This One Goes Out to My Teammates

Man-of-few-words Marshawn Lynch may have had little to say leading up to the big game but he came up with a spot-on answer after the last ball was thrown. When he was asked if he was surprised he didn’t get the football, he said, “No. Because football is a team sport.”

With so much of the media attention and the glory going to a handful of players, it can be easy to forget but there is no doubt, football is a team sport. Although I have never played football, I have joined together with a team of people who share a vision and work together to achieve goals.

Currently I am on the PTA team at my daughters’ elementary school. On several occasions, I have used football analogies to describe this experience. For example, while serving as president, I got glimpses of what it could be like to be a quarterback. I know what it feels like to stand in the pocket with a group of people gunning for the ball, making it their job to rattle me. Luckily, I had the best offensive line of all time so I made it through all four quarters of my term without ever getting sacked. In addition to protecting me, these fearless ladies taught me that the value of having supportive people around you cannot be overstated.

I also learned when you build a solid arsenal and devise plays to showcase individual strengths, there are tons of ways to score touchdowns. We have running backs who take the ball all the way down the field; wide receivers who catch anything thrown their way; and tight ends who can do it all. Recognizing each player’s unique skill set allows everyone to contribute, which racks up points on the scoreboard and does wonders for team morale.

My most humbling moment and greatest learning experience came, as they often do, at the same time. While scrambling to get too much done at once, I fumbled the ball. Harsh critics, who (not surprisingly) have never played the game, almost took me out. Fortunately, we had an exceptional general manager at the time. The compassion, insight and direction she offered me in that moment taught me the art of fumble recovery, a lesson that continues to serve me in every area of my life.

We are also blessed to have a Hall of Fame PTA president on our roster. Her mentorship and open heart kept us going through challenging times and continues to have a game-changing impact on all of us.

I recently handed the ball over to a new president, opting to stay on as a special teams player. This affords me time on the sidelines between plays to watch pros in action. It’s nothing short of inspiring. I could not be prouder of our dedicated team leader or more in awe of how much all the players accomplish.

The most significant lesson I’ll take away is the power of connection. When teammates have a connection built on mutual respect and admiration, it brings out the best in everyone. That, in turn, makes magic happen; magic that shows up as miracle plays on the field; magic that inspires everyone watching and magic that makes us believe we can do anything we set our minds to.

As our children grow and demands on our lives change, my teammates and I may move in different directions. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to every member of our organization. The time I spend on the PTA gridiron makes me a better teammate, a better parent and a better person. If you ever see me dancing in the end zone, know that you moved the chains, making it possible for me to get there. And when you score touchdowns, look for me in the stands because I’ll be there, jumping up and down, cheering you on.

Game Changers

Across the country, NFL coaches, general managers and sports analysts are scrutinizing draft prospects’ every move with this question in mind: “Is this guy a Game Changer?”

The three finalists for the Walter Payton Service Award leave no doubt in anyone’s mind. They are true Game Changers.

Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers was on the bus after being named the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, when he asked himself, “What next?” Like his idols Bart Starr and Walter Payton, he recognized he had a responsibility beyond winning football games. He found the answer in the eyes of children he met at a Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (the MACC Fund) event. Inspired by their hope and strength, he joined their team and never looked back. Along with being credited for raising $1.6 million for the cause and moving the chains in the fight against cancer, he is enhancing the lives of these children in every way that he can.

San Francisco 49er Anquan Boldin has played for three different NFL teams. Wherever he is, his belief that “If you have it, you should give it” leads him to ask himself, “How can I give it?” The answers resulted in his Q81 foundation which offers a dental program in Arizona; provides hundreds of meals to the hungry on Thanksgiving in San Francisco; funds shopping sprees for grateful children every Christmas in Baltimore; and allocated a million dollars in scholarships for deserving students.

