Many years ago, in the classic film “Knute Rockne: All-American,” the dying George Gipp, played by future President Ronald Reagan, gives an inspiring speech imploring his Notre Dame teammates to “win one for the Gipper.” Rockne (played by Pat O’Brien) repeats those words in the climactic scene of the film.
The speech, in addition to being the gold standard for inspiring sports movie speeches to this day, may very well have met its match courtesy of Newton Eagles football coach W.T. Johnston.
At AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, Johnston’s Eagles won the Class 3A Division II state championship on Thursday night, according to USA Today.
And in a moment greater than anything that ever showed up on an episode of “Friday Night Lights,” Johnston delivered a message for the ages after the game.
Fox Sports Southwest captured the moment:
“We got together in August right before we started practicing and I told them this was … I probably wouldn’t make it through the season. I was only given eight months to live. And I wanted them to be aware of what was going on,” Johnston said.
“And then we got a little going, and there was about two or three weeks during the season I didn’t think I was going to make it, and we talked about that. And I always told them this was the last lesson I was going to teach them,” he added.
“I’ve been around these guys and their dads and their mothers since 1991. And I told them this was the last lesson I would ever teach them, is how to live before you die. Where you put your strength, and where you put your belief.”
Johnston then talked about the role his faith played during his struggle before turning his attention back to football and life in general.
“I told them last night, they talked about wanting to win for me. This is their time. I’ve had my time. This is these kids’ time. I told them ‘do it for your teammates. Do it for you,'” he said. “Because 15 years from now, this will be something they all can always — they’ll always remember this. This will be a special time.”
“They’ll remember me if I’ve done right. A part of me is going to live in them. And that’s the way I’ve always thought. If I’ve done things right.”
Johnston is battling graft-versus-hosts disease after undergoing a double-lung transplant in 2015.
The disease has steadily eroded his health, and his journey has steadily grown more difficult.
He returned to the football field in 2015, but had to get around in a golf cart. In 2016, he resumed his coaching duties while still fighting the disease.
But Johnston has continued to battle on, coaching his team even as he knows that the end is near. His players are certainly fortunate to have such a great role model to look up to.
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