As we prepare for Global Football to exhibit at the American Football Coaches Association Convention in San Antonio for a 21st successive year, a wonderful story from nine years ago that became a truly incredible life experience comes to mind.
Back in 2010, then-Drake University head coach Chris Creighton, who these days directs the fortunes of Eastern Michigan University, came to Global Football president and founder Patrick Steenberge with a wild idea: to play the first-ever game of college American football on the continent of Africa and to provide his Bulldogs with the experience of a lifetime. It seemed a little unlikely at first that such an undertaking would be possible, but Patrick doesn’t back down from a challenge! Two years later, Patrick and Chris were among the biggest group in history to stand on the roof of Africa, having scaled the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and played that game in the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl in Tanzania.
Here is an excerpt from Patrick’s book – Tupande Kileleni, Let’s Climb to the Summit Together – which recalls that fateful meeting with Chris Creighton. If you want to read all about that incredible trip to Africa and the mammoth task of taking two teams halfway around the world to a nation that had never before seen our sport, the book is available here on Amazon.
In January 2010, I attended the annual American Football Coaches (AFCA) Convention in Orlando. Every year the AFCA convention draws about ten thousand primarily large, engaging men who coach football for a living. I would say 80 percent of them are college coaches, the other 20 percent being a smattering of high school coaches and internationals, including some two hundred vendors like myself who use this occasion as an opportunity to speak directly with coaches. This is the one place every year where coaches and vendors get a chance to come together to share ideas, skills, products and services. I have rented a booth space there every year since 1997. From a business standpoint, it is the best place for me to meet with as many coaches as possible in a single location.
So, there I was, standing in front of my fairly simple booth on a Monday morning, the second day of the event, chatting with coaches and old friends who walked by, discussing foreign travel, telling stories, shaking hands… when all of a sudden I was grabbed from behind, as coaches often do, by these two strong hands. I spun around and found myself looking eye to eye with Coach Chris Creighton of Drake University, who is fortunately about my size. He kind of slapped me upside the shoulder, and I did the same, then we gave each other a big bear hug.
We had grown close and become friends when he was a coach at Wabash College. He and I worked together to take his NCAA Division III teams first to Germany and Austria, and later to
Panama before he took the job at Drake University. The first journey was memorable; the second was amazing!
After Coach Creighton and I were finished accosting each other, he just looked at me, and in his typically direct manner said, “Hey, I’ve got a really big idea, I mean this one is big, are you in?” I looked at him directly, paused just for a moment and without even questioning replied, “Sure…sure, I’m in.”
When a guy I like and trust as much as Chris Creighton says he’s got something big and asks if I am in, I immediately say yes! Only later do I ask what it is that I had just committed my life to. This attitude may stem back to a metal plaque I had hanging in my bedroom as a teenager, one of two. This one read, “Think before you act, but don’t think too long; if you’re not quick to react the chance will be gone.” The second plaque provided further motivation, “If you aren’t a little bit scared, you ain’t going fast enough.”
Coach Creighton explained, “I want to take my Drake football team to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and play the first American Football game ever in Africa. I have checked it out. There has never been a college or high school football game on the continent, only a few military ones. We could be the first to play football in Africa, and even more importantly, have our team provide community service projects to needy people there, and it would be the ultimate team building project to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
Creighton went on to explain how he had long held this dream of taking his football team to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, and the world’s largest free-standing mountain.
I asked, “Just how high is Kilimanjaro?”
“It’s over nineteen thousand feet, just a bit over.”
I’d climbed mountain summits in Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, some over fourteen thousand feet, as well as some passes over fifteen thousand feet in Peru and Bolivia long ago, so I knew it would be challenging but doable for a team of athletes.
So, I went on to ask quite simply, “What do you want me to do?”
He clearly told me, “Everything. I have my team and will get them fired up to travel, and my Athletic Director is pumped about it. She climbed Kili years ago with her father. Our President is on board and will likely go with us. So, I just need you to do everything else. Find an opponent for us to play, find a stadium to play in, plan the logistics of the tour, figure out how to incorporate football, community service, a safari, and get us to the summit of Kili.”
I sort of laughed and said, “Okay, I’ve got it.” So, the journey began.