Brothers United

Tonight on ESPN, the Downtown Athletic Club will announce the 77th recipient of the Heisman Memorial Trophy – awarded each year to the ‘outstanding college football player in the United States.’ Right now, players you’ve likely never heard of are participating in the 112th renewal of a contest that best exemplifies what the sport is supposed to represent.

Go Navy. Beat Army.

Go Army. Beat Navy.

With all the bad news that’s surrounded college football the past year, it’s good to wrap-up the season with a matchup that’s rooted in tradition, honor and respect… and once upon a time some darn good football. Most people aren’t aware that during an 18-year period in the middle of the last century, players from the nation’s service academies won five Heismans: Doc Blanchard, Army (1945); Glenn Davis, Army (1946); Pete Dawkins, Army (1958); Joe Bellino, Navy (1960); Roger Staubach, Navy (1963). Success didn’t end there for these gridiron legends.

Blanchard became an Air Force fighter pilot and retired as a colonel. After fulfilling his military commitment, Davis played in the NFL. Dawkins was a brigadier general who led the 101st Airborne, earned his Ph.D. and – as a civilian – was vice chairman of Bain and Company. Bellino served 28 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve, then became a successful businessman. Staubach led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. In 2008, Roger the Dodger sold his real estate firm for hundreds of millions.

This year, as always, I’ll be watching. Not really caring who wins – don’t tell my former Navy fighter pilot father-in-law – just appreciating the teamwork, discipline and execution of athletes who know there are more meaningful things in their futures. Playing football for the academies (including Air Force) is most about learning to work with your unit to carry out the plan… which serves them well when they transition to young military officers.

Of course, after beating the heck out of each other for 60 minutes on the playing field, both teams will walk together toward the Cadets and Midshipmen in the stands for the playing of their songs. It’s a mutual display of admiration and acknowledgement that soon they’ll be fighting for the same side. There will be sadness for the team that comes up short on the scoreboard today – and a memory to last a lifetime.

Go Army. Beat Navy.

Go Navy. Beat Army.


Lessons Learned – #2

The countdown of the Top 10 lessons I learned during 2010 is almost complete. Here’s #2:

Humility Dose– For a decade my beloved Texas Longhorns were a mainstay near the top of the college football rankings. This year, an ugly seven losses. Fallout? Offensive coordinator and special teams coaches fired; defensive coordinator resigned to become the head coach at Florida. Organizations occasionally face times like these. It will be interesting to see how Mack Brown handles his greatest leadership challenge.


Lessons Learned – #4

Here is the fourth most important lesson I learned during 2010:

Human Spirit – It’s set in my hometown. It’s about football. Its main characters are underdogs. That’s why my favorite book this year was “Twelve Mighty Orphans.” I remember my mother telling me that, when she was a little girl, Masonic Home – an orphanage on the south side of Fort Worth – was one of the dominant teams in Texas high school football. Before reading Jim Dent’s biography, I had no idea what the Mighty Mites accomplished during the Great Depression. Despite having only a dozen players each season, they established a dynasty, and a couple of players made it to the NFL. If you like stories that blend sports, history and overcoming great odds, give it a read.


Mental Telepathy

Inevitably whenever I’m watching a sports event on television, I’ll make a comment at a critical moment and the announcer immediately repeats it. Last night, just before Boise State went on its BCS-saving last-minute touchdown drive, I started singing, “Felix the cat, the wonderful wonderful cat… whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks.” Within five seconds, Kirk Herbstreit said, “I wonder if the Broncos will reach into their bag of tricks?” My son laughed and said: “Do you have a microphone directly into their headsets?” My response: “I spent 15 years producing those games and the last 15 watching them as a fan, so I sort of know what they’re thinking.”

College football is my passion. Amidst mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, doing ‘Zen and the art of automobile maintenance’ on our 10-year-old Camry, swimming and enjoying quality family togetherness this Labor Day weekend, I found time to watch ‘College Game Day’ and five football games. That’s a lot of moments to figure out what’s going on and where the announcers will take things.

The opportunity here in business is to climb into the heads of your customers (both internal and external ones) – and fully understand situations from their perspectives. Too often, leaders are so caught up in how you personally see things that you fail to consider what the view looks like from the other side of the table, or counter, or phone line, or desk. Yet stepping outside your own narrow scope opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Try it – let go of your bias – and you’ll discover the ability to anticipate what’s coming next. It’s a winning strategy in any game.


Thinking Young

So I guess this is the way it’s going to be from here on out. Having turned 50 in June, I have received at least three direct mail offers in the last few months from AARP about joining their organization. Really? I have 10 more consecutive years of kids’ college tuition to pay – having only completed the first two. Plus, after the ‘lost decade’ of investment earnings, any thoughts of retirement aren’t circling around my head.

The good news is I can still run five miles in under 43 minutes – and my endurance continues to increase in the swimming class I began 10 weeks ago. I had a heart CT scan two weeks ago that came back perfectly fine, and later this month there’s that wonderful procedure us older folks get to enjoy called a colonoscopy. Ah, the fun that comes with the changing of the calendar.

At the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony, the first speaker was former Detroit Lions defensive back Dick LeBeau, who started his playing career the year before I was born and retired form the NFL in 1972. He’s spent the past 38 seasons as a coach and earned two Super Bowl rings this decade as defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dick LeBeau will be 73 years old in a few weeks. He looks 20 years younger, and so far this year has shot his age on the golf course 18 times. The final minutes of his induction speech really impacted me… and I repeat them here in hopes they’ll touch you too:

“Life is for living, folks. Don’t let a number be anything other than a number. Don’t let somebody tell you that you’re too old to do this or too old to do that. Stay in life. Life is a gift. It’s a joy. Don’t drop out of it. Don’t let somebody else tell you and don’t let your mind tell you.

If I would have gotten out of my life’s work at 65 or 67, when they say is the age of retirement, here is what I would have missed, folks. I would have missed not one but two World Championship football teams that I got to be a part of…. I got to be a part of a number one defense that statistically had the lowest numbers in the last 35 or 40 years. I had my number retired from my high school. Had a building named after me in my hometown. I made the Detroit Lions all 75-year team. I was accepted into the Ohio State University Athletic Hall of Fame. Now tonight I guess when I sit down, get off this speaking, which I’m gonna do, I’ll be in the NFL Hall of Fame.

My mother always said, ‘Onward and upward, age is just a number.’ God love y’all. Thank you.”