10+ lessons learned from memorable football moments


You know those modern-day equivalents to chain mail that make the rounds on Facebook several times a year? Ten days of posting covers of albums that influenced your life, or post the fourth most-recent photo on your phone, etc.

I participated in a couple of these types of activities this year. The most recent involved posting one photo per day for 10 days of a memorable football moment, then issuing a challenge to someone to join in the fun by posting their own 10 days of football memories. The twist on this challenge was that each memory could not contain an explanation or any commentary. My brother issued the challenge to me, and I accepted.

Many of the people who participated in this challenge had first-hand memories and photos to draw from, either as players or coaches. However, my three-game football-playing career didn’t generate many memories or photos, so I opted to go the spectator route.

On the surface, my daily Facebook posts may have come across as random because of their lack of commentary. Being a blogger comes in handy in these situations.

Here are the meanings and significance that each of the photos I shared had on my life, in chronological order.


Day 1: Super Bowl VII, January 14, 1973


Context: Poor Garo Yepremian. As a placekicker, he made two Pro Bowl rosters and earned first-team All-Pro honors twice, yet what he’s most famous for is a botched play in Super Bowl VII. This play is the first memory I have of football. Even at the tender age of five I recognized that what he did was a mistake. In spite of the blunder, the Dolphins held on to win the game, 14-7, over the Washington Redskins, capping off an undefeated season.

Lesson learned: Plan for every contingency possible. It’s impossible to prepare for every potential situation in life, but you can prepare well, especially when it comes to the basics of what you do for a living.


Day 2: Super Bowl X, January 18, 1976


Context: One of Lynn Swann’s most