By Gino Blefari
Leadership can spring from unexpected people in unexpected places. I was struck by this fact Sunday watching the Seahawks and Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. This incredible game matched all the hype, with lead changes, hard-hitting and dramatic plays.
Both teams’ stars came out to play with quarterbacks Tom Brady (the game’s eventual MVP) and Russell Wilson orchestrating scoring drives involving key players; and the defenses flexing their might at important junctures.
This was pro football’s biggest stage in front of more than 70,000 screaming fans and the largest audience in American television history (114.4 million) – certainly no place for the meek.
Yet two players emerged seemingly out of nowhere to change the course of the big game.
Seattle wide receiver Chris Matthews caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. His first catch in the Super Bowl was the first catch of his NFL career. His next two pass receptions led to Seattle scores. That’s a nice night for any receiver but even more so considering Matthews was released from the Canadian Football League and was working as a Foot Locker security guard in early 2014. He tried out for the Seahawks in 2014 but was cut just before the season started, and then languished on Seattle’s practice squad until a late-season call-up placed him on the 53-man roster just before the playoffs. Matthews’ recovery of an onside kick helped Seattle beat Green Bay to reach the Super Bowl.
New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie, didn’t start the game and wasn’t even on the field when the Seahawks huddled for their fateful, last offensive play. With time running out, Seattle had the ball on New England’s 1-yard-line and needed only a touchdown to win. Butler was rushed into the game to counter a Seattle formation. Shocking everyone watching except possibly Butler, Seattle threw a pass that the cornerback calmly intercepted. Game over. New England won.
Butler had a tough childhood and played only two years of high school football. He was excused from his junior college football team before returning and later transferring to the University of West Alabama. He played there with enough distinction to merit a contract from the Patriots.
There’s a good chance both players will be on their teams’ respective rosters when the 2015 season starts. They deserve it.
The simple message is this: It doesn’t matter if you’re an undrafted free agent, a real estate pro or anything else you love to do; when it’s your time, and things are most on the line, seize the opportunity with everything you have.