|The Write Space and Time|
August 31, 2011 -- This past summer NFL owners and players got all crossways. They couldn't agree, so they agreed to disagree and they locked their doors and played keep away. Coaches couldn't talk to players. Players couldn't go near facilities. Some exceptions were made for weddings; none that I know of for rehab. But in the midst of the standoff, they had a day. One day.
On that day, the players busted up their union, someone cut the caution tape and popped the locks, and the go-getters got after it. The next day the court ruled it all a "no-can-do" and the fortress was rebuilt, but the sliver of entry had given the elite all they needed: Access to playbooks and workout shoes and a reminder of all they were missing. Workers had retrieved their tools, and work can take place anywhere in many ways.
What happened next has been fascinating to witness.
Colt McCoy's team was installing a West Coast offense. He had the playbook but it read like a bad Russian novel to a young quarterback from Texas who had been the captain of a one-dimensional ship in Cleveland last season. So he did what anybody would do, right? Nah. He skipped the pouting. And the whining. And the walking around wringing his hands. Instead he called Brett Favre.
Sam Bradford flew his teammates to Norman to train. Matt Hasselback practiced throwing in a parking lot of a shopping center behind his local gym. Larry Fitzgerald hired a bunch of experts and then invited his team to join him in learning from them at his Arizona spread.
Leaders flexed their muscles. Players thought outside the box. Teams chose to get better, together. Some of the world's most elite athletes took the upside-down apple cart, flipped it over, and made cobbler out of the spills.
I wish ESPN had placed a crew with every group of guys who huddled up in every high school, health club, and living room across this country. I bet they were like kids in a candy store. Painful and disconcerting though it may be, little is better than having to figure things out for yourself.
The pundits all projected lots of preseason penalties. Inconsistent offenses. Busted plays. They feared a potential debacle. After all, teams missed two weeks of training camp while agreements were getting hammered out in a court of law.
Shocker, but I think the pundits might have been wrong. Granted, the rookies might be a bit behind and some inconsistencies may emerge, but I watched Sammy go yard on his first play from scrimmage in the Rams' preseason game versus the Titans. And Colt McCoy looked like he brought Brett Favre back with him in his uni in the Brown's opener vs. the Green Bay Packers. It seems like the backups look less like backups, and the starters look fresh and confident. It's like somebody opened the windows and let the fun back in.
We coaches should take note and step a little more out of the way sometimes.
I think the late start will probably be beneficial for the league--fewer injuries, fresher legs, sharper minds. And I know everyone hopes so since that is exactly what the CBA outlines. However, the magic of the lockout comes from the locking out. Guys got a chance to choose to separate themselves from the masses as opposed to being told how to. Instead of answering the bell, they rang it for themselves.
The list of lessons I'd like my players to learn from this is lengthy. It ranges from "You are the master of your own destiny" to "Don't be too good to work on ball handling in a parking lot full of potholes". I want them to get it...the value of peer driven work, the karma that grows when the guys in the boat man the oars and start rowing alongside one another for all they're worth. I want them to see that you never get too good or too big to seek wisdom, that you don't need permission to rally your own troops, and that a weight is a weight and a ball is a ball however it might be packaged or wrapped. Improvement has nothing to do with the trappings.
But mostly what I hope they see is that distinction comes from a place of insatiable curiosity. Initiative is non-negotiable. All the great ones have it.
The good news is the world was watching when scores of talented players seized their day. They put greatness into action, into palpable real life scenarios that we can all comprehend. We might not understand exactly what they do, but now we understand a little bit about what makes them great at it. And the big winners are all of us who watch on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. For teams that sew themselves together rarely unravel.