Wow! What a game! I don’t think there has been a Super Bowl like this year’s match up between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in a long time. Yes, last year’s game had drama, but this year’s game had tension and great coaching on both sides, plus plays rarely seen in any game much less the Super Bowl! My friends and I were riveted for the whole 60 minutes (that actually took 3 1/2 hours). And we definitely enjoyed the extra benefit of the Eagles winning.
Beyond the great play, the fun party, delicious food and drink, plus the Eagles winning, I felt that this Super Bowl offered up some pretty impressive life lessons that, while well known and something to aspire to, are really hard to see played out in real time as powerfully as was the case last Sunday night. This is why Eira and I feel so passionately about sports and why we dedicate ourselves to working with athletes. The field of play and the unique characteristics that athletes possess show us how to be the best, and sometimes the worst, that we can be. Sports give us daily, tangible examples of what the game of life truly is and how, by being a student of sports, you can be a better student of life.
Lesson 1 – Seize Every Opportunity
If you watched the Super Bowl or any of the media leading up to it, you know the story of Nick Foles. Backup quarterback on a few teams; always well respected but never really getting a chance to play consistently; and looking at retiring because it just didn’t seem like his chance would come. Sitting on the bench behind superstar quarterback, Carson Wentz, he was always supportive, always engaged, and always ready to play. So, when Carson went down to injury, Nick was ready. But, I don’t think even he realized how ready he actually was. And, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it was more that he was ready to step up and seize the opportunity he was being given. What I saw in Nick Foles was a person who didn’t doubt himself, didn’t doubt the circumstances that led him to the field from the end of the regular season to the Super Bowl, and didn’t let the doubters shake him. He seized the opportunity without fear.
Lesson 2 – Take Risks
Both coaches, Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson, are great coaches. They wouldn’t have teams playing in the Super Bowl if they weren’t. But, the lesson I learned from Doug Pederson is, if you want to win big then you must take risks. The odds were against the Eagles. The Patriots are a seasoned team with more experience in winning Super Bowls than perhaps any team in the NFL’s history, which put the Eagles at a significant disadvantage, having very few veterans on the team who know what it is like to play at the championship level. And, while the Eagles had the best record and many other “bests” in the NFL this season, they were still considered the underdogs. It is understandable why Doug Pederson had to take risks but, honestly, against Bill Belichick’s Patriots team led by Tom Brady, I think most coaches would have played it safe. Go for the easy points, punt on fourth down, don’t pass to your own quarterback for a touchdown. Doug Pederson recognized that greatness requires the desire to risk greatly and that he did. Now, risking big certainly can have its downsides. But, I was reminded that, in life, when you always play it safe, it is hard to push yourself to your next level of excellence in whatever you are doing.
Lesson 3 - Be Humble
I am not a Tom Brady fan. From the outside, he appears to be arrogant and smug and entitled. Of course, that is what we often see in the media and, because he doesn’t have my phone number on his speed dial, I can happily believe whatever I want to about him. I was pleasantly surprised by the interview aired by NBC prior to the Super Bowl. Anchor Dan Patrick talked at length with Brady, asking him about many things but always focused on his status as possibly the best quarterback of all time. No matter how Dan asked the same question, Brady’s response always came down to the fact that he still feels like the same sixth round draft pick and the kid who wasn’t good enough to start in his junior varsity year in high school, rather than a legend of his sport. He humbly talked about the fact that he can never compare himself to those players he calls heroes, even though the comparisons to the likes of Michael Jordan had started years ago. His humility seemed very real and, in a time when many athletes are, in fact, not humble, it reminded me that humility is a characteristic that the great ones always have. It is what really drives them to be great because they keep striving for more.
And, finally, there was an overarching theme of gratitude. There were so many opportunities for sour grapes before, during, and after the game, from Tom Brady himself to Malcom Butler to Carson Wentz. They all had reasons to feel slighted by their plight. But, what I saw on and off the field was gratitude. Gratitude to their higher power, gratitude to their teammates, to their coaches, to their support staff and fans, and gratitude for even being able to walk onto the biggest stage in football. Despite the millions they make or the glory they achieve, gratitude oozed out of the players like syrup out of a maple tree.