Every Christmas Eve growing up, Carolina Panther Thomas Davis went to bed with the hope of finding presents under the tree in the morning. Remembering the disappointment he felt when he woke to find nothing, convinced it was because he was ‘bad’, prompted him to ask, “What can I do to make sure other children don’t feel the way I did?” The answer is his Defending Dreams Foundation, an organization dedicated to changing the lives of children. In countless ways, it is doing just that.

These NFL greats may have the means to give back on a grand scale but beneath it all is a simple message: kindness is a game changer. It has the magical ability to shift momentum and change the course of someone’s day or even someone’s life.

And the good news is we can all take a page from their playbooks. Be kind to another person and watch what happens. Before you know it, you’ll be a game changer, too.

“Live by Vision and Not by Circumstances” – Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano

On Christmas Day, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my niece, an incredibly talented actress and dancer trying to find her way in the world. When I asked her what she expected and hoped for in the coming year, the defeated look in her eyes spoke louder than her words. “This year just has to be different.”

Having been where she is, her sense of disillusionment was familiar to me. Turning my passion for writing into a profession has been trickier than I thought it would be. After several months of trying, all I had to show for my efforts were a few posts, a Twitter account (that I have no idea how to use) and the distinct feeling that I had no idea what I was doing.

Then I got a pep talk from NFL coach Chuck Pagano. In a video that captures a celebration after a come-from-behind win, he talks about how, regardless of what countless critics had written and said about them, the Indianapolis Colts refuse to let their circumstances decide the outcome of the game. Instead, their vision determined it. He refers to his personal battle with leukemia and how “it’s already beat.” He describes the vision he has for the future, including dancing at his daughters’ weddings and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the air as a team.

And, just like that, I was inspired. Hope, once again, was tucked securely under my arm.

This year, instead of making a list of resolutions, I am consciously creating a vision for myself. I’m letting myself imagine what all areas of my life could look like: professional success, good health, memorable family experiences, meaningful charity work and lots of football games. Thankfully there are tons of websites that provide fantastic suggestions and step-by-step directions so I’m having fun doing it, too. And when my personal circumstances attempt to remind me how many times I have tried and failed, I swiftly bench them.

Great players, coaches and owners know that football is more than what you see between the white lines; it’s about encouraging all of us to stay in the game. It’s not about what the headlines say; it’s about imagining your greatest life on and off the field and living it. It’s not just about scoring a touchdown; it’s about the feeling you get in the locker room when you know you won as a team.

As I explained this concept to my niece, her eyes brightened. “This year IS going to be different.”

Yes, beautiful girl, it is. Dare to imagine what your life can look like, live by the vision and let yourself shine. And remember to include me… because in my vision, you choreograph my end zone victory dance.

A Hail Mary Pass

It’s Do or Die time in the NFL. These last games of the season determine who will make it into the postseason. The stakes only get higher with each playoff match-up being a Win or Go Home situation.

On February 1, one team, and one team only, will be left on the field. Confetti will be raining down on them as they stand victorious, surrounded by family, friends and fans as they hoist the Lombardi Trophy into the air.

That leaves 31 teams on the losing end of this deal. With each step closer to the Big Game, the expectations only get larger; making almost getting to the Super Bowl – or getting there and losing – feel like a slam to the ground from high in the air. It’s even been said that the weight of disappointment is heavier than the coveted award and the sting of defeat can last longer than the thrill of victory.

Being a fan of several teams and a huge admirer of tons of individual players and coaches, I can’t help but feel for the guy who played his heart out but has no prize to show for his efforts. It makes me wonder if there are any words to offer that could lift their crushed spirits. Having no one idea if it will connect, I’m heaving this Hail Mary.

