Behind the Scenes at Super Bowl XLIX

The Play 60 Kid Zone at NFL Experience.

The Play 60 Kid Zone at NFL Experience.

From the time I graduated college I’ve had the privilege of working with professional athletes in several different capacities. As an athlete, guys who will one day be in the Hall of Fame mentored me and taught me about the game. As an employee and someone now on the other side of the business, professional players still teach me about the game. It’s not about the playbook anymore though – it’s about the game of life and what it means to be a pro.

I have been incredibly blessed to have opportunities both as an athlete and in business. I’ve been on five Super Bowl trips with my company since coming to work for dairy farmers, and have had the chance to speak to thousands of kids over the years about our Fuel Up to Play 60 program. I’m realizing the days of being recognized as an athlete are passing me by, however every once in a while, a kid waiting for one of our Fuel Up to Play 60 ambassadors to sign his football will ask me if I played, and let me sign his football. It’s not going to fetch much on Ebay, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it still feels good.

nflx autograph

Are you sure kid?

We have the greatest ambassadors and spokespersons in the entire NFL working with Fuel Up to Play 60 to spread the word about youth health and wellness. On Friday night before the Super Bowl, we invited some of them to join us for dinner and we had the privilege of getting to know them outside of work.

dinner panel

Alfred Morris, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, Phil Simms, Herm Edwards

Larry Fitzgerald and I were seated at the same table that evening and after dinner he was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me. During dinner, my boss who was also at our table, indulged me by telling Larry that I too played a little ball and from that point on through dinner, Larry invited me to answer several of the football related questions that came up at the table. It was incredibly humbling and my respect for Fitzgerald, went from a 99 to a 100. They really do not come any better in the NFL than this gentleman. He even asked me before leaving how I was adjusting to, as he referred to it, “real America.” Well, I told him, “It’s not the NFL, but it’s not all bad either. The thing I learned pretty quickly,” I told him, “you will miss your teammates and the locker room, so finding the right team and culture to be in business with is important.” He extended his hand, looked me in the eye and said, “that’s good stuff.”

Larry Fitzgerald is a Pro's Pro.

Larry Fitzgerald is a Pro’s Pro.

My favorite story he told was about being a ball boy and a friend of the Minnesota Vikings as a teenager, growing up in the twin cities. His father was a sports journalist there and over the years became good friends with the Vikings coach, Denny Green. Through that friendship, Larry was invited to be around the team and became friends with many of the players. Two of those players, were Ohio State Buckeyes. Cris Carter became and still is a mentor to Larry, and the late Korey Stringer was the best tipper on the team. Larry would wash the cars of the players during training camp and they would take care of him handsomely. Once Randy Moss even let Fitzgerald drive his brand new Bentley to his Senior Prom! Can you imagine!?

tebow and inkrott

God Bless

At the Taste of the NFL, I spent a few minutes talking with Tim Tebow. I seriously do not know how anyone cannot like this guy! No matter what you are passionate about in this world, if you commit to it, chances are you will find success. Commitment is a rarity in many areas of society today and to hear people criticize this guy because of his commitment to his values and beliefs… Well, Godspeed to you. I happen to love what Tim stands for and have always been a fan of his. And I told him that this weekend.

Me: “Thank you for doing what you do, man. It’s refreshing to talk with someone who gets it like you do.”

Tim: “It’s what I do, Mark. It’s just who I am. Thank you for saying that.”

Me: “You’re a pro in my book, man. Good luck with everything. God Bless.”

Tim: “Thank you, Mark. God Bless.”

Me: (out-loud but to myself as I walked away) “That was awesome. Hell yea!”

On Saturday at the NFL Experience, we officially announced a formal relationship with the NFL Alumni Association. We have always worked with former players because they are fantastic leaders in their communities. This year, the organization made a donation to our initiative. Below is a pic of our chairman, Paul Rovey and President of NFL Alumni, Joe Pisarcik. Joe was a NFL Quarterback for nine years with the Giants, Eagles and Dolphins. Here he is seated in the center of our group. Joe and I have become pretty good friends over the past few years and I am both excited to be working with him as well as inspired by him. He is doing some great work for former players and he is a selfless man.

