The Super Bowl. So much hinges on a game. The legacy of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as “best ever.” The emergence of the Seahawks as the new dynasty. Sports pundits exist to perpetuate the discussion around who are the winners and who are the losers despite what the final score may read in any given contest or any storied career.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was instantly questioned for what should have been the most obvious, risk-averse call with a hand-off to “Beast-Mode” Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line. Instead, a pass into tight goal line coverage that resulted in a game-clinching touchdown for the Patriots. Until that moment, it looked like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would lose their third straight Super Bowl and perhaps tarnish their nearly unparalleled resume. Until that moment, the Seahawks were the team of destiny poised for back-to-back championships.
So much often hinges on just one play. Belichick’s and Brady’s own fate might have been different had David Tyree not pulled off the helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII or Mario Manningham had not snagged his own piece of Super Bowl history in XLVI. Pete Carroll would not have even had to make his ill-fated play call if not for Jevon Kearse having football fortune fall into his lap just two plays earlier.
Each play, every decision, dissected, analyzed and questioned with the aid of hind-sight and HD multi-angle slow-motion video. Should any one of us face such scrutiny for the myriad of choices we make every waking second, we would undoubtedly be determined a failure and relieved of our daily responsibilities. Chips instead of carrots? Facebook over financials? Rest rather than run? Imagine having to answer to your Board for each debatable call you make in the course of a day.
Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (aka Coach 1K), recently won his 1000th game, the most by any Division I coach. Three years into his tenure at Duke, his record was under .500 and fans and alumni began calling for his dismissal. Reflecting on this accomplishment, players from his 1986 team shared that his approach never lagged and he insisted they were headed in the right direction. “A missed shot is not a mistake. Stay aggressive,” he would tell his players. His favorite play is always the “next play.” He coaches players from the inside out. And they have been wining ever since.
Pete Carroll’s comments after the Super Bowl echoed this. The decision was his, the failure was not Russell Wilson’s. This was one game, one play, in an otherwise remarkable year. Losing would not define those players nor the team. “We can throw a touchdown pass, we win the game; we had great match-ups the other way.” At the end of the first half, Carroll took the risk of an end zone pass rather than a safe field goal with time expiring. It paid off, and Carroll is a play-calling wizard. Until the fourth quarter.
Ernie Banks passed away in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. Having spent his entire career with the Chicago Cubs, Mr. Banks experienced more than his fair share of losing moments. There was not one post-season moment in his 19 year Hall of Fame career to rest success or hang failure on. Perhaps he was cursed? Or maybe blessed. Playing during the era of Mays and Mantle and Aaron, many considered him to be one of the best players of all time. No one questions Mr. Cub’s legacy nor his contributions to the game of baseball, the city of Chicago or the social fabric of the nation. Having never won the World Series let alone a playoff game, Ernie Banks is forever a winner, deemed a success for the approach he took to every game, every day.
Leadership is defined by the totality of our actions, threaded together by a string of successes and failures. Passes are completed and some sail away. We strive to win more than we lose and hope we rarely face the scrutiny we see applied to those we admonish in professional sports after a big game. Coach K reached 1000 wins with a million small steps. Ernie Banks’ mantra was “Let’s play two today!” even though it seemed likely the Cubs would lose both games. Our own success should be attained by the same measure of approaching life by living it, fearless of mistakes and secure in the knowledge we make our team better every day. So much hinges on every day.