participate in. She was thrilled to have done well in her orchestra competition but was even more excited to tell me about that banana. "It was sooooo good," she said. "Perfect, not too hard, not too squishy. The perfect banana."
The Short Lives of Football Men
Now, on football. The careers of our favorite athletes are fleeting as well. They find a place in our hearts by delivering near perfection, delivering us the day four banana, time and again. Some enjoy longer careers than others; some are riddled with injury but fight on; and sadly some have careers forcefully taken too soon.
In only four full seasons with the Denver Broncos, Terrell Davis earned two Super Bowl rings, rushed for almost 7,000 yards and has been considered by some to be Hall of Fame worthy, even though he played in only 78 games in his career. Davis was that good. Davis is a football man.
And on the week he was given a $50 million contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals, Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a torn ACL. A promising career riddled with injury, Palmer will once again face a difficult rehabilitation in order to give it another go. And he will do just that. Palmer is a football man.
Then on Sunday the University of Florida announced that Will Muschamp will be replaced as head coach after only four seasons in Gainesville. Muschamp never lived up to expectations and becomes just another crumbled-up resume tossed onto the ever growing pile of promises not delivered.
The sad irony is that Muschamp and Lane Kiffin before him and Dennis Franchione before him and countless others tracing back to the beginning of the sport are among only three or four hundred men in the world qualified enough to do what they do at any given time. And yet they are considered to have failed. Such is life for football men.
Because the sport that gives us the agony of a Will Muschamp or Terrell Davis also gives us the near perfection from a Nick Saban and a Walter Payton. The timing and luck involved in finding that wonderful cluster of bananas at the grocery story is applicable here because it is rare. It is so very rare. And it is exactly why we will always love the game and the men that pursue its fleeting perfection.
Which brings me to the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the outgoing senior class. They are leaving Lubbock with a dubious honor: they will be the first class in decades to experience two losing seasons as Red Raiders. These young men, who, like the coaches mentioned above, have a particular skill set that only a minute percentage in the world possess. Yet they will be remembered by some as a disappointing group that struggled to hold ground during a difficult period for the program.
But, like the perfect four day banana that only occasionally comes along, I prefer to remember this senior class for the joy they gave us all. I choose to remember their thrilling touchdowns and tackles. I salute their desire to wear the school colors with pride and I wish them success as they prepare to play their final two games as Red Raiders. And just like the life of a banana, I applaud them for their hard-work and preparation that they put in before we ever saw them on display during their proverbial short shelf-life.
They will end their careers with little pomp and publicity. There will be no bowl game or championship rings waiting for them. But I can offer them my sincere gratitude for fighting for me and for my school. Thank you, seniors. Thank you, Red Raiders.
Thank you, football men.