Never Give Up. Never Give Up. Never Give Up.
In a week I’m rejoicing about Don Imus returning to syndicated radio (see Episode 12, “Why I Miss Imus,” of my video series, The Writing on the Wall on my web site, or right here in a few days), I’m more impressed with the New England Patriot football team going to 12-0 last night on the road in Baltimore.
And here’s the lesson for all of us.
At the beginning of the season, the Patriots bulldozed everyone into the ground, winning by huge margins, and being accused of running up the score. Only the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts gave them a run for their money.
In the last two weeks, however, two clubs with mediocre records and backup quarterbacks, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens last night, gave the Patriots all they could handle. In the Eagles game, the Patriots had to come back to win near the end (as they did with the Colts with two late scoring drives). Last night, they went ahead with less than a minute remaining and then stopped the ravens as time ran out only three yards from the goal line.
A lot of “pundits” and writers are recording how the Patriots are vulnerable and there are “templates” to beat them because of these close calls. They miss the point. Champions are determined not by winning the runaways, but by winning the pressure-packed, tight games down the stretch.
Listen to me carefully: There is no column for “made them worry” or “came very close” or “had them for a while.” The leagues does not record “wins, losses, and moral victories.” It records only the first two.
The lesson from the Patriots is that you never give up. They have one of the great quarterbacks in football history, 30-year-old Tom Brady, who is a remarkable leader who refuses to give up. Tackle him, intercept him, give him a bad break or a lousy call. He doesn’t give up. (I ran into Boomer Esiason, the former outstanding quarterback and current excellent television broadcaster, in a hotel in Cincinnati last year where I was speaking. “With two minutes left, and needing a touchdown to win,” I said on the elevator, “you have your choice of any quarterback in history. Who is he?” Boomer didn’t hesitate for an instant: “Brady.”
You do the right things over and over. You forget your mistakes and do it better the next time. You maintain your discipline. You don’t whine and cry. You don’t blame the officials, the competition, or the fates. You do your job, recognizing that champions win under pressure, and it’s not by how much but by how well. Horses that win by a nose receive the same purse as those that win by ten lengths.
As long as I’m this far along, I’ll also provide you with an example of execrably poor sportsmanship. Don Shula, the retired Miami Dolphins coach, had the only undefeated professional football team in history 30 years ago. He has sniped and sniveled at the Patriots all season, and was in the Baltimore team box last night eagerly rooting for the ravens.
In most sports, most sportsmen and women graciously root for those who break their records. Hank Aaron, a very classy man, even provided polite remarks when Barry Bonds broke his home run record in baseball, though everyone knows Bonds did it by using steroids. When Brady breaks Payton Manning’s season touchdown pass record, which he will this year, Manning will send him his best.
Shula is an example of an irascible guy trying to preserve the past with his ego all tied up in an accomplishment that is a stat in the record books. He ought to try being more gracious and sportsmanlike. (And he ought to improve his execrable steak houses, filled with his “memorabilia.” I wouldn’t take Koufax back to the one in Providence, where the steaks seem like memorabilia.)
I don’t know whether the Patriots will finish the season undefeated and win the Super Bowl. Next week are the Steelers, and I think they have the best chance of anyone left on the schedule of ruining the streak. But the Patriots and Brady provide a lesson for all entrepreneurs: Never give up. Play to the last second. Your fate is in your own hands.
I’ve put my own share of figurative passes in the left corner of the end zone with seconds remaining.
You can’t score if you don’t shoot. And you can’t shoot if you’re not in the game.
© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.