The Worst Super Bowl Ever? A Lesson in Sales Discipline

By: John Kaplan on February 6th, 2019

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The Worst Super Bowl Ever? A Lesson in Sales Discipline

Categories: Sales Productivity

Well it happened again! I woke up the day after a big sporting event and read the news a little perplexed. The headline read, “Super Bowl draws lowest TV audience in more than a decade”. Another read, “Boring game plus New Orleans rebellion leads to ratings drop”.

As with the NCAA Football National Championship game earlier in the year, the Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Rams held my attention the entire game. My interest in the game had nothing to do with any personal affiliation to the teams playing. I knew this game was going to be outstanding because of the level of preparation and execution displayed by these teams throughout the year. Like the College Football Championship, the match-up pitted the young up and coming challenger (Rams) versus the more experienced champion (Patriots). Except in this game, the champion prevailed.

So why did so many viewers find the game boring? I think a lot of it had to do with the Patriots being in the game another year. One of the commentators said it best.  He said, “If you don’t like Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots being in the Super Bowl every year, have your team beat them!” Before I get started on this topic, let me state for the record that I am not, necessarily, a Patriot’s fan. My teams are the Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers (Enough said).

With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the Patriots have played in nine and won a record six Super Bowls in the last 18 years. I realize that this statistic makes some want to gag. However, I am not sure that most people really understand how rare this is. This accomplishment is truly remarkable in the “free agency era”.

No single event has changed the NFL more than Unrestricted Free Agency. Prior to 1992 when it launched, most players remained on the same team where they began their career. Yes, there were trades, but there were not wholesale changes in rosters that made teams VERY different from one year to the next. Today, a fan truly has to review the roster to know the team every year. There is a general consensus that Free Agency led to a more competitive balance in the league. In fact, no team has won back to back Super Bowls prior to Free Agency, since the Pittsburgh Steelers did it in 1975, 1976, as well as in 1979 and 1980. The Patriot’s incredible run playing in 9 of the last 18 Super Bowls is an accomplishment that will probably NEVER happen again. That is how good the Patriots are.

So, how about the Rams? I think they are a terrific team. They have a brilliant coach who reminds me a ton of a Belichick in his younger years. They have a terrific young quarterback who also reminds me a lot of Tom Brady. There is no doubt in my mind they will be a good team for a good stretch. Can they be as good as the Patriots? They certainly have similar beginnings. Let’s just see.

The Game Breakdown: A Lesson on Preparation and Execution

The game was a classic battle between two teams who were EXTREMELY prepared for one another and where EXECUTION by EACH player was CRITICAL on EVERY play. With a 13-3 final score, the game was decided by two specific big plays and a series of smaller ones by two role players.

The Interception

With four minutes to go in the game, Jared Goff threw an interception that killed a drive for the Rams. Most people saw a bad quarterback throw. But, if you look closer, you see a very prepared defense who confused the young QB, as well as put pressure on him. The pressure was so significant that he could not set his feet properly, which made him throw off his back foot. The result was a ball that hung up in the air too long opening the door for the interception. Goff shouldn't have thrown the ball, but the Patriots defense executed perfectly. Belichick has a famous saying, “Just do your job”. On each and every play, he expects every player to do exactly what they are supposed to do. The coach’s job is to put the player in a position to win. The player’s job is to execute. This is an “Egypt-old” model for excellence. Why is it so rare to witness? Because it is uncommon and therefore those who are common don't take the time.

The Catch

The other huge play was the catch by Gronkowski which led to the games only touchdown. If you go back and look at this play it was amazing. First of all, Brady had been throwing the ball very quickly in order to avoid the Rams' great pass rush. On this play, Brady dropped all the way back in order to let his huge receiver (Gronkowski, 6’6” 270 pounds) get down field. Then Brady had to throw the ball to a place (between two defenders) that only the receiver had the chance to catch. The front line had to block a little longer and all the other receivers had to run their routes to perfection making their defenders believe the ball would come to them. It was one of the greatest executed plays that I have ever seen in a Super Bowl. Even though it didn't change the score, it changed the entire game. In that one play, EVERYONE did their job.

And what about the role players?

Julian Edelman was named the MVP of the game, not Tom Brady. His execution on his routes was insane. It was very hard to cover him. This difficulty means that it was impossible to "over cover" Gronkowski. If you cheated on either one of those receivers, you would lose. This makes it almost impossible for a defense. Gronkowski could barely run because of injuries and Edelman is 32 years old. Not a typical recipe for a successful offense, but EVERYONE did their job.

The other role player was punter, Ryan Allen. Allen pinned the Rams inside their own 10-yard-line three times during the game. Field position is everything in the game of football. If you told people at the beginning of the game that a key player was going to be the punter, most people would never even turn it on! EVERYONE did their job.

What about all the controversy before the Super Bowl?

I really wanted to see the Chiefs play the Rams in this year’s game. I have a soft spot for Andy Reid (Coach of the Chiefs) and Patrick Mahomes (MVP of the Year) is one of the most exciting players in the game.

No disrespect to the Saints, but their situation made me think of something that happened to me years ago. The pass interference play was one of the worst no-calls that I have ever seen in a football game, that is for sure. I have no idea how that ref did not make that call. I will learn everything I need to know about the Saints by what they do from this point on.

The Lesson on Discipline 

My first year in my first job at Xerox, I had a chance to make President’s Club. I had my goal in sight all year and I worked hard for it. On the last play of the game, I came up short by $1500 in sales revenue. This $1500 was the equivalent of about an inch in a football game. One inch! After the year, my boss and several others lobbied the VP of the Region to let me go to President’s Club because it was my first year. I only missed it by an inch and I worked really hard. The VP’s answer was a flat NO.

“No?,” I said. “We are only talking about an inch!”

There was talk about, “John’s a great young talent and we want to keep his head in the game….” Nevertheless, the answer was a resounding NO.

I was floored by the circumstance, but blessed by the outcome. The VP asked me, “Did you make it or not?” My answer was no.

He asked, “Do you want me to give it to you?”

I just did not like the way that sounded. I left without saying a word.  

One year earlier, I married my childhood sweetheart. Due to circumstances, I was not able to take her on the honeymoon that she deserved. I was so focused on taking her to Hawaii that year, but I missed it by $1500 in revenue. I had to go home and tell her that I failed. I still remember how those words felt coming out of my mouth.

Off my peers went to Hawaii in January, while I stayed at home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I got up extra early the day they all left for President’s Club and I made more sales calls than almost humanly possible that week. Every day I pictured my peers on the beaches of Hawaii, while I scraped the ice of my windshield at 6 a.m.

The next year, I was on that plane to Hawaii with my wife. I never missed another President’s club again. That VP taught me a huge lesson by saying NO. That fire burned so hot inside of me, it never went out.

So what does that have to do with football?

The Saints? Let’s just see…

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