I like my champions humble. No loudmouths required. No need for tyres to be pumped up. Guys that leave the game in better shape than when they started. And they give back, constantly.
For mine, the best ones are those special characters who work their entire career, craving the respect of their teammates. Young men and women who more often than not become leaders, on and off the field.
Sure, some of the better ones have egos you couldn’t jump over with a decent run up. Good luck to them. Just not my type.
I’m not using the term hero here. Because the people I’m talking about, athletes who perform feats that dazzle us each weekend, know they’re not heroes. They get embarrassed by the comparison.
A hero is a bloke like Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. The Aussie soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross earlier this year. Remember him? A giant of a man. Wouldn’t he do some damage running off Thurston? You’d rather be feeding him for a day than a week.
Instead of performing on the paddock, he gets the job done on the battle field. With bullets whizzing past his ears. He single-handedly stormed a machine gun post in Afghanistan, to save the lives of his fellow Diggers. Yep, that’s a hero.
Which brings me to Darren Lockyer. A special type if ever there was one. A gifted footballer with a rare talent, who would cringe at being on the same page as a VC winner.
He’ll captain his beloved Queensland for the final time tomorrow night. You may have read about it. The Origin Decider. Pretty big deal. In front of a sell out crowd at the home of rugby league. With every lounge room and every pub in Queensland screaming his nickname.
A crowded desk of Hollywood scriptwriters with access to a full bar couldn’t have come up with this script. The perfect farewell. At the perfect stadium. Against the perfect enemy.
It’s difficult to line Locky up with the greats who’ve gone before him. Not that he’d want you to anyway.
The King is the natural comparison. But he’s not Wally, who was larger than life. Tallis was larger than everyone else. I swear he grew a few inches when he stepped over the chalk.
Alfie was smaller than everyone else. With a heart larger than everyone else. And Gilly was tougher than everyone else. Humble too. But different again.
No, he’s not any of those legends. Because he’s his own man. And he’s a champion.
It’s hard enough to be number one in the world in one position. It’s easy to forget, the skipper has been the best in two. With a bit more hair and a clearer voice, Locky was the ultimate fullback. He wasn’t running through those holes. He was gliding. Twinkling toes barely touching the turf.
It’s the way old timers describe the great Dragon Reg Gasnier slicing through defences. Yes, I’m talking about people who are older than me. They do exist.
Locky could have played out his time in the Number One jersey, breaking try scoring records, and at the same time adding a few years to his career. But he didn’t.
He was given a challenge, and he accepted. Play a new role. Wear the six. Become a true leader. And a greater player. Yet another reason why he’s a champion.
You’ll never hear the bloke give himself a wrap. He’ll praise the team, and the coach, and sometimes even his opponents. But not himself. It’s not his style.
Darren is not one for extravagance. No crazy PR stunts. The hospital visits, the chats to others down on their luck, are done in private. And there are plenty of them. Sound like a champion to you?
You’ve heard him say he doesn’t want the decider to be about him. And he means that. With all his might. Because he doesn’t see himself bigger than anyone else. Certainly not more important than the others. And most of all, not bigger than the game itself.
What he wants to do tomorrow night is run, and tackle, and lead. He wants to make the right choices in attack, every play. He wants to defend like his life depends on it. He’ll drive the big blokes, and keep emotions in check when the going gets tough. And he won’t niggle anyone. Not once.
I want him to be holding the shield above his head after fulltime. Yes, the perfect farewell. I want Mal to produce that toothy smile. I want big Sam to give him a bear hug, and Thurston to do that groovy hand shake.
It means all of Queensland will smile on Thursday. An entire state will be happy. Poor Gus and Ricky will go home, and complain about something. Making our smile even bigger.
And I reckon it will happen. I do.
As great as that is, there’s something even better. Because of Darren Lockyer, there’ll be a spring in the step of kids from Coolangatta to Coen.
In backyards, and parks, and playgrounds, they’ll be running with the footy, and laughing. Playing with their mates, and their brothers, and their dads. Running, and stepping, and scoring.
It’s how all those great names started. Those same neighborhood games.
This week, and for the weeks and months ahead, youngsters will be inspired by a bloke who plays the game for all the right reasons. Loves everything it stands for. A humble man, who just happens to be the best there is. A true champion.