Tag Archives: football

Super Bowl, Super Irony and Super Clarity

Super Bowl week, a week of unrelenting media bombardment and hype. Stories of what might happen, what should happen, and commercials.  Blows my mind that as a society we get wound-up over the idea of how well something is going to be pitched to us for our consumption.  Then again, the commercials are sometimes more entertaining than the game.   Super Bowl Sunday has become a part of our national fabric.  And this year is no different, except for a story that broke on Tuesday regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs. Sort of makes me feel like it is cycling season. However, this time names like Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis, and a bunch of other “mainstream” athletes are tied to the story.

Here we sit on Friday, and not a word of the story.  It was a story for 24 hours, then it was simply swept away or ignored…48 hours later hardly a peep.  And the response from Ray Lewis to the media in New Orleans, well it sounded a lot like other comments we have heard from other high-profile athletes over the years.  It was all a bit ironic, the face of the sport, on the sports biggest stage, with a world-wide audience, denying, minimizing the story and ultimately turning the spot-light onto the accusers, their motivations and their credibility.  Love irony, just love it.

As we reach the end of the week, irony has brought clarity – the NFL is too big to fail.  Same goes for MLB.  A-Rod and Ray Lewis are marquee players, faces of their sport, and no one cares about what they did or did not do when it comes to PEDs.  It is so clear what is valued and what is not.  Marion Jones cheated and lied; she went to prison.  Lance cheated and is literally and figuratively only beginning to paying the price.  Ray Lewis, A-Rod, Bonds, Clemens, or any of the others in the NFL or MLB…not a dime.  Nothing.  It is another moment of clarity.

Now the real irony is the fact that one of the government’s reasons for going after Lance is because of the US Postal Service sponsorship of the cycling team.  The positive press the US Postal Service received for those years was absolutely massive.  It was a marketing coup and might represent one of the best advertising investments in the history of marketing, yet the government feels they were a victim of fraud.  The US Postal Service has had two other positive moments in its entire history before the cycling team, the Pony Express and “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow”.  Gotta love irony.

Clearly, like everyone else in the country, I will be watching the Super Bowl Sunday.  Well, after I get back from my bike ride that is…

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So Your “Tebow” is Winning

They say one bad apple can ruin the bunch. Yet, does one special apple make the bunch better? It is the ultimate question when it comes to team dynamics and hiring…will one person really make that much of a difference?  Not a linear difference, but an exponential difference.

Of course, this whole saga of Tebow and the Broncos has provided some interesting fodder. From “So You Hired a Tebow” to the “So You Inherited a Tebow” it has been an interesting case study. It has evolved into the story of the NFL season, of an incredible example of leadership and team performance. How does one person impact and effect a team?  Strip away all of the talent, religious, personal and other debates that surround Tim Tebow, there is no questioning his role as starting quarterback has impacted the performance of the Denver Broncos…the whole team is playing at an incredibly high level the last two months.

It is the most basic of questions in hiring…do the unquantifiables matter?  Can the ability to inspire and lead really make that big of a difference?  Can passion and sheer will to win trump talent and training?  Does relentless work ethic overcome lack of training and technical skill?   Truth be told it is not a binary issue.  Tebow has abilities and skills, physical size and athletic gifts that got him to the professional level.  He threw a lot of passes in college and won a lot of games.  The answer, as with all answers, lies somewhere in the middle.

It takes both skills and passion, training and committment, work ethic and natural ability.  Leadership is funny that way…the trained versus born debate.  It is all about the mix, about what degree of each makes for that perfect combination.  Leadership is both art and science.  It is a combination that is beyond measure; it is unquantifiable after all.  But it is a combination and recognizing that fact is the key to hiring leaders.  You have to embrace both the art and the sceince…the degree is up to you.

Yes, I have to admit it, I am addicted. Never, not one time in my life have I ever “needed” to watch an NFL game. Not even the Super Bowl. But this Sunday afternoon I will be watching the Patriots-Broncos game.  Bradey versus Tebow – that is a need to watch event.  The experiment, the winning record, the drama, the story, the love, the hate, the talent argument, and especially the “unquantifiables” debate. To put it simply, it is flipping crazy and I am hooked on the entire thing.

