Watching the Game

I have the privilege of talking to people around the country and globe about football, sports, and greatness. One area that we can all agree on is that up and coming talent must watch the game more. Oh I know it sounds like a gripe, "they're not like we were", but there's a science to greatness. Built into that science, a formula exists that is undeniable.

  1. To be great, you must first understand what great is in your sport today.
  2. Then you must aspire to be great today or in the near-future.
  3. Next you should study how the greats got there themselves.
  4. And finally you blaze your own path to get there.

As I talk with high school athletes, I am curious who inspired them, and who they watch today.

The reality is that we all get it from somewhere.

No one, and I do mean no one wakes up and wants to compete in a sport without having an idol. Some idols aren't the big names either. They are the players that set a spark in that young mind that set them on a path. Watching the game gives that rising athlete a chance to have that spark. Once you have that spark, greatness begins to catch fire. I'm always looking for the ones who have the spark, want the spark, or are starting to catch fire. Football, like any sport needs athletes that are in one of those categories. Greatness is constantly redefined by the  next generations. What once was thought impossible eventually becomes the norm because someone was watching, and they felt they could do it better.

My guys that I watched were none other than Michael Haynes (cornerback) and Lester Hayes (cornerback). I couldn't have picked two better GOATs to watch. The irony about me watching those Corners is that during high school I thought I was going to be a Receiver - I was convinced as a matter of fact. Until that fateful day in the first player meetings at Purdue University when I was suddenly assigned to Defense. I'm a faithful guy and God doesn't make mistakes. Wouldn't you know the two people I idolized for their skill were in the position that I would go on to play in college and in the NFL. God doesn't make mistakes, and thank God I was watching the right guys! 

MICHAEL HAYNES was the 5th overall pick in the 1976 NFL draft. He was a big Corner with foot speed like no other. I was 11 years old at the time and watching Michael Haynes made me feel like I was part of watching greatness unfold. You had to see him to believe it with your own eyes. I would hear people talking about him like he was some sort of superhero. He played 13 years, racked up 1 Super Bowl win (XVIII), and 9 Pro Bowl appearances, among numerous other Player of the Year and All Team awards. It was his speed and his ability  to see the field better than anyone else that I loved watching. I remember wanting to see the field like he saw it. He returned punts, and I swear it looked like he was the only one on the field the way he could run right past defenders. While I was in the league I had the privilege of watching Haynes get enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I can't tell you what it meant to me to see the full cycle of where talent can take you in life. That's what watching Michael Haynes taught me - beyond technique, I learned the grit of the game watching him put on a clinic each Sunday.

LESTER HAYES was a phenom on a different level. His stance was unmistakable and let every Receiver know it was going to be a long day. Playing in the same era as Michael Haynes, and incidentally on the same roster for three years with the Raiders ('83 - '86), I could identify with Lester Hayes. Coming into the league as a 5th round pick in the 1977 NFL draft (125th overall) the opportunities were there and the obstacles were high. I can relate because wouldn't you know that eleven years later, I was drafted in the 5th Round as the 125th overall pick. Coincidence? Let's call our stories fate written well before we each put on a helmet. 

Hayes came in to the NFL not on a red carpet, but on the back of his talent with everything to prove. Moving up to the next level from his days at Texas A&M University, Hayes played 9 seasons for the Raiders and in that time racked up 2 Super Bowl Championships (XV, XVIII), 5 Pro Bowl appearances, and like Michael Haynes, he had numerous other awards. Hands down Hayes was known for the Bump and Run. It was his deep stance and the way he created so many problems for Receivers that made him great. Watching Hayes' Bump and Run coverage was like watching the DB Bible being written in front of me every Sunday. And when you watch the best to do it, you can't help but learn something great. Little did Hayes know, his technique and performance on the field influenced me at Purdue and with the Oilers and beyond. Watching the game paid off.

Both Michael Haynes and Lester Hayes had something very important in common - they covered some of the best on the other side of the field. Being great is not just what you can do on your own.

So what you can run a 4.2? What can you run while chasing down Jerry Rice? What can you do with that?

For Haynes and Hayes, they had to cover future Hall of Fame Receivers Art Monk, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Steve Largent, Drew Pearson, and James Lofton to name a few. Wouldn't you know both guys even covered a young rising talent Jerry Rice. To be the best, you must play against the best. Michael Haynes and Lester Hayes did that and have the Super Bowl rings to prove it. The future of football depended then and still depends on who is watching and paying attention.

If you're not an athlete watching today, you'll be a fan watching tomorrow.

And there's nothing wrong with being a fan, unless you're really interested in one day being a GOAT. Greatness takes work on and off the field. A coach can tell you to watch more games, but it's not the act of watching that changes you, it's what you see that transforms your mindset and your style of play. A player that wants to be great begins to dissect everything that the greats are doing on the field - their demeanor on the sidelines, with teammates, in interviews, and in their community. Greatness is so much more than on the field, but the field leads the way.

Watch the game. Be able to say without pause who is your favorite and the reason why. Without that love for the game, your passion will not last. There's greatness behind door #1, and you open that door by watching the game.

See you on the field,


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