Lessons from Super Bowl XLV

Posted: February 12, 2011 in General

The Green Bay Packers Super Bowl victory culminated 3 years of clear and decisive decision-making. General manager Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers stuck to a mission and reached the ultimate goal for an NFL team – a Super Bowl ring. It was not an easy path. Here were my 3 observations from Green Bay’s Super Bowl triumph.

Leaders often have to make tough and unpopular decisions to reach the big prize. In 2008, Coach Mike McCarthy became engaged in a controversial struggle with Brett Favre, when the quarterback decided to back out of his announced retirement. The Green Bay Packers are a storied franchise, and other than Vince Lombardi, no one Packer was more legendary than Favre. Favre felt entitled to his old starting position, but McCarthy had moved on and was grooming Aaron Rogers as the future quarterback. GM Ted Thompson backed his head coach. It was certainly not a popular decision with the fans in Green Bay. Ultimately, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets for a 4th round draft pick. This was a very unpopular decision that took conviction and guts by the Green Bay organization. McCarthy and Thompson had a plan and they believed that Aaron Rodgers, who had been Favre’s back up for the past couple years was their man. McCarthy was willing to take the criticism, realizing that if he failed, he would probably lose his shot at being a head coach. Despite his unproven pedigree, Aaron Rodgers was Thompson and McCarthy’s choice to lead their team. I am sure they had to convince not only the fans and media, but also veterans on the team. After two seasons as a starter, Rogers has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The rest is history. Lesson: Believe in your plan, deflect criticism and hit your target.

Mental toughness is as or no more important than physical abilities. In 2008, Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre as starting quarterback with the Packers. The weight and pressure of replacing a “legend” must have been immense; from his teammates, media and fans. Denver has never been able to replace John Elway. Miami has not replaced Dan Marino. I am sure that the prospects that tried to replace these quarterbacks faltered partly due to the pressure. Rogers was sacked over 50 times in 2009 and suffered through two mediocre seasons from a record standpoint. His quarterback rating was good, but I am sure he was hearing the grumbles. This is a team sport and your record defines you. In 2010 Favre was now playing for divisional rival Minnesota. I am sure this created even more pressure for Aaron Rodgers.

The gamble on Aaron Rodgers paid off last week. He did not crumble under the pressure of his “inheritance” or the big game. He also showed class by not reminding every one of their lack of faith in him when he took Favre’s place as the field general of the Packers. He accepted the Super Bowl and MVP trophy with class. Lesson: Mental toughness and focus rule. Throw in a dose of humility, and you have a champion.

No one player is more important than the team. This is true in sports and just about any endeavor that requires a group for overall success. Brett Favre is a sure bet, first ballot hall of fame player, but unfortunately his last few seasons will be remembered for his selfishness. Putting himself and his ego above the team. Don’t get me wrong, the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings are partly to blame. They let him get away with it. McCarthy and Thompson called his bluff after he had “unretired” on the Packers in 2007. His teams did not know who to draft, how to set up their offenses, and practice repetition was limited due to his showing up for training camp late. The Jets and the Vikings sacrificed long-term success for possible short-term outcomes. One player effected multiple decisions. Ultimately, the Packers moved on and they have the trophy and the ring. Lesson: Individual goals are important, but they have to match the overall team concept and mission.

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