Rick Gaille faces his greatest opponent

As a football coach, he was always willing to do what it took to be the best and then live with the consequences.

In the 1996 prep state finals, he decided to go for two points and didn’t make it in a one-point loss to Evangel. He didn’t blink.

And he didn’t blink two years earlier when a fourth-and-short gamble at his own 40-yard line backfired in a championship game loss to Amite.

This was a coach who didn’t play the game afraid, and his players thrived on the environment that he created.

Twenty-three years later, the Super Bowl has reached Rick Gaille’s front door, and the former St. James High football coach has reacted like you would expect.

One Saturday morning, moments before our “Three Tailgaters”radio show kicked off, the coach talked about his battle with pancreatic cancer.

“This is a teaching moment,” said Gaille. “How can I tell my players how to deal with adversity if I wasn’t ready to deal with it myself?”

What I have witnessed is a coach who is employing faith and attitude against his toughest opponent. You think it is third-and-20; he thinks it is first-and-goal. You think he’s behind by 20 points with five minutes to play; he thinks he’s one big play from victory. You think he’s 99 yards from pay dirt; he thinks he’s inside your 5-yard line with a first down and all three timeouts in his pocket.

So, a few Saturdays past, after a week of chemotherapy, Rick’s wife Elaine dropped him off for a two-hour radio show in a place he affectionately calls “The Ed Daniels Man Cave.” It was great to see him. It was fantastic to look courage in the face.

I thought about my so-called problems and realized I had none. I felt small. Rick Gaille, a rather towering figure, looked even taller.

So, on a Friday night at St. James’ Wildcat Stadium, I walked past the ticket booth and was asked the following question: “How is Rick doing?” I was asked the same question by the man who was gracious enough to offer a bottled water and a plate of their delicious jambalaya.

Minutes later on the sideline, a member of the school staff was asking the same: “How is Rick doing?”

The answer was, it is tough, but Rick is doing great. He wouldn’t have it or tolerate it any other way.

In his book “Relentless,” Tim Grover, author and trainer of high-profile athletes, categorizes people in three groups: there are coolers, closers and cleaners.

The cleaners, Grover says, are unstoppable. “There are a few who cannot define success because they keep raising the bar on what that means,” said Grover.

So, right now, I am watching a cleaner in action. Rick keeps raising the bar, every minute of every day.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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