This blog post is dedicated to the families of Curtis Hill and the 21 others who lost their lives in the terrible accident that happened on October 29th, 1960.
Within the rich history of college football there is a story of tragedy, compassion, and second chances. The year was 1960, and the Cal Poly football team had just suffered a devastating 50-6 loss to Bowling Green University.
Hours after the game was over, members of the team boarded a bus in Toledo for the short ride to the airport, where they were to catch their midnight flight back to San Luis Obispo. The fog that night was so dense that taxi service in the city was shut down. At the airport, the team made their way onto the tarmac toward the waiting plane. Through the fog, they could barely see the plane only a few short yards ahead.
As they boarded, wide receiver Curtis Hill asked quarterback Ted Tollner to change seats with him. Curtis had become ill that morning on the bumpy outbound flight, and was hoping that a seat closer to the front of the plane would make for a smoother ride home. Ted agreed, and moved several rows back to Curtis’ original seat. Soon, the plane was rolling down the runway and the team settled in for the long flight home.
But then, just as the plane began making the climb to cruising altitude, tragedy struck.
The left engine gave out, and the plane slammed into the ground, splitting into two pieces. Twenty-two people lost their lives in the crash. Twenty-six survived.
In the weeks following this tragedy, the compassion and outpouring of emotional support for the survivors and the families of those who perished was truly amazing. However, it is the impact of a second chance at life that amazes me most.
Curtis Hill, who had requested to change seats with Ted Tollner, lost his life in the crash. Ted survived. The row in which Ted was seated was the first row of survivors. In Ted’s words: “I was the cutoff for who lived and died, everyone in front of me died… everyone behind me survived. How do you explain this? There is no explanation.”
It was not Ted’s time to leave this world. He had more to accomplish, and he never forgot that.
Ted went on to a career as a coach, where he continues to make a difference in the lives of a multitude of people on and off the field. Quarterback Steve Young gave credit to Ted during his Hall of Fame speech. Ted’s influence also extends through the lives of his children. His son Bruce wrote a book entitled The C.H.I.L.D. Game Plan, which was inspired by many of the lessons he learned from his father. (I had the great honor of collaborating with Bruce on this book.)
When you consider the effect of Ted’s life – the players he has coached, the friends he has helped, the children he has raised – it adds up to a life of significance. And he isn’t even finished yet! Ted realized the value of the extra time he was given, and he made the most of it by living a life of Irrefutable Success.
If you are reading this blog, then you haven’t yet arrived at “your time to go.” None of us knows when that time will be. The real question is, what will you do with the time you have left?
Stop practicing at life – the clock is already running!