Joe actually drove himself to my hotel Saturday morning to pick me up, just so we could hang out and talk. Most everyone is being driven around by private drivers in limousines and black SUV’s. Not Joe. That’s just the kind of man he is. He said that he was sorry he was so busy and didn’t have more time; that he had just come from the Valor and Victor 5K, an event that was raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. An organization that invests in military veterans and their spouses.

President & CEO of NFL Alumni Association with Paul Rovey, Chairman of DMI.

President & CEO of NFL Alumni Association with Paul Rovey, Chairman of DMI.

Some other familiar faces in this picture too. Seated next to Mr. Pisarcik is one of my favorites, Jason Witten. And seated next to Mr. Rovey is Alex Smith. Alex and Jason have been some of our best ambassadors and have been with the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for several years. They truly understand what it means to be a professional and we are incredibly thankful to have them on our team.

I have a special appreciation for Jason Witten, being that he is a tight end, and all around great human being. He, along with Joe Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald are among my favorite players in the league right now, so yea, this year was a pretty great year.

Jason is now being coached by Mike Pope in Dallas; the tight ends coach who coached the Giants when I was with them in 2003-04 (Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach, was the 3rd string quarterback for the Giants which is how Pope ended up in Dallas). Jason and I were telling Alex about the crazy drills Pope would have us do after practice; and it felt good to be one of the guys again.

Talking tight end play with Jason Witten & Alex Smith

Talking tight end play and sharing a few laughs with Jason Witten & Alex Smith

The NFL Experience is definitely a sight for football fans to see. If you ever get a chance to experience it, it’s worth the price of admission, especially if you have kids! One kid whom I’ve developed a bit of a friendship with over the years is Jane from Wilson Football. Jane has been working in the Wilson factory for 48 years, hand making NFL footballs in Ada, Ohio – about 30 miles from where I grew up.

I met Aunt Jane in Phoenix in 2007 at Super Bowl XLII. We talked about the weather back home and the college kids at Ohio Northern University and the Regal Beagle. And Jane loved that I caught footballs that her hands made.

Every Super Bowl that I have been to since 2007, I’ve gone to visit her at the NFL Experience. This was her last NFL Experience, her last Super Bowl and her final season on the Wilson team so I was especially grateful that I could wish her a happy retirement. As we talked a bit, she said you know, “I think we’ve had some people from your town work in the factory over the years.”

“Is that right” I said. She said, yea, I think they were laborers in the factory like myself.”

Me: “Jane” I said: “Can I have my picture taken with you?”

Jane: “Oh my heavens, why would you want to do that?”

Me: “Well, the way I see it, of all these pro football players and fans in here, not one of ’em knows more about it than you. And since you are retiring, I may never see you again.”

Jane: “Oh well, in that case, are we going to take a selfie?”

Me: “Yep, Let’s take a selfie, Jane.”

Aunt Jane has been sewing footballs for 48 NFL seasons

Aunt Jane has been sewing footballs for 48 NFL seasons.

Browns Leadership is #2

photo by Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)

(photo by Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)

In 1987 Ernest Byner fumbled and for the first time I realized the game of football was more than just a game. Not only was I a 9 year old loyal Browns fan who could name every starter on the team and their jersey number, I was a football player myself. I wore #10 that season. I can still hear Dick Enberg saying “Oh my!” as Denver recovered the fumble and Byner hung his head in the end zone. Overcome with numbing disbelief and tears filled my eyes when #44 fumbled the ball and with it, our chances of making it to the Super Bowl. It didn’t seem fair. We were so close! It was more than just a football game that day – it meant so much more to that 10 year old boy who loved the Dawg Pound Defense and believed Bernie Kosar was the best quarterback in the NFL.

Since The Fumble, 27 seasons of Browns football have come and gone, none of them resulting in a trip to the Super Bowl. There have also been almost 27 starting quarterbacks for the team since then – 24 I think. And not one of them better than Bernie Kosar unfortunately. Time and time again, quarterbacks have come to Cleveland and fail to lead the team to the playoffs. I’ve heard some say, “but it’s a team sport, it takes everyone on the team to win, not just the quarterback.” They would be right – yes, it does take everyone to win. But it takes leadership to build a team, and the Browns have been lacking it. At the company I work for, we have core values that guide our business. I wrote about Integrity in a previous post which is one of our five core values. The others are leadership, excellence, commitment and collaboration.

