Steve Musseau has survived three heart bypass operations and overcome cancer. Now he’s battling diabetes.
Still, he’s a testament to positive thinking, a man with a unique perspective on life.
“He knows a little bit about adversity,” says Northwestern football coach Gary Barnett.
On New Year’s Day, Musseau, who lives in Marysville, Wash., will be on the sidelines of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., where a group of young men greatly influenced by his outlook and perspective will be playing the biggest football game of their lives.
The 73-year-old Musseau helped the Northwestern Wildcats visualize success. He made them believe they would win despite their long history of losing; and he even taught them how to sing, leading a rendition of “High Hopes” that would become a weekly routine in this season of seasons.
“It was a plan to establish a belief system, a plan to help create dignity, a plan to eliminate devaluation, a plan to eliminate demeaning, a plan of trust, a plan of patience and faith,” says Musseau, a motivational speaker extraordinaire who has been working with the Wildcats the past three years.
Musseau has become a regular at the Wildcats’ preseason training camp in Kenosha, Wis., where the team goes for threea-day drills. At one team meeting, Musseau donned a fake beard, long hair and robe, said he was Moses and told the surprised players they had been lost in the desert for 40 years and it was time to reach the promised land.
“And here we are,” says Barnett as the Wildcats, capping one of the most unexpected success stories in college football, take a 10-1 record into the Rose Bowl against No. 17 Southern California.
Musseau, a former college coach at the University of Idaho, had two sons play high school football under Barnett, whom he also regards as a son. So when Barnett asked him to help change the mental and spiritual makeup of one of the country’s least-successful programs, Musseau was more than willing.
“Whatever he asks me to do, I’ll do it,” Musseau said recently from his home in Marysville.
“Steve came to represent what we were about and what we wanted to do and we weren’t afraid to do that,” Barnett said. “It’s a risk-taking group… . He initially tried to teach our kids how to think positively, how to visualize, how to treat each other.”
When Musseau introduced Frank Sinatra’s version of “High Hopes” to the players, most of whom are in their late teens or early 20s, he initially received some skepticism.
“They thought I was kind of kooky,” remembers Musseau. “Finally, they developed the idea they would sing it every Thursday. They just kind of elbowed one another and were giggling. But before camp was over this year, they were singing it.”
Northwestern’s remarkable season, of course, can be traced to more than just a new attitude or ability to perform a sing-along.
There have been long hours in the weight room and the recruitment of talented players. Linebacker Pat Fitzgerald made first-team All-America, and running back Darnell Autry and placekicker Sam Valenzisi were second-teamers.
But Musseau removed any negative thoughts produced by the past, even as preseason publications once again forecast the bottom of the Big Ten for the Wildcats. When Northwestern upset Notre Dame in the season opener, Musseau got a game ball.
“He teaches you how to think, how to think to get things done, especially in adverse situations,” said center Rob Johnson.