Super Bowl XLIX. I slept through most of it. Have mercy upon me. I had just spent 40 hours with fifteen thousand 18-25 year olds expending the energy of a high schooler after 30 ounces of Red Bull and sleeping like a college student (read: not much). I did catch the last quarter and some incredible drama along with it. If I had my druthers, we would be discussing that childish brawl, but most of the world cannot seem to get over that Seahawks pass.
I do not blame them. From the little I understand about football, it was not their most brilliant moment. Perhaps, at least for this season, it was their least. They would have had multiple chances to turn that possession into a touchdown had they run. They had a timeout in their pocket. Marshawn Lynch is on their team.
My head is reeling at the moment as endless gospel truths attach themselves to this scenario. The most obvious of which is, why try to deal with sin by your own methods when Jesus is there. Just get the ball to him. Victory is guaranteed.
As obvious as it is, that is not what I want to examine today. Instead, let us consider the response to the infamous pass. There are countless articles accessing the situation, placing the blame, giving their professional opinions about why it made sense or why it was the most ridiculous moment of the entirety of football history. I have nothing to add about the value of the play. I am somewhere near the bottom of the list when it comes to having the qualifications to break it down play by play. However, the leadership lessons that are delivered to us through this moment in time are priceless.
Pete Carroll. He’s a great leader, and it has nothing to do with the calls he makes in the game. No, he’s a great leader because he allows the people on his team to do their jobs. I’m sure he offers his suggestions, but then he stands back and lets them make the call. Sometimes, that leads to a mess and a loss. Other times an incredible victory. Can you imagine if that play had been successful?! Everyone would be talking about how amazing it was. Perhaps they would use the word risky. Stupid would not be part of the conversation. But, Carroll let his team make their choices and their choices to run that play, run that speed, pause too long, ended in a win being ripped from their grasp.
I read an article today that took time to explain everyone’s fault in the matter. Lockette didn’t want it enough. Lynch should have muscled his way into the play (Gimme that ball. Argh!). Bevell made the call. Carroll didn’t stop them. Wilson didn’t change the call or pass the ball fast enough or low enough. It’s what we do, right? Our plan didn’t work?!? Whose fault is it? And those of on the sidelines are the worst! We like to talk about how it would be different if, in some alternate universe, it had been up to us.
Carroll had a totally different response. He didn’t tell the reporters how Lockette should have picked up the pace or Lynch would have just taken the ball if he really wanted to win the game. No. Instead, the coach said, “I told those guys [on the team] it was my fault.” It was my fault…my fault…my…fault. Does that seem to be echoing in anyone else’s head?
In leadership, this is one of the most difficult things to do. When your team makes mistakes that cost you a win, when things go wrong and it reflects on how you do your job, to turn to the watching world, the armchair quarterbacks, and say “It was my fault.” To set aside for that moment, the analytics of who could have done more to make it work, to not give into the knee-jerk reflex to protect self, and to step into the path of the hurling tomatoes and poison-tipped microphones and own it…it takes humility. It takes dying to self. It takes more than what most of us have wired into our bones.
I know that more is happening behind the scenes. I’m sure they have watched the tapes and they will breakdown what each person should have done differently. Lockette will be spiriting his guts out in offseason to make sure that next time he is at the ball first. Wilson will be working on controlling his passes and getting more accurate shots out faster. Bevell will go back to the tapes and boards to develop better plays. Lynch will continue to be a beast. And as a good leader, Carroll will insist on this work. He will not let them ignore their responsibility to do their jobs well. He will expect them to work at it, to improve. But he will not let the world stone them. He will not throw them to the wolves. He will stand in the line of fire and claim until the flames die down, “It was my fault.”
I want to be that kind of leader. I want to expect my team, in whatever realm it may be, to do their jobs well. Then, I want to stand back and trust them. And when things go wrong and victory is snatched from us, when the armchair quarterbacks want a scapegoat, I want to be the kind of leader that says, “Here I am. It was my fault.”