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Shapiro, The Godfather and The U

It is an opening scene that ranks as one of the finest in all of cinema.  The entire foundation of The Godfather Trilogy and all that it entails, is laid-out near the end of the scene in just a 25 second moment of brilliant dialogue:

Timeless.  Now if only everyone picked up on the lesson of that pivotal moment, especially the athletes, coaches, and staff at the University of Miami over the last 8, or maybe even 28 years.

The story of Nevin Shapiro and his role as a “booster” for the University of Miami athletic department, and especially his lavishing “impermissible benefits” to over 70 players (allegedly) has exploded over the last two weeks.  Though there are countless angles, issues and of course shades of fact and fiction, one of the real lessons is timeless – there is a cost to everything.  Much as the Godfather made clear to Bonasera – someday he might, or might not, come to him for a favor, Nevin Shapiro’s “gifts” did not come without strings.  Maybe it was not stated, but even the most naive know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

You shake hands with the devil, there will be a day of reckoning.  Shapiro’s Ponzi scheme collapsed, he was sent to prison.  He clearly needed to call in some favors.  Current NFL players, former and current Hurricane players and students, university officials, coaches, and others we will probably never know, took what he was offering when times were good.  The time came for him to call in the favors.  And now here they all are – exposed for the world to see.  It is not wise to refuse the Godfather when he comes calling.

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But Everybody Else Is Doing It

Ah, the ultimate in deflection and justification. The stuff of childhood and apparently an accepted part of adulthood in some circles.  Granted there is an ethical piece to going with that excuse, but to many it seems the question is more “will the excuse hold water”?  Will it buy the shadow of a doubt, the sympathy or the forgiveness one seeks?  Or better yet, does it justify the behavior in question, does it make the wrong decision a bit less wrong?  An ethical roll of the dice maybe?  Like any roll of the dice, the unknown is in the outcome.

I could not help but think of that wonderful excuse of childhood when I read the below quote from Floyd Landis:

“But there was no scenario in my mind where I was ever going to get the chance to race the Tour de France and win clean. There was no good scenario. It was either cheat or get cheated. And I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated.”

Granted the Floyd Landis journey has been “interesting”, but I have to admit, his quote in the recent Paul Kimmage interview is telling on a host of levels.  Truth be told, as much as I have never been a fan of the “everybody else is doing it” line of reasoning, I did feel for the guy when I reflected on the above.  On some very real level he has a point.  However, it is the life lesson in that quote that it would be wise of us all to remember.

How much of what is going on around us is really a case of “cheat or get cheated” thinking? Clearly Floyd Landis gave us the example of cycling, but might there be a bit of that in the “financial crisis”? Bankers, lenders, borrowers, brokers…maybe a touch of “but everybody else is doing it” floating around there in the roaring market just a few years back.  And take a moment Sunday when everyone is gathered around that classic American event, the Super Bowl. Might there be one or two guys on that field who have faced that debate of “cheat or get cheated” when it comes to steroids…maybe.

The challenge we all face, as leaders, as parents, and as people, is to ensure we are never creating situations of “cheat or get cheated”. It is not easy. It is sometimes not easy to recognize when we have created such an environment, and it is certainly not easy to acknowledge it when we have. Especially in those cases where everything seems to be moving along nicely. Let’s face it, when revenues are up, times are good, the kids are getting good grades, the money is flowing, who really wants to ask the hard “why”.

As much as any of us hate that classic excuse of a child, the Super Bowl will be one of the most watched events of the year. Are we sanctioning the behaviour and justification of “well everyone else is doing it” by our watching the game? Who knows, but to some degree I will be watching. Unless of course the weather is decent, in which case I will be out on the bike.

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Hiring and Retaining Leaders – The Ultimate Example

Imagine if you will – the most succesful single company in an entire industry over the last 41 years.  And over that period the company has had exactly 3 leaders (the industry norm is to change leaders every 3 – 4 years).  All were recruited from outside the company, none had ever run a company before, all were under the age of 40, and none were “big names” in their profession.  Is that extreme luck or is that incredible wisdom and insight when it comes to hiring?

