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The Nicest Team In Football Pacific Lutheran will help you off the ground and pat you on the back. Then the Division III champ will politely knock the stuffing out of you

When will you have your epiphany? Todd McDevitt's came in the
fourth quarter of a game against Pacific Lutheran in November
1996. McDevitt was a wide receiver for Western Washington. When
he saw the light, it was reflecting off the gold helmets of the
opposing Lutes.

"It was almost spiritual," he recalls. "Our uniforms were dark;
theirs were white. We were swearing and yelling, 'Kill the
Lutes!' They were helping each other off the ground, helping us
off the ground. They're on the other side, sun shining down on
them. They're holding hands in the huddle, praying. I thought,
That's what I want. Inside, I started pulling for those guys."

Two days later McDevitt walked into his coach's office and quit
the team. He transferred to Pacific Lutheran and thereby took his
place on the roster of the nicest team in America. The guys with
the acronym EMAL (Every Man A Lute) emblazoned on their jerseys
are unafraid to express their love for one another. They gladly
extend a hand to help their opponents off the ground and pray for
them when they get hurt. "Some teams can't handle it," says
senior quarterback Chad Johnson. "They make fun of us for doing
that stuff and for holding hands. But that's O.K. They don't know
what they don't know."

The Pacific Lutheran campus is just south of Tacoma, Wash., in
the shadow of Mount Rainier, at which the Lute coaches encourage
their players to gaze during the Popsicle breaks that are a
staple of practices. Of all the mementos from Pacific Lutheran's
magical 1999 national championship season, perhaps the most
telling was a letter from Jamie Stevenson, a TWA flight attendant
who wrote to say how much she enjoyed working with the team on
one trip. It's easy to see how these guys would have been a
flight attendant's dream: The traveling Lutes serenaded the crew,
dutifully read their passenger safety cards, looked around for
the nearest exit and, over time, learned to click their 50-plus
seat belts in unison.

They had ample time to work on their synchronization. In addition
to being the NCAA's most courteous team, the Lutes were college
football's most frequently airborne squad late in the season.
Despite having an 8-1 record, Pacific Lutheran had no Division
III postseason games on its home field.

Just as they unabashedly embrace one another in their hourlong
postgame "sharing time" (they call it Afterglow), the Lutes
embraced their role as playoff itinerants, embarking on the most
remarkable run in recent college history. Two seasons removed
from NAIA status, they upset five straight teams in the
postseason on the road, logging 15,000 miles and committing to
memory every syllable of the preflight safety instructions.

The team is led by 72-year-old coach Frosty Westering, a
shambling former Marine drill instructor with kind eyes and
artificial hips. After taking the helm at Pacific Lutheran in
1972, Westering led the Lutes to six NAIA championship games,
winning three. In Make The Big Time Where You Are, Westering's
book on his coaching philosophy, he dwells on the importance of
"put-ups"--the opposite of put-downs--and inveighs against the
mind-set he describes as "Number 1 or No One." By that he means
the attitude that if you don't finish first, you may as well not
have competed.

Westering also wrote, "The goal is not the end of the road. The
goal is the road." So a certain poetic justice was served when he
found himself logging enough playoff miles to circumnavigate the
globe.

If you had 30 seconds to pitch a movie about Pacific Lutheran's
1999 season to a Hollywood exec, you might describe it as The
Road Warrior meets All in the Family. The offensive coordinator
is Scott Westering, who played tight end for his father from '78
through '80 and had a promising NFL career cut short by a knee
injury. Scott is also a pyrotechnician, and his game plans are
fireworks displays of multiple shifts, exotic formations,
misdirection and legerdemain.

Lighting the fuse on the field is Johnson, a wiry, wily southpaw
who happens to be Scott's nephew and Frosty's grandson. "I'm
gonna look through the rule book," said St. John's of Minnesota
coach John Gagliardi on the eve of his team's playoff loss to the
Lutes last December. "There's gotta be something in there against
that."

Frosty's coaching philosophy has been shaped by his playing
career. In high school and college, he says, he played for
traditional, troglodyte-type coaches and vowed that if he ever
entered the profession, he would find another method. "I always
said I wanted to coach the way I would have wanted my sons or
daughters to be coached," he says. "I ended up coaching my sons
and grandsons, so I had to put my money where my mouth was."

