Ahh, how we love the splendid tale of the breakout star and oh how the world of sports never fails to deliver that "from nowhere to somewhere" story.
We are now just a week removed from the New York Football Giants Super Bowl XLVI win over the New England Patriots and the GMEN's incredible run (reminiscent of their 2007 Championship run) through the NFL playoffs. Just a few months ago, the St. Louis Cardinals made that same improbable run in baseball, winning when it counted and backing into the playoffs on the final day of the season, only to continue their white hot streak throughout the playoffs and end up with a World Series title. And just two years ago, we saw now Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton and his then Auburn Tigers do the same thing in college football.
What do these teams have in common? They were "All In." Literally.
If you listen to the pundits (which I don't), you would have counted both of these teams out. "Never had a chance. No way. Look at them on paper. They'll never do it." Sure about that?
As ESPN's Chris Berman puts it, "THAT'S why they play the game."
Championships are not won on paper. They are not handed out. A team has to earn them. And top-flight draft picks and big money signings do not guarantee wins. At every level championships are won by players who have the ability to come together as a unit, and the best team—and that doesn't always mean the team with the best athletes.
Let's take the past year in sports.
We saw the emergence of "overnight sensations" David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals, Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos' Tim Tebow, and now the sports world finds itself captivated by the seemingly "shot out of a cannon" success of former Harvard standout and now New York Knicks' sensation, Jeremy Lin. (Granted, Tebow had a decorated career at the University of Florida with Heisman Trophy and a National Championship among his many accolades, but he continues to overcome the doubters and skeptics who said he "isn't, can't be, won't be" successful as an NFL quarterback). Cam Newton? Well he just shut all of his doubters up, didn't he?
Athletes like this contribute greatly to the philosophical mindset that the unit, the team, the men or women in the locker room—is stronger than the individual athlete—and together the team can accomplish great things.
So what do they all have in common? They all have the ability to:
1. Inspire their teammates and fans with their electrifying performances
2. Tongue-tie sports pundits
3. Remain grounded in their values and principles and what it took to get them to the top
4. Play hard and enjoy every moment and every play as if it was their last
5. Change the course of a game
6. Lead their team to victory
7. Defy the odds
8. Put their team on their back
And most importantly:
9. The ability to believe in what they do to the point where no obstacle will slow them down or keep them from achieving success at the highest level.
With the exception of Tebow and Newton, these guys stayed under the radar because they didn't come from the "big" school, the "big" program, and didn't command the "big" money when they signed their deals. Essentially, they were role players, happy to be in the league, and looking for an opportunity.
And boy, when opportunity knocked, did they answer!
Freese is now a 2011 World Series hero. A St. Louis area guy with a dream who worked his tail off, got an opportunity, and capitalized on it. Cruz was an above average wide receiver at the University of Massachusetts who got a chance with the GMEN and never looked back, setting the Giants' single season record for receptions and yards and establishing himself as a major threat at his position in the NFL. Tebow took the helm of a 1-4 Denver Broncos team and led them to the playoffs and a Wildcard round overtime win in dramatic fashion. And Lin? Well, he's just begun. Stepping in while Amare Stoudamaire, Baron Davis, and Carmelo Anthony are out, the Harvard grad and Palo Alto, California native, is the latest "overnight sensation" to "come out of nowhere" and capture the interest of the sports world.
From a media relations and reputation management standpoint, they have all done a good job. Especially Tebow and Newton. Out of the gate, it seems like they understand the media spotlight is on them and they are now officially living "life in the fishbowl" and seem to be handling it well.
If they continue to stick to what they know best, eliminate the distractions, don't try and become a reality TV star, focus first on their sport and not on their Twitter followers, remain humble, and endear themselves to the media and not fight the media, they should expect to see continued success in both their chosen profession and outside of it.
So get ready. We are about to find the next breakout star and team in a month as March Madness and the NCAA Basketball Tournament arrives. Then, expect to find more in August as our World's best athletes convene in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
What's the lesson here? There is a Jeremy Lin, a Victor Cruz, and a David Freese in your midst. Look around your organization, your team, or your company. They've been there the whole time. They are just waiting for an opportunity.
The question is do you have the ability to find them.
And if you are the next Freese, Cruz, Lin, Newton or Tebow, will you be ready when opportunity knocks?
You better be.