Earlier this week I was humbled to be a guest on the podcast, Rock Stars of Agriculture. Sports and agriculture have been such an important part of my life and it was a lot of fun to talk with Wayne about both. During the 30 minute interview we discuss a little football and a lot of agriculture. I always knew I had a face for radio; so hopefully Wayne will have me back… The podcast can be heard here: Rock Stars of Agriculture with Mark Inkrott.
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.
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.
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?
The recent Rashard Mendenhall retirement announcement brought me back to college. One of the hardest football decisions I ever had to make came during my red-shirt sophomore year at Findlay. In order to graduate on time I needed to take an English class that was only offered during the same time as football practice.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to be a poem-writing tight-end at a football school, I was a poem-writing tight-end missing practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Needless to say I wasn’t seeing much playing time for that coach, but I understood and thought my playing time was fair that year considering the situation.
I’ll never forget the conversation with the coach at the time. He’s no longer at the school and didn’t last long in that position, but before moving on, he spent plenty of time telling me what kind of player I was. He said something about me being a poor teammate and afraid to do the right thing for the team. To which I replied by hanging my head and just wanting to get the hell out of his office with a little dignity.
The response I offered him was that in order to graduate on time I would have to take this class, at this time, or stay another semester because this class was a requirement for my major. He didn’t seem to care much about my major. But then again, reading and writing poetry is not for everyone. One has to appreciate these things in order to understand them. What I understood though even then, was who I was. I was a pretty decent football player but I was also a passionate writer, assistant editor of The Envoy and team player off the field in my writing groups. I was a writer as much as I was a football player.
The irony here is that my professors were my biggest fans on the field, did everything they could to be supportive of our team and generally just cared about me as a person. Rather than argue this point about equally being a writer and football player, I channeled it, and that sequence of events changed my mindset about writing. It motivated me to be a better writer and it gave me a reassuring sense of confidence that I was doing what was right.
I mean, this was college right? — Higher education; preparing for life’s journey through curriculum application and character development… Maybe at Alabama or Miami, football players do not miss practices for English class. Of course classes are offered more frequently to prevent that from occurring.
At the end of the day, college is about experiences, choices, getting an education and growing. I learned during that time; what is popular is not always easy. But more than anything, what I learned was having balance to my life was imperative.
When I read of Mendenhall’s retirement, I thought to myself, there is a true professional. Someone who has figured it out; someone on our team.
It’s Super Bowl week and the Big Apple is preparing for the Big Game. The debate about a cold weather Super Bowl has been discussed at length this week and depending on your views of the game, you may be in favor of the freezing temps since football is played in all conditions. On the contrary, the Super Bowl should be played in a controlled or at minimum, mild climate to heighten the level of play while eliminating inclement variables. Regardless of where you stand, the game is going to be played and a lot will be learned which may help make the case for future Super Bowl locations.
At the end of the day, there are 30 other teams this year and a bunch of retired players who never got the chance to play in a Super Bowl that would love to be playing this Sunday and they do not care how warm or cold the forecast is. What matters to them is getting that ring and accomplishing the ultimate NFL goal. The harder something is to attain and the more uncomfortable you are during the journey, typically the better the feeling and more rewarding the prize.
I’ve been fortunate to experience four Super Bowls during my time with the National Dairy Council and through our NFL program, Fuel Up to Play 60. This week will be my fifth. Although this year is a bit different than years past and I do not plan to attend the Game on Sunday, the experience and energy surrounding the Super Bowl is exhilarating and truly exciting. The NFL does a tremendous job of marketing the league, players, partners and sponsors this week. A walk around Times Square will surely widen your eyes and the parties and events associated with the Super Bowl will earn that Frank Sinatra coined phrase, the city that doesn’t sleep. New York is a great sports city and a marketing mecca. All the stars and fans will be out celebrating the culmination of a terrific NFL season this week and rightfully so. The NFL continues to get it right as the world will see the number one offense face the number one defense this Sunday during Super Bowl XLVIII.
So who is going to win?
As the old saying goes, “Defense Wins Championships.” If that were true, Seattle would have a slight advantage this week. But rules of the game are evolving and it’s becoming harder and harder to play defense in this league. In today’s game the offense, especially the quarterback position seems to have an advantage when all things are otherwise considered equal. Because the NFL wants to see scoring and points on the scoreboard, the rules have catered to a higher scoring game. I think that projects a slight advantage for Peyton Manning and the Broncos and believe Denver will win 27-23.
Have we discussed Richard Sherman’s rant to the point of nausea yet? No? Well let’s continue the conversation then. After having slept on this topic two consecutive nights (without losing sleep) I’m convinced there’s a perfectly good reason I did not lose sleep over Richard Sherman’s interview or the way he carried himself. Nor do I find fascinating his Communications degree from Stanford the week before Super Bowl XLVIII. I’m neither interested nor disinterested in his apology, his arrogance, or his Compton roots. I would have preferred some actual insight to the play he made during Erin Andrew’s interview, but it doesn’t bother me that he took the route he did. I’m actually not surprised by his remarks. In fact, Richard Sherman gave football fans exactly what we wanted. Good football.
I was a bit surprised by the social backlash toward Sherman because I didn’t realize America’s expectations of him were so high. He’s been a loud talking attention seeker his whole career which seemed to be exemplified this season due to the team’s success. He has never shied away from a camera, a debate or an opportunity to say what was on his mind. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s part of being in the NFL spotlight.
So why are we still talking about this rant?
A long time ago a mentor taught me the fundamentals of conversation, as well as what motivates people to talk. There are several factors of course that drive people to talk about a brand, product or service. If we consider what made the entire country talk about Richard Sherman, it could potentially be reduced to his relevance and his authenticity.
First, Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks just won the NFC Championship Game and a trip to the Super Bowl. And everyone in America was watching! I would say that game and the play he made were very relevant to NFL fans everywhere; especially in populous cities like New York, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. Millions of people were emotionally invested in the outcome of that game, and apparently, no one more emotionally charged than Sherman himself. Now consider what we know about brands, services, products and people. If the topic is relevant, people (fans) will talk. And if influential people (fans) are talking, the word is spreading. Then trending. Then viral.
Secondly, Richard Sherman is authentic. His style, his story, his mouth, his education, his hair, his ability to lockdown wide receivers and even his post-game interviews. That is pure Richard Sherman. His own personal brand if you will. He can say what he wants about those actions not accurately depicting who he really is off the field, and that may be true and fine. If you watched his interview though, you saw raw emotion. Spit flying, shit talking, testosterone raging, Compton roots, I’m going to the Super Bowl after just making the play of the game!
Sherman showed authenticity, his true colors in that particular moment. He has a side to him that no one else on either team could have showed; because they are naturally and definitely nurtured differently, than Richard Sherman. That was an authentic persona of playing defensive back in the NFL.
At the end of the day Richard Sherman may in fact be a good guy. But will NFL fans ever really care what kind of guy he is?