We believe that we can accomplish more together than any one of us could ever accomplish alone. While we do not believe that winning is everything, we do believe that consistently doing our best in a winning effort is vital to long term success.
You may not yet believe in miracles, though one day you will. But, if you’re a hockey fan and old enough to remember the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, you witnessed a “Miracle on Ice.” Perhaps you’ve seen the movie by that title chronicling the amazing story of Team USA capturing the gold medal against all odds? Sports Illustrated named this “one freezing moment” Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century in 1999.
So, without checking your smart phone, can you name one player on that gold medal winning hockey team? I doubt that one in 100 Americans can. Why? Because the “Miracle on Ice” was perhaps the greatest team effort in the history of sport…and there is no “I” in team.
Everyone loves to be part of a winning team. That’s why tonight I’ll be glued to the tube watching our beloved Indiana Pacers take on the Atlanta Hawks in a “do or die” game seven of their first-round NBA playoff series. Never mind the fact that the number one-seeded Pacers should have dispensed with their southern nemesis in no more than five games. So, why are there so many rabid sports fans around the world? Because even when we’re losing at home or in the office or in the classroom or in relationships, our favorite teams give us a shot at winning. And, everyone loves to be part of a winning team.
As a swimmer, I grew up idolizing Mark Spitz. How appropriate to my story that he made Olympic history by winning seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics, the summer I met my lovely bride-to-be. Spitz’s record would stand until the 2008 Beijing Games when Michael Phelps grabbed an unbelievable eight gold medals. But for Jason Lezak’s epic anchor leg on the Men’s 4 by 100 Freestyle Relay, Michael Phelps would be forever tied with Spitz with seven golds.
I’ve watched the video of that amazing relay dozens of times and still can’t get through it without getting teary-eyed and a lump in my throat. What’s up with that?
With 25 meters to go, the announcers had all but hung the silver medal around the necks of Team USA’s relay members, predictably succumbing to the trash-talking French team. After all, their arrogant anchorman, Alain Bernard, was the current world record holder in the 100-meter freestyle. But then, the Frenchman starts to fade and Jason Lezak starts to look like a human hydro-plane powered by rocket fuel. He swims the fastest 100 meters in history, out-touches Bernard by .08 seconds and then fades into the background as Michael Phelps is soon immortalized as the greatest Olympian in history. Most Americans know who Michael Phelps is. Few could tell you who Jason Lezak is. I’ll never forget either, because both inspire me to go for the gold even when it looks like I’ll have to settle for silver. That’s what’s up with that.
“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” This famous sports quote is widely and wrongly attributed to Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. The quote actually originated with UCLA Bruins football coach, Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, who first said it in 1950.
Regardless of who said it, I couldn’t disagree more, though I recognize that it has often been used as an effective locker room motivational tool. Just because a statement is motivating doesn’t make it true.
It’s equally untrue to say that “winning doesn’t matter.” Winning matters greatly in many walks of life well beyond the athletic field. Like many, I believe that the greatest benefit of pursuing athletic victories lies in what one learns from such pursuits and how those lessons can be applied in other walks of life.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all is…put team before self.