“It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
That’s not exactly the way the late Grantland Rice, a sportswriter for the long-defunct New York Tribune in the early 1900s, phrased it in his poem “Alumnus Football,” but it’s the way it’s best remembered. And it came to mind when listening to professional bowling great Johnny Petraglia address the those who attended — specifically, the young people in the audience — the Staten Island Bowling Hall of Fame dinner a couple of months back.
His words should be heeded not by just the young athletes, but by all parents of young athletes.
“When you think of Derek Jeter, everybody here will think of how he played the game,” Petraglia said, referencing the former Yankee shortstop. “You can ask 10 people what his stats were, and maybe only one of those 10 would know. But 10 out of 10 will remember how he played.”
On the other hand, he continued, “Mark Maguire and Barry Bonds will always be remembered for taking steroids,” and not the home run records they set during their baseball playing days.
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If there were ever a counter to Vince Lombardi’s “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quote, it’s pro baseball’s performance-enhancing drug era of the 1990s. But that’s a topic for another day.
Petraglia knows that of which he spoke. The former Staten Islander is a legit bowling great. He’s in just about every bowling hall of fame, including the Staten Island Hall, after a storied professional career on the regular circuit, and is still winning Professional Bowlers Association Senior Tour events at 68.
But he’s known and respected just as much for the way he conducts himself while competing and while serving as an ambassador to the sport. It’s one of the reasons he attends the Staten Island hall induction ceremony every year, graciously handing out many of the awards and taking photos with honorees and attendees alike.
He’s known and respected for how he plays the game.
Petraglia often participates in and runs events for various charities and a few years back met up with professional football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, who played in the NFL from 1993 to 2005. He asked Bettis if he would be willing to bowl in a charity pro-am event he was holding in New Jersey.
Bettis agreed to take part. All he wanted in return was a $1,000 donation to The Bus Stops Here Foundation, which he established to benefit underprivileged inner-city youth. He had to squeeze the appearance into his schedule, since he had a commitment in Florida the following day.
Like the other celebrities, Bettis took part in the bowling, and was invited to attend a cocktail party with the other VIPs so they could get a break from the autographs and picture-posing.
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“The program ended at about 10:30, and Jerome sat on the ball return until midnight,” Petraglia said, “because everyone wanted Jerome Bettis’ autograph and he wasn’t going to turn anybody down. The line was out the door, and he signed until everyone had gotten his autograph.”
Later, while driving Bettis to his hotel where he’d get about four hours sleep before having to catch his flight the next morning, Petraglia said to Bettis, “Jerome, you really went above and beyond what you had to do here. Signing every last autograph — that was incredible.”
Bettis responded, “When somebody asks you to do a job, once you say yes, that means you give 100 percent to that job. I don’t care if it’s on the football field or a charity event. If you don’t think you can do 100 percent for that job, you say no.”
Petraglia said that while sports fans undoubtedly know Bettis as a great NFL running back, those who have come in contact with him on a personal level know him as a great person.
For the way he plays the game. For the way he lives his life.
Which, after all, is what counts most.
Joe LoVerde has coached youth sports on Staten Island for more than 40 years. He’s also a longtime newspaper editor and sportswriter.