On July 3, 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered a risky and daring military maneuver. He directed his artillery commander at dawn to bombard the Union Army encamped on a hill at Gettysburg. Then he ordered his Virginia infantry to charge a mile across an open field and attack the enemy at a stone fence in the middle of their ranks.
The decision went against the opinion of his comrade, Gen. Longstreet, who wanted to flank the enemy on a rocky hill once more after failing the day before. Lee also had the option of disengaging and looking for better ground to fight. But he was on the offensive. He marched north to Pennsylvania to draw his enemy out of the Confederacy and defeat them in Union territory. Now, here they were, facing one another. Lee, whose troops had been victorious against long odds over and over, chose to fight. A victory at Gettysburg, and Lee would march to Washington and win this Civil War. His troops were massacred. Pickett’s Charge, as we know it, was a disaster. It turned the tide of the war. And for years, it has been seen as Robert E. Lee’s biggest shortcoming — he was overconfident on the offensive.
Last night, Head Coach Pete Carroll was one yard away from securing a Super Bowl victory for the Seattle Seahawks. His offense had successfully (if not luckily) charged to the one-yard line trailing by four points. Now, with less than 30 seconds to play, a touchdown would win the game. The obvious choice seemed to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch, a battering ram in the backfield.
Carroll opted for a riskier attack. He felt a passing play, a quick slant, would hit the opponent where it was weakest here on the goal line. Receiver Ricardo Lockette looked wide open as the teams lined up and the ball snapped. But the pass was intercepted. Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie, correctly guessed the play, jumped in front of the receiver and took away the football. The New England Patriots won. And America the day after can’t believe how foolish Carroll’s decision looked. Similarities between Carroll and General Lee (one of our Buffalo Jackson Guides) are negligible. Carroll is a hippy-dippy West Coast coach who offers his players much latitude. Lee was a principled, disciplined West Point scholar. Both men excelled in their professions, achieving a cult-like following.
But both men failed on the biggest stage. And here is where we find similarity and inspiration. At the scene of their humiliations, they each took the blame. As Lee’s men retreated from their bloody downfall, it is said that he told his commanders, “All of this is my fault.” Last night, Carroll walked into his locker room and said the same. He told reporters, “I made the decision. I said, ‘Throw the ball.’ There’s nobody to blame but me.” Of course, we know there is much more to these stories. Lee’s decisions were dictated by some poor performances by his subordinates leading up to Day 3 at Gettysburg. Union soldiers also, perhaps, had Providence on their side when they managed to secure the higher ground three days earlier.
And Carroll isn’t the only one to blame. Play-caller Darrell Bevell should have insisted on a run play. Quarterback Russell Wilson could have audibled or thrown the ball half-a-second sooner. The point is this: There is always plenty of blame to go around. But a true leader accepts fault.
Rugged gentlemen make bold moves in big moments. We fight. We respect our opponents. We act with confidence. And when we fall — and we will — we stand up and accept the responsibility.