published on February 13, 2017 - 8:59 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

As observations began percolating through my brain, I learned that what we witnessed on the gridiron on Feb. 5 in Houston were many of the same elements that contribute to leading a successful company or organization.

The first thing that jumped to my head was “momentum.”  

In the first half, Atlanta had it all. While their offense was intense, their defense was even more so. Every time Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looked up, there was a “dirty bird” throwing him off balance.

Halftime – Atlanta 21, New England 3.

A long-shot bookie could have cleaned up if he could even find someone to take that bet.

So, what changed?

Recently, author and speaker Harvey Mackey quoted a trio of physiologists regarding research on outstanding sports achievers and mental toughness.

Their report, “Mental toughness is having the natural … or developing a psychological edge … that enables you to generally cope better than your opponents … with the demands that sports places on you and to perform more consistently and better than your opponent … remaining determined, focused, confident and in control … under pressure.”

That’s a mouthful, but wow — wasn’t that exactly what happened in the game?

Tom Brady reaffirmed that this is what makes the Patriots so special. It wasn’t physical strength, or training, or even superior talent. His short and succinct answer was, “mental toughness.”

Leadership guru John Maxwell layered another observation when he said, “one is too small a number for greatness.”

Maxwell pointed out that even though many will argue that Tom Brady may be the best quarterback ever in football, it wasn’t all him.  

Others created this recipe for what many have called “the greatest comeback in football history.”

Even trailing 28-3, you began to sense something was happening.

Brady oozed confidence. He also knew it would take the entire team to make it happen. His recipe included an excellent playbook (process), the ability to rely on the performance of fellow teammates (empowerment), players trust in their coaches and quarterback (buy-in), a deep bench and conditioning (Patriots ran 93 plays, Falcons 46), a picture what winning would feel like (visualization), the will to sacrifice personal glory for team, and of course, the importance of timing.

Even leading 28-12 in the fourth quarter and with the clock in their favor, the Falcons ran only two time-consuming rushing plays. The Falcons were playing not to lose. Conversely, the Patriots were playing to win. One team playing with fear, the other with faith.

When it was all said and done, New England led only one time in the entire game — the last second. No matter how many previous minutes had been played prior, New England played for that single second.  

So, look at the game’s ingredients and apply to business: process, buy-in, momentum, intuition, focus, confidence, personal sacrifice, and timing.  

Amazing what you can learn from watching a football game.

Mackey also quoted Henry Ford in his column, “Some people succeed because they were destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to.”

We should also add, “Individuals play the game, but it’s teams that win championships”

EXTRA POINT: (pun intended) In the future, while lying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon, when my wife says, “watching football, AGAIN?” I can respond, “No honey, just studying about my business.”

Al Smith, former president and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, serves as a leadership coach for local companies as part of the John C. Maxwell leadership-training program. For more information, contact Smith at

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