He started by redefining success. "In this country the only way
we knew how to [succeed] was to be Number 1," he says. "That's
the way we grew up. America won the war; nobody knew there was
another model. There was no real merit to effort if you didn't
win."

Frosty encourages his players to avoid the winning-is-everything
trap by competing not against their opponent but against their
"best selves," the best players they can be. "It's stupid just to
play for hardware," says Johnson. "We understand that when we
give of ourselves --we call it 'dying to each other'--we get so
much more back."

The three-ring binder Frosty gives each player contains
innumerable pithy sayings such as PLU magic can perform miracles
and The longer we play, the better we get. Empty slogans? Ask the
Willamette Bearcats, who in the first round of last year's
playoffs led the Lutes 24-7 with 7:17 left, only to lose 28-24.

When a Wartburg College player went down with an injury a week
later, the Lutes knelt and prayed for him. "We respect all our
opponents, and we want to be gracious to them," says Johnson. "If
a guy's hurt, we want him healed." (The Lutes proceeded to pound
Wartburg 49-14.)

Says St. John's cornerback Grady McGovern, "When they knock you
on your butt, they help you up. They're the classiest team I've
played against."

Pacific Lutheran's longest journey was its last, a cross-country
trip to Salem, Va., for the Stagg Bowl, Division III's title
game. Pregame jitters? The Lutes played tag during warmups and
sang The 12 Days of Christmas in the moments before the opening
kickoff.

Their opponents were the Rowan Profs from Glassboro, N.J., who
had shocked the division a week earlier by snapping the 54-game
winning streak of mighty Mount Union 24-17. The Profs were
playing in their fifth Stagg Bowl in the '90s but seeking their
first win.

Surely they would get that victory against these feel-good kooks
from out West. Surely the bigger, stronger team would prevail
over the team whose members held hands as they ran off the field.
"We don't see anybody getting in the way," Rowan defensive tackle
Cornelius White said before the game. Pacific Lutheran, he felt
certain, would be "just another team to beat up on."

As White had predicted, the outcome was one-sided. The Profs
rushed for minus 63 yards. Their back, Jason Frabassile, fumbled
on the initial play from scrimmage--the first of four Rowan
turnovers. On the next snap Johnson zipped a 31-yard TD pass to
McDevitt, who also caught another scoring pass in the game and
who hasn't spent a lot of time second-guessing his decision to
transfer. The Profs tied the score at 7-7 but did not score again
until they trailed 35-7. The final was 42-13.

The victors enjoyed their customary postgame sharing time. This
was appropriate. The Lutes left Virginia--indeed, the 1999
season--with a warm feeling that can best be described as an
Afterglow.

Lower Division Rankings

'99 '99 Returning
Division I-AA Record Rank Starters

1 Georgia Southern 13-2 1 11
2 Montana 9-3 8 17
3 Appalachian State 9-3 10 16
4 Troy (Ala.) State 11-2 6 14
5 UMass 9-4 5 14
6 Illinois State 11-3 2 17
7 Northern Iowa 8-3 -- 12
8 Stephen F. Austin 8-3 17 14
9 Youngstown State 12-3 3 13
10 Villanova 7-4 20 16

'99 '99 Returning
Division II Record Rank Starters

1 Northwest Missouri State 14-1 1 15
2 Carson-Newman (Tenn.) 13-1 2 12
3 UC Davis 10-2 11 12
4 Central Oklahoma 8-3 20 15
5 North Dakota State 9-2 7 19
6 Slippery Rock (Pa.) 10-2 12 16
7 South Dakota State 8-3 8 20
8 Pittsburg (Kans.) State 10-2 5 11
9 Northern Colorado 11-2 3 10
10 Fort Valley (Ga.) State 10-2 21 14

'99 Returning Returning
Division III Record Rank Starters

1 Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) 13-1 1 10
2 Mount Union (Ohio) 12-1 3 15
3 St. John's (Minn.) 11-2 6 15
4 Central College (Iowa) 10-2 11 15
5 Wisconsin-La Crosse 7-4 -- 17
6 Trinity (Texas) 12-1 4 12
7 Catholic (Washington, D.C.) 9-2 18 15
8 Rowan (N.J.) 12-2 2 12
9 Augustana (Ill.) 9-2 14 13
10 Western Connecticut State 10-1 15 13

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