At the end of the day, if I can look at a game like the Super Bowl and walk away with important lessons, and practice these lessons each day as I amble (or, as I am known to do, run) through my daily life, I will always be on top of my game. God, I love sports!
By: Wendy Rosenthal
I was having a casual conversation with my son’s physical education coach at school a couple of days ago. Of course, the Super Bowl topic came up, as it would given that the big game is coming up this Sunday. Coach asked me the obvious question, “Who are you rooting for?” I have been an Eagles fan for a long time - since my grandmother had a crush on former head coach Dick Vermeil - so my answer was simple for me...no other agenda. I just want the Eagles to win because I like the team. Coach, however, had a much more fascinating response.
He told me he too was rooting for the Eagles, but only because he HATES the Patriots. I figured he hated them because he was a fan of a rival team. But, no. He explained that he just hates the Patriots. In fact, he went on to extol that he hates the Patriots even more than he likes any other team in the NFL! WHAT?! No deeply rooted rivalry…just hate. In his mind, it doesn’t matter who the opposing team is…if the Patriots are playing, they MUST lose. When I asked why, he said, “Because they always win.” I have to say, for whatever reason, I kind of agreed - although not to the same degree as Coach. But, it did start me thinking: why do we love to hate athletes and teams that always win?
In a world where we value hard work, focus, discipline, and success, it seems that, when it comes to sports, we only want to see that in small doses. If a team sometimes win, we are ok with it. If they “always” win, we don’t like it so much. If they are hit with adversity, we cheer that on. We eagerly await getting to see the mighty fall. We delight in their failure. I tried to do some research on this subject but there really wasn’t as much out there as one might think. The only consistent theme that I found was that “we love underdogs.” While I agree with this premise, this doesn’t explain the phenomenon that I am talking about. What I am referring to is actually wanting an athlete or a team to not be too successful. It really isn’t about the underdog overcoming a challenge. It is about actively wanting to see a team lose. And, as it is in this Sunday’s case, it is about stopping lengthy winning streaks.
As I contemplated this concept further, I realized that I, too, am a perpetrator of ill will against super success. I am a big Formula 1 fan and, for sure, I wanted to see Michael Schumacher’s multiple-year championship reign come to an end. Heck, although I am a solid Lewis Hamilton fan, if he wins one more season, I might stop watching F1 for a while. I couldn’t stand the Chicago Bulls after their ‘91-‘92 and‘96-’97 wins. I didn’t want to see them “three-peat” either time. The NY Yankees of the late nineties really annoyed me. Even Usain Bolt in the last two Olympics got under my skin! And, how about the Crimson Tide? I mean, come on! How many times can you win a National Championship in a decade? And, don’t start me on Manchester United. It drove me crazy how much they won - and I was even friends with the coach! The only exception to this phenomenon, of course, is if the winners are my team. I know that there is not a single Patriots fan, Bulls fan, or Man U fan in the world who would not want to see their team win over and over again.
So, the question still remains as to “why?” Why do so many of us want to see limited success in the field of sports? After deep consideration, the only thing I can really chalk it up to is boredom. In a world of fidget spinners, multi-tasking, multiple screens, and instantaneous delivery, I believe that, as a society, we are getting more and more bored - more and more quickly. It isn’t that we don’t like to see people perform at the top of their game or that we begrudge athletes a win when they put in years of hard work to be the best at what they do. I think we just get bored. We get bored of seeing the same team or athlete win over and over again. In a sense, it takes away from the excitement of the game. We miss the anticipation that we all love to experience during the build-up to a big sporting event like the Super Bowl or the Olympics, where everything is going to be on the line. For weeks, we wonder who will win. How will they do so? That tension is awesome. But, if the situation feels one-sided, then we go back to being bored. This leaves us feeling deflated at best, or angry and resentful at worst.
So, if you are feeling bored during the run up to this week’s Super Bowl, my advice is to quickly become a hardcore Eagles fan (even if you like the Pats) and enjoy the sensation of anticipating a possible underdog win at the Super Bowl. If boredom strikes you in any other case, my advice is to appreciate the hard work that the athletes have put into getting where they are, enjoy watching excellence in motion, and remember that every streak does eventually come to an end…it’s just a matter of time. I know this for a fact. I am, after all, a Trojans football fan!
By: Wendy Rosenthal