Whether you are part of a corporate team or a football team, I’m a firm believer in having a shared set of goals and values. Without goals, I’m not sure how you know where you are going and without values, the right people will not be going along with you. Leaders have a special ability to make those around them better, they find and oftentimes create ways to win as an underdog, and they do the things on and off the field to put themselves, their organizations, and their fans in a position to have success.

There are great examples of quarterback leadership in the NFL today. Professionals who take responsibility not only for themselves, but for their entire team. We know who they are and who they aren’t. Fast forward 27 years from the Fumble and the Browns, well, they drafted Johnny Manziel, then put him into a starting role at the most important position in the NFL. And did so knowing he fits no one’s definition of a leader. In fact, I think he is the exact opposite of most people’s definition of a leader. I’m all for giving second chances and I’m hoping Manziel turns it around. But Johnny if you somehow find yourself reading this, know that your teammates and the fans are the reason you are in the position you are in. It’s not all about you. You are in the National Football League now – It is not your right to be a Cleveland Brown, it is your privilege. The sooner you figure this out the better, because Browns nation is getting real tired of your games.

Integrity in Action

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image: firebrandphotography

 

Writing is personal. It makes you vulnerable and similar to that show on that cable channel, feel naked and afraid. Naked in that your thoughts and your feelings are exposed for everyone to judge and afraid of what they may think or say. However writing is also an opportunity to put positivity into the universe, to lead by example and to stimulate conversation around things that truly matter. I recently read a blog post by a person I admire and trust, and in her post, she asked the question: Where have you seen integrity in action?

In our digital age of Johnny Football and Kim Kardashian breaking the internet for reasons that frankly piss me off because I have an eleven year old niece, who is much like an internet ninja; and I know she sees the same trash as I do. It worries me to the extent I let it, but more than a worry, it is a sobering reality of the world we live in. A world void of integrity in many spaces and places.

We have all arrived in the digital revolution. I know this because my dad and I are texting about baseball now, and he is also checking with Google for clues to his hard copy of the weekly Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. Yes, we all have click decisions to make; and we make them every day because it’s the digital world we live in that drives our society. Our friends, our families, our bills, our entertainment, our news – it’s all online. In addition to these things, also available online are our vices, our temptations, our obstacles and our evils. When we go online – we either do or do not publish, share, like, or comment with integrity. It’s unavoidable and it’s all being captured and studied by data experts and social scientists who are somehow able to tell us what we value and would purchase and what we don’t.

I have been told many times that my posts and the content I share is over the top, Polly Anna, weird, too warm and fuzzy, not really me, corny, and my favorite – “Oh man, I wonder what it’s going to be this time!” Well, I am many things, and those who know me would maybe say some of these things about me (probably weird and over the top would come up) but more importantly, is that I would rather be corny and spend my free time contributing a positive message than break the internet with trash. As I previously mentioned, if you are trash, by all means be trash openly and take advantage of our capitalist world. But if this is your choice, know that there are eleven year old nieces who are playing in the same space you are. If that matters or if it doesn’t – it makes me no difference.   But unlike beauty, integrity – is in the eye of the beholder.

Passing Along Advice from an NFL Legend

Rams Team Photo

Some of the best advice I ever received was from a legendary NFL quarterback, but more importantly, a man of conviction and someone who always leads by example. In 2004 after a long day of practice during training camp at the University of Albany, New York Giants quarterback Kurt Warner told me, if all I became at the end of my career was a professional football player that I will have missed the true meaning of playing in the NFL.

He told me to use football as a platform to do greater things with my life; not to use football to define my life. And looking back now after more than a decade has passed, not surprisingly, he was right.

On Tuesday of this week I shared this experience with the Van Buren Knights high school football team. The Knights made it to the OHSAA State Playoffs for the first time in school history. My message was simple for them: Football is the greatest game in the world. Be the greatest player you can be on the field, play with confidence, and be mentally prepared for the moment that you may be called upon to do something you’ve never done before.