To the great players and coaches who give their all to the game of football; who play for the love of it and not the glory of it; who take the privilege of being a role model seriously and inspire everyone who watches them on and off the field, I have this to offer:

I hope you win. But if you can’t, I hope you don’t lose the invaluable lessons that only come in a loss. The truth is that when people set out to accomplish great feats, sometimes they fall short. And sometimes they fall hard. If you find yourselves on your knees, stay there, go deep and dig for the lesson that’s buried somewhere in the massive pile of disappointment. What you may find out is that football doesn’t define you. You could discover you are so much stronger than you ever thought you were. You may realize that every true champion has suffered the agony of defeat and this lesson further qualifies you for that category. The well-earned wisdom you walk away with will serve you in ways you can’t even imagine.

What I hope is never lost on you is how proud your fans are of your efforts and how grateful parents are that our children have role models like you who demonstrate the dedication, focus and determination it takes to win, the humility it takes to lose graciously and the courage it takes to get back up. Thank you for another unforgettable season.

“Haven’t we all settled for field goals in life?”

At one point during Monday night’s game against the Colts, it looked like the Giants were getting something going. Excitement built in the stadium as they moved the chains down the field. Then came the crucial third down and they weren’t able to convert. “Ugh,” a defeated fan grumbled. “After all that, they have to settle for a field goal.”

Her intoxicated yet somehow endearing companion responded to her statement with this philosophical question: “Haven’t we all settled for field goals in life?”

The collective nod that followed served as a silent affirmation. You are correct, drunk guy. We have all settled for field goals in life. We have all settled for ‘good enough’. We have all settled for ‘not ideal but it’s something.’ We’ve all been there, done that.

But you know what? I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing. Sometimes good enough is just fine. Sometimes ideal is impossible and something is more than enough. Look at how many games, including Super Bowls, have been won or lost by a field goal. Sometimes three points is all a team needs to win. So, if field goals obviously have their place in our world, why do they get such a bad rap?

I think it’s the verb in the over-served observer’s inquiry that shanks our perception. The feelings that accompany ‘settling’ never cause anyone to celebrate.

That begs the next question: What determines if you are settling? What makes three points = not enough? Maybe it’s our expectation. If we truly believe we are going to reach a certain goal and we don’t, it may feel like settling. Maybe it’s a question of effort. If, for whatever reason, we didn’t give it our all, it may feel like settling.

Ok, so you settled for a field goal. What next? Take a moment to acknowledge the disappointment. Sometimes we do our best and things don’t go our way. Sometimes life leaves us too drained to bring our A game. It happens. Take a breath; move on.

Then apply the only thing that always splits the uprights: Gratitude. Choose to be happy. After all, you do have something to show for your efforts. If those thoughts go wide right, then be thankful the game isn’t over and you get a chance to try again. And, if the game is over, be grateful for the opportunity you had to be out on the field. It may not seem like it but, guaranteed, you learned something that will benefit you on your next quest for the end zone.

On Tuesday morning, I received several texts asking, “How was the game?”

I spilled my $5.00 (cold) hot chocolate all over my jacket. Just as I was about to get my picture taken with LT, a member of his entourage told everyone to leave him alone. Despite parking right next to the exit, it took me 40 minutes to get out of the parking lot.

My reply: “It was awesome. So glad I had the chance to be there.”

Just as I was about to get my picture taken with LT, a member of his entourage told everyone to leave him alone. Had to several for a field goal.
Just as I was about to get my picture taken with LT, a member of his entourage told everyone to leave him alone. Had to settle for a field goal.
The closest a fan gets to a touchdown is a pre-game field pass. So grateful to the incredible NY Giant organization for this seven point opportunity.
The closest a fan gets to a touchdown is a pre-game field pass. I’m so grateful to the incredible NY Giants organization for this seven point opportunity.

A (better) Moment

In a dominant win over their division rival Washington Redskins, Larry Donnell became the first Giants tight end since 1962 to have three touchdowns in one game. In other words, he had a moment. Watching him get interviewed after the game, he knew it. His gratitude for it was crystal clear.

Throughout the game and in the days to follow, sports commentators provided details regarding his history in the league. The word used to describe him that stood out to me most was ‘undrafted.’

