Thursday, June 16, 2011

Being In The Game

I’m a New England Patriots fan – have been since the year they first went to the Superbowl against the Chicago Bears in 1986.  My very first game was their opening game of that season.  My buddy Chris Braga – a Pats fan since birth – invited me to the game because he knew I had a car.  It was the very first football game I ever saw in person.  The Patriots beat their fierce divisional rivals, the New York Jets, and I turned to Chris at the end of the game and said “Wouldn’t it be great if they went to the Suberbowl this year?”  He laughed and pointed out that the Pats had never been to the big game, and this season would be no different.  Chris had long suffered through 2-14 seasons, losing all hope that his team would one day be great. 

But the Patriots did end up going to the Superbowl for the first time that year, and I have been a tried and true fan ever since, dreaming that perhaps my attendance on the first game of that special season played a small part in their success. 

Years later I became friends with a very powerful motivational speaker and business coach (and former New England Patriot!) by the name of Jeff Hoffman. Jeff now lives in Brentwood, California and is a successful entrepreneur and speaker.  At one of his seminars, I heard him tell a fantastic but true story of a friend of his, a football player by the name of Paul Hofer. 

In 1982, Hofer had a chance to try out for the position of running back on the San Francisco 49ers.  It was a tough training camp, and Hofer did his best to earn a spot on the team.  He had stiff competition, however, from another RB who already had the spot the year before.  Paul Hofer showed up every day, sometimes twice a day, and worked his hardest to earn the respect of the other players and coaches.  And he got it.  Many of the coaches told him that they thought he was the hardest working player on the squad.  But it wasn’t enough to earn him the spot, and when the final cuts for the season came down, and it was down to Hofer and the other player. The coaches chose the player with the experience over Hofer the rookie.

Paul Hofer found out about his cut the day before the last pre-season match-up.  That night he went back to his hotel room and decided not to go sit on the bench the next day.  Filled with disappointment, he packed his bags and called a cab to go home. 

But something stopped him.  He realized that he had played all spring with the other players – some of whom he would call friends – and he didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.  He decided that he would end on a strong, high note and suit up for the final pre-season game anyway, even if he was just going to sit on the bench the whole game.

The next day, Hofer showed up, suited up, and as usual sat on the bench during the game.  The 49ers were losing, and by the end of the first half, it seem that they were going to go down to defeat and start the season with a negative (even though most people think that pre-season doesn’t mean much).  At the start of the second half, the 49ers coaches decided that in order to shake things up, they wanted to adjust from an air attack to a running game and began to call for the running back who beat Hofer out for the position.  The coaches were yelling and yelling his name, but he wasn’t there.  Turns out that player was off in a corner talking with a cheerleader.  Hofer saw this and knew it was his chance.   He ran up to the coaches and without letting them think about it, he simply yelled, “I’m here, coach, I’m going in!”

By the time Hofer got to the huddle, the coaches had called a passing play because they thought they didn’t have their running back, but upon seeing Hofer enter the huddle, the quarterback changed the play, and at the snap of the ball, handed the ball off to Hofer.  In one amazing run, Hofer not only got the first down, but he managed to elude several tacklers, get free, and get to the end zone. 


After the score, Hofer came back to the sidelines.  The head coach grabbed his facemask; Hofer thought for sure he was in trouble.  But the coach smiled and said, “Whatever you just did, please do a lot more!”   And he did.  Hofer played the rest of the game, scored two more touchdowns, and the 49ers won their final pre-season game. 

Paul Hofer not only helped the team win the game, but he also earned the spot on the roster as running back.  He played six seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, helping them win many games, including Superbowl XVl.  As for the other player… no one I’ve spoken with about this story can remember his name.

You’ll never need a better example of how that can work for you than Paul Hofer.  He worked his butt off, knew he belonged there, stayed even when he was cut, and made sure he was in the right place at the right time. 

What if Hofer had just gone home that night?   I still get the chills when I think about that story.  

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