On Wednesday of this week I shared this anecdote with student athletes at the University of Findlay and several other sports business students, some whom will be seeking careers this spring upon graduation. My hope for them is that they use the platform of a college education and an athletic scholarship to do great things while an Oiler, but even greater things as a professional.

Findlay Career Day 2014

On Friday of this week I was invited to share my experiences in the NFL with the Wheaton Rams and some of their parents. The Rams are a great group of kids preparing for the biggest game of their young lives. This Sunday they will play in their Super Bowl against the team that gave them their only loss of the season. My wish for them is first and foremost, that they have fun and no one gets injured. After that, my hope is they remember that teamwork is what got them to this point and they will be friends with their teammates for a very long time. And if you are going to play the game, play to win. Win with sportsmanship and respect the game. It truly is the best game in the world.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Listening & Learning in 1989: Same Lesson Applies Today

Great Grandma celebrating 100 birthdays at the Ottawa Eagles. circa 1994

Great Grandma celebrating 100th birthday at the Ottawa Eagles. circa 1994.

The best homework assignment I ever completed as a kid came from Mrs. McKee in 4th grade. The year was 1989 and fourth grade life was pretty simple. The Cubs won the division that year and the late Don Zimmer was Manager of the Year. (A bit of a stretch for this post, but as a Cubs fan, anytime we can tie in winning the Division, I plead it is fitting and acceptable to do so).

The homework assignment was to interview someone who has lived a long time. We were learning history lessons in class and for the assignment, we were persuaded to ask a grandparent or someone of that particular age to give their perspective on a variety of questions. Topics like war and presidents, politics, transportation, cost of food, and voting.

Looking back it was a very thought-provoking assignment and a good reminder to spend quality time with your grandparents, and if you’re fortunate enough, your great-grandparents.

My subject: Great-Grandma Hoffman. She was undoubtedly qualified to answer my questions because she was easily the oldest person I knew in 1989.  She was 95 years old.

Because she spoke both high and low German,  as well as English, I thought she might draw some extra credit points as well. No extra credit was necessary though; I learned more from that 90 minute conversation with my great-grandma than I ever learned in a text book that year.

William McKinley, the 25th president of the USA was in office when Mary was born; November 22, 1894 to my great-great- grandparents, Joe and Lena Knott. During our interview she shared that the first president she remembered was Teddy Roosevelt who took office in 1901, when she was six years old.

Great Grandma didn’t arrive to school in a yellow school bus. She traveled by horse and buggy most of her childhood and it wasn’t until she was “much older” that they got a car. Although they had a hit-and-miss engine on the farm, they didn’t have a car until she was out of school.

In the marketing world, we talk about being remarkable, disruptive, and memorable so that a product stands out among its competition. When experiences are told or felt in the form of a story, and they are real stories told by people we know, research suggests we will remember them more clearly than if we do not know the person or more specifically, trust the person.

That conversation with Great-Grandma happened nearly 30 years ago when I was just eleven years old, but I can still remember the blue dress with flower print she wore for the interview. I remember she sat where she always sat on the couch, next to the end table, where she kept her handheld radio, used for listening to Cincinnati Reds baseball games.

Whether people are talking about a brand, or whether they are explaining what it was like to ride in a horse and buggy, people talking is what’s important, so we best listen. The people talking are not just consumers buying products, they are people teaching us a lesson.

American Hero

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My Fellow American

By Zach Wobler

I am a United States Army Ranger. I am 23 years old, I look 32, and feel like I am 50. On a daily basis I put my body through hell, so when needed I can move further, faster, and fight harder, for you. I do not choose my battlefields. I do, however, choose my citizenship. I am a patriot. I bleed red, white, and blue, for you. I have a three year old daughter. I’ve missed 2/3 of her life. Everyday I think of my friends that have died and I fight back tears. I carry a set of dog tags in my pocket, lest I forget. I spend my holiday season staring at a six inch fiber optic Christmas tree that my Mother sent me. I pray for forgiveness. I’ve done things that I’m not proud of, but I’m not ashamed of them either, because I did them for you. I prefer the road less traveled. I don’t do what I do for personal recognition, glory, pity, or money. I do it for you, my fellow Americans. And now I ask one thing of you. Stand behind us. If you choose to degrade my Commander-in-Chief for his decisions, try living in one of the nations of the oppressed. Our nation is a strong, proud nation capable of defeating any enemy. But to do it, we must all, civilians and soldiers, stand behind each other. Visit Arlington National Cemetery, those are my brothers in arms, my friends, and OUR fellow Americans.