Undrafted means Larry Donnell never had the draft day stage moment. He didn’t hold up a jersey next to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and get his picture taken. It means he didn’t have his draft day TV moment; the one featuring him getting a phone call at home, with his family and friends huddled around him, hooting and hollering. I don’t know where he was, what he was doing, or what he expected. All I know is what undrafted means; there was no draft day moment.

Larry Donnell had a moment in the Washington game, that’s for sure. Dare I say, maybe it was a better one. There’s also every reason to believe there are more moments to follow.

Many draft day moments did not play out the way famous NFL elite players thought they would. Just ask Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. However, for the one moment that fell short of their expectations, I’ll bet many others exceeded them. And there’s something to be said for those history making moments no one saw coming.

Success stories no one saw coming are one of the many reasons why we love football. There’s always a chance that the back-up quarterback who was never supposed to play will win a Super Bowl, a third string receiver will make a miracle catch that changes the momentum of a game or a special teams player no one has ever heard of will return a kick-off for a game winning touchdown.

I believe we love these stories because they offer all of us hope. Last year, I poured my heart and soul into a project. To say that the end result disappointed me is an understatement. I would even say at this point, it appears that I have nothing to show for my efforts. But I am keeping the faith.

Maybe certain moments didn’t play out the way I had imagined. But maybe this story isn’t over yet. Maybe the setbacks are really set-ups for better moments. And, who knows, maybe this will be a success story I never saw coming.

Here’s what I do know: As long as I stay on the field, with hope tucked securely under my arm, anything is possible. That’s exactly what I am going to do.

Life is More Fun with a Joe Mays

In February of 2008, after a remarkable play-off run and an epic victory over the undefeated New England Patriots, the Giants ended their sensational season with a post game party in a beautiful hotel in scenic Arizona. The ecstatic joy in the room was so palpable it was impossible not to get high on life just from breathing in the air. The reason I can describe the atmosphere in such detail is because I was there. My sister, who was a Giants employee at the time, graciously invited me as her guest.

What made the thrill of being there, of being able to go up to Dave Tyree and say, “Nice catch!!” even better was standing next to people who were relishing this exhilarating moment as much as I was. One of these people was my brother in law, Joe Mays.

Just days before the big game, we alerted Joe that one ticket to the game became available. Somehow he got himself from New Jersey to Arizona, found a place to stay in an overbooked city, attended countless pre-game festivities and even ended up on the David Letterman show. Watching him take every opportunity to make this experience as fun as possible created a contagious energy, in turn making it more fun for the rest of us.

Joe Mays with Howard Cross and Kevin Boss
Joe Mays with Howard Cross and Kevin Boss
Joe Mays made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman
Joe Mays made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman

Fast-forward to this past August, the scene now being Kansas City Chiefs training camp. My sister, her children, my daughters and I were there to visit her husband who works for the organization. Being a football fanatic, I was like a kid in a candy store, enjoying the experience even more than my daughters who were gleefully jumping in the always entertaining bounce house.

After practice, the players made their way off the field, some stopping to sign autographs or say hello to family members and friends. One player I was hoping to see was number 53, a newly recruited linebacker whose name is familiar to me – Joe Mays.

When I spotted him he was actively engaged in a conversation with two people. After hesitating, unsure if he would welcome an interruption, I decided to approach him.

What happened next can only be described as the most fun ‘Fan Meets Football Player’ experience EVER. Joe was endearing and gracious and absolutely wonderful. When I explained that I had a brother in law and a nephew who shared his name, he emphatically stated, “We need a picture!” He even made sure to turn around and proudly display his name.

One the nicest players you'll ever meet
One of the nicest players you’ll ever meet

Showing us he's Joe MAYS

Turns out these men share more than a name; they share the ability to take a fun moment and make it more fun for the people around them. If you are someone who could use more fun in your life, find a Joe Mays. You’ll discover what I did: Life is more fun with a Joe Mays.