In the NFL’s “modern era” (since the AFL-NFL merged in 1970) the Pittsburgh Steelers have posted the best record in the league. The franchise has won the most total games, won the most divisional and conference titles, earned the best winning percentage (including every expansion team), earned the most All-Pro nominations, and have accumulated the most Super Bowl wins (six) since 1970.  And in that span they have had just 3 head coaches – Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney Family are the model for sourcing, hiring and retaining great leaders.  They find them young, they engender loyalty by giving the young leader “their chance” and then supporting them in the job, and they eliminate ambiguity when it comes to expectations.  Above all else, they hire with a very keen awareness of the organizations culture – the leader fits the organization.  And think about what the Rooney’s do not do…they do not over pay, they do not chase the “hot coach” and they do not overreact, in good times or bad.  Oh, and they win – a lot.

Imagine if you will, a business that sourced and hired based on culture and fit, skill and abilities. And then actually created win-win scenarios.  An environment of mutual respect, of open communications, and realistic expectations.  Think about it the next time you are “chasing the market” for talent, or debating the “easy hire”, the “proven commodity”.  Maybe it is time to stop playing musical chairs and hire based on talent and fit, not on titles and past performance.  Who knows, maybe you can help your business go on a nice 40+ year run.

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Play Through The Whistle

It is one of “those” classic coach phrases we have all had directed our way at least once.  It just seems to be a right of passage…gym class, football, basketball, or soccer practice. Through a shower of spittle and frustration, the coach reminds us to “play through the whistle”.  When the sport involves a whistle, you will hear the phrase.  Their point:  always give it your all…you never quite on the play.  One never knows what might happen, so you try as best you can until the whistle blows.  And as only the wisdom of youth allows, we acknowledge the coach and move on with life.

Last week we saw this great lesson of sport played out on the biggest possible stages – the BCS National Championship game and in the NFL Divisional Playoffs.  The events are separated by only 5 days, and the players involved are supposed to be the best at their sport…a priceless example really.  Never give up, never assume, and always play to the whistle.

First there is this gem from late in the Oregon and Auburn national championship game:

Then as if seeing such a shinning example from the best of the college players, the professionals have a similar moment in the Steelers – Ravens game Saturday:

Like so much of life, it is all about the fundamentals. Level, scope, title, or even the amount of money being earned do not change the basic lessons…it is after all why they are called fundamentals. And as it is in sports, so it is with business, and even life – never give up and never stop.  At least until the whistle blows.

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Addition by Subtraction

Even the most casual observer of the NFL is aware of the Patriots and their blowout of the Jets last night.  After a great deal of hype about “the epic” Monday night match up, the absolute pummeling of the Jets, though impressive, was rather anti-climatic. One thing that was readily apparent is how much better the Patriots have become since they traded away Randy Moss.  It was quite the reminder that sometimes addition by subtraction really does work.

Randy Moss, the future hall of famer and game changing wide receiver, was traded by the Patriots only 4 games into the 2010 season.  No one argues that the man still has loads of talent, skills, and abilities.  What did become very clear was how he was not good for that team.  And in football, as in life and business, Team trumps the individual. No matter what their talent level, their skills, or their production, no one is above the team.  We have been able to watch this lesson play out over the course of this season – the Patriots are thriving and Randy Moss is onto his third team of the year.

It is not the right answer in every scenario, but sometimes addition by subtraction is the right course.  Doing what is best for the team has to be paramount.  If the person with the best sales numbers, the highest rankings, the most visible role, is not bought into the culture and making the team better, it might be time to make a tough choice.  It is a slippery slope, addition by subtraction, but when done for the right reasons, done well, and done with forethought and wisdom, it can be a game changer.

Of course, all of the above said, it sure helps to have one awfully good team already in place, with people ready to pick-up the slack.  Yes, having Tom Brady at quarterback, a host of strong players on the team, and Bill Belichick as head coach does make a difference…just a bit.

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