 

zzwobler_zachary

February 6th 2005 Zach sacrificed his life for his country.

I was fortunate to have known an American hero; Zach Wobler. Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. I brought that hero to Ottawa Glandorf High School every morning for three years as well as home from football and track practice. Usually the long way; down stone roads and after heart to heart talks about everything under the sun. We laughed; we talked serious; we did stupid shit and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Some of the best advice I have ever heard came while I was in high school.  To paraphrase Mrs. Leis, my high school English teacher:

Who you are and will become in this world is mainly due to the people you surround yourself with… The people around you influence you, and impact you, and help shape your life; so embrace all those around you, even if you don’t know why they are around you…. Become the person you truly feel comfortable being. And acknowledge the best in people… Everyone is a gift in some way. Don’t be afraid to be who you truly are because others are waiting for you to do so.   Listen to your hearts and make decisions in your life with confidence, and for good.

Zach made the ultimate decision for us… Thank you brother. Godspeed.

Where Good Comes From

Glandorf Feed Co. 1942; Glandorf, Ohio

Glandorf Feed Co. 1942; Glandorf, Ohio

I grew up in an agriculture community where almost everything that happened depended on the weather, family functions and high-school sports.  Both sides of my family were in the ag business and there were things about that lifestyle that I took for granted. Like where our food came from… besides the store or restaurant.

Growing up in a small town and having lived as an adult in several large cities, I interact with many people who are removed from where their food comes from; most of whom have never been to a farm.

My maternal grandfather was a second generation row crop and occasional cattle farmer. There were usually chickens in the coop as well as a few hogs or goats in the barn. Grandpa Hoffman taught me about raising animals when I was a kid and I knew that our family ate the food that he raised on the farm. One time as a kid I helped butcher chickens and found out first-hand what it means to be a chicken with his head cut off. A chicken actually came running directly after me flapping its wings, immediately after having his head cut off! Needless to say I ran as fast as my eight year old legs would carry me and to this day, that may have been my fastest recorded 40 yard dash.

Although I’m from a farming community, I grew up “in-town” on Main Street, not in the country. So I was not a farmer. I did work on Grandpa’s farm, but not every day like farm kids. I mostly played sports and went swimming during the summer months until I was about twelve; that’s when I started bailing straw and working more. Farm kids were driving tractors and doing chores way before twelve.

One of my favorite things about living in town was that I grew up less than a mile from my fraternal grandparents and I spent a lot of time there. I was really close with my Grandpa Inkrott; he taught me a lot about farming, but not so much on the farm stuff. He knew the feed business. Grandpa Art and his buddy E.J. Meyer started Glandorf Feed Co. in 1942 when they purchased a flour mill; it has been a growing family business ever since.

Grandpa knew crops and the weather better than anyone I’ve ever met. He and my Grandma, and sometimes me, would take “crop tours” all over the Midwest just to look at fields. Grandpa would get out of his suburban on an old state highway and walk a few rows into the field, touch the crops, smell the crops, pick up some dirt and get back in the suburban and talk for an hour about moisture, yield, and water sheds and heat index. He was pretty awesome. I learned more about crops and the weather by the time I was 10 years old than any meteorologist on television today. I also prayed more Hail Mary’s and said more rosaries than anyone on TV today, but that’s what a crop tour was. Crop talk, praying, and usually talking to farmers about the weather and if there was a place nearby to get an ice cream cone.

My grandfathers, who have both passed, taught me many great lessons over the years. Where my food came from was just one of them. I recall dozens of memories and stories that involve my family, farming, raising animals, planting and harvesting crops… These experiences have shaped who I am, and yes, many of them took place on a farm, a feed truck or in a field.

Many of the folks I come across today on the subway, in a convenience store or eating in a restaurant would have no idea what a grain elevator or a hog trough looks like. Their food is on a plate or on a shelf, and folks simply take it. People today know and expect that their food tastes good; but where it comes from… that is the best part.