What was your experience like on the USA National Team?
If you're going to play on the Olympic team, you're not doing it for money. You know, we didn't get paid a whole lot. It is even harder for a guy like me because I'm not from California. I was constantly uprooting my family. First when we played in San Diego and then Colorado Springs and then Anaheim. And those are about three as far away places from Fort Wayne, Indiana as you can get. It is a commitment and you have to want to do it.
I am a very patriotic guy. A lot of my family members are military. In fact, my brother-in-law just got booted back to Afghanistan for his fourth tour last week. I just felt like not only was it, I wouldn't say a duty, but it was a privilege to play for my country, to wear USA on my uniform. And I took it very seriously. I did enjoy the camaraderie of the guys.
I think overall, USA Volleyball does a very ... I'm going to be kind and say a mediocre job of taking care of its athletes, especially once they're done. Giving them the recognition and maybe job security or at least help in that department that they deserve. But I wouldn't change it for the world.
And I wouldn't change the way the Olympics went. In hindsight it is probably good that I didn't win in '96, although Bob Ctvrtlik and (Scott) Fortune don't want to hear that. I'm not sure I could've handled that at 24. I wasn't near mature enough in a couple of those Olympics and it showed in my play and leadership. I'm not taking full responsibility for the poor losses. But obviously I played a huge part of it as the leader and as the setter. Not until 2002 with my son being born and learning that there are better things in life than volleyball, winning that first championship with my Italian team, did I start my maturity process. Obviously the last eight years of my career, I would put them against any eight years of any person that ever played.
So the national team was kind of bitter sweet. I absolutely cried when I took the jersey off the last time in Beijing. I wore it so many times. I wore it I think longer than anyone has ever worn one. People think it is easy, but every year setters came in. Whether it be Canyon Ceman, Mike Sealy, whether it be (Kevin) Hansen or (Donald) Suxho, whoever. I still won and I still got to be the setter. I was the captain for a bunch of those years, I got to play under great coaches. We didn't always see eye to eye. I'd lie to say Doug Beal and I didn't ever butt heads. But I respect the hell out of the guy. To play for him, play for Coach McCutcheon, play for Coach Sturm, it was great. I'm happy I did it. I'm happy in the end that it worked out for everybody.
Many of your teammates from 2008 credit you with getting the team back on track after the tragic killing of head coach Hugh McCutcheon's father-in-law the day before the start of competition. How did you do it?
You know people probably don't realize this but I was the captain through '04 and then when Hugh called me about coming back in '08, we had a chat and said listen I'm playing good, I'm glad you asked me back. And him and I agreed that me being captain had actually been a burden for me. As you know as the captain you have to do all of these extracurricular activities, press conferences, you have to do all these things, sometimes you can get lost in the shuffle. And that happened with me during some of those Olympics. I forgot that my biggest job is to be the setter. So he took that away and gave that to Tom Hoff. That really freed me up to start playing well.
Then when we get there, not having to have all that other stuff ahead of time, I was much more relaxed. Obviously guys were freaking out a little bit, it was a horrific act and I just tried to let everybody know that it would be an unbelievable disservice to the Bachman family and to Hugh for us not to come here and do what we were supposed to do. The easy thing is to be distracted, the easiest thing is to have an excuse, a horrific excuse, for why we can't play well. Or we could do them a great service and a great honor, like the great volleyball family that the Bachmans are and that Todd was and go out and play amazing volleyball.
We started out well but there was one time that I was worried. The very first game. I knew it would be the hardest because the event had just happened. Guys are more worried about writing things on our shoes in honor to Todd in team huddles, which is all good, it's all fine, but you could see the distraction level. Instead of just thinking about beating Venezuela. And so we're up 2-0 and I kind of pulled my calf muscle so I came out. And then we lost the next set, lost the next set and you could see the guys' minds wander. And I just said, you know 'tape me back up.'
I'm not going back in because Hansen wasn't setting good or because without me they can't win, but I said 'Put me back in, let me get the guys focused again for this fifth set.' Because if we go down and lose to Venezuela in the first day of the Olympic Games it's tough to come back from that. So I came in, limped around, bump set some balls, I mean didn't play very well. But just got the guys in huddles got them talking about what we're doing to play volleyball and not thinking about what if we lose this, and what if this happened. And I just thought that was the turning point of the tournament.
After the game we talked about what happened. I said 'Listen, we can't let that happen.' It happened against Venezuela, we can't let that happen against the Russias and Brazils and all these other teams. And sure enough, there were tons of times, I think three matches down the road where we lost the first set, but we came right back and bounced right back and a team who is thinking about other things, off the court things, can't do that. So I just think that it was by far the most concentrated team and I think that was my contribution to it.
Being 36, being the old dog, being through every possible loss every possible win you could have been through, I just knew that we had to stay together and even through that horrific event had to make it happen. Because we had the team, you know? We had the team.
When 2012 rolled around and you were still playing at a high level in Russia, did it ever cross your mind to come back to the USA team for your fifth Olympics at the London Games?
Coach Knipe and I were in contact. He came over to Italy for the final four of the European Championship. He not only talked to me but Reid was there and some other guys. I like Alan. Hell, I played against Alan, that's how old I am. And so he told me all the reasons why I should. I told him all the reasons why I shouldn't. I said, 'well give me a month.'
Sarah and I talked about it and to be honest, the biggest reason probably was that I didn't have the hunger. I was still playing well, I had a great year last year. But playing for club and playing for money and playing for European titles is different than playing for your country, for the Olympics. I just didn't have that same drive that I'd had for four Olympics. I got what I had wanted. And I don't need another one. That story, I had closed the book on it and I just felt it would have been dishonest to open it for greed or for pride or for reasons other than the fact that that was my dream and I had fulfilled it. And I was good with it.
My sisters had me on suicide watch during the Olympics because they thought I'd be freaking out. But it was an awesome two weeks. I sat on the couch in my basement and watched every event. I watched every volleyball event live on the internet if I had to. I was cheering and yelling for the boys. I was hoping they would do it again. No ill will towards them, I wanted nothing but the best for them because I know how hard their job is and how little respect they get for it. And you know, it happened to be they had their worst game against Italy. Italy had their best. And in the quarterfinal round that was all it takes. I guess to answer your question, I gave it due diligence. I wanted to think about it. We thought about it and I don't regret it.