The New England Patriots did it again. On Sunday Night Football, playing a talented Denver Broncos team (9-1 going into the game) led by future Hall of Fame quarterback and arch rival Peyton Manning, they overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit to win in overtime, 34-31.
In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t happen often. According to an ESPN reporter, in the modern era of the NFL, successful comebacks by teams trailing by 24 or more points at halftime had occurred only five of 490 times.
Last night’s unlikely win was led by the Patriots’ own Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, who threw three second-half touchdown passes. It also featured some first-rate coaching by the head coach Bill Belichick.
Before I continue: First, my Boston residence notwithstanding, my first gridiron loyalties still go to the Chicago Bears, so I’m not a cheerleader for the Pats. Second, I won’t glamorize the culture of the NFL, especially after the Miami Dolphins workplace bullying situation this month. The NFL is not a warm & fuzzy place to be. Finally, I’m not painting the Patriots as paragons of virtue. In a zero-sum world, they play to win.
Nevertheless, I often draw analogies, metaphors, and lessons from sports. For me, yesterday’s Patriots win was not just about a remarkable comeback victory. Rather, it highlighted the difference between organizations primed to excel vs. those that simply drift and bumble along.
It starts with leadership. The Patriots have smart, savvy, superb leaders in three critical areas: (1) Their owner, Robert Kraft; (2) their head coach, Bill Belichick; and (3) their quarterback and team leader, Tom Brady. Together they have appeared in five Super Bowls and won three of them. Every season they are in the playoff hunt.
By contrast, the world of pro sports is littered with franchises that always seem to fall short — or perhaps miss the boat entirely. My beloved Chicago Cubs, for instance. Or the utterly hapless (until recently, at least) Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA. In the NFL, the Cleveland Browns seem to be filling the bill. Look at the leadership of these teams over the years, and you’ll see what I mean.
These dynamics are found in virtually every profession or vocation where organizations exist. Success formulas may vary, but the good ones have found approaches that work for them, starting with quality leaders. The others fumble and flounder, sometimes clueless over why they’re not better.