Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

Here’s how to perform like a Hall of Famer

FootballDo you ever think to yourself, "If only someone would notice me, if only I could catch a break, if only I could find a little luck, I could make something of myself!"

Me, too. Then I read something that made me realize what a load of garbage all those thoughts were. And I read it in the unlikeliest of publications.

When you get an opportunity, pick up the April 28, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a sports nut. I used to be an assistant sports editor for a North Carolina newspaper, I worked for the CBS Sports Web site for a few years (I gave up CBS for CPAs, you might say), and one of my college buddies writes for Sports Illustrated, so I'm a little biased when it comes to sports journalism. Still, it's hard to read the cover story in that particular issue and not be inspired.

The article is titled, "The Best Game Ever," and is an excerpt from a book by the same name by Mark Bowden. Its title refers to the 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. The actual game, though, is an afterthought. The article is really about Baltimore wide receiver Raymond Berry.

Berry was an unlikely NFL star. He was skinny, slow and nearsighted -- not a great combination for a professional athlete. But he made up for all of that by working harder than anyone else on the field.

Here's what he did: While his teammates were out bar-hopping and carousing, Berry meticulously studied game films, focusing only on his position, diagramming every play of every game he watched. "He sought out film of successful receivers and studied their routes and their moves," writes Bowden, "making page after page of notes in his tidy little handwriting."

Then Berry took those handwritten notes to deserted football fields and practiced. And practiced. And practiced. He ran entire games' worth of routes over and over until he knew them by heart -- and until he was in better shape than any of his opponents. He worked with Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas on fakes, timing and precision. And when it came time to put his hard work into action, he made it pay off. In that '58 championship game, he caught 12 passes for 178 yards, including three catches for 62 yards in a late-game drive that helped set up a game-tying Colts field goal. Baltimore went on to win 23-17 in overtime.

Eventually, that skinny, slow, nearsighted misfit turned himself into the greatest wide receiver the NFL had seen to that point -- and redefined the game in the process. Today's best players left the bars behind long ago. Instead, they're studying game films as meticulously as Berry once did.

To me, Raymond Berry's story is a fantastic example that speaks to the power of preparation and hard work. Berry proved that the secret to success isn't catching a break; it's making your own breaks.

ProBlogger's Darren Rowse used a different source of inspiration to arrive at the same conclusion. In a recent post, Rowse quoted poet David Perkins, who wrote, “Do not follow where the path leads. Rather, go where there is no path, and leave a trail.”

What trails are you creating these days, and how are you doing it?


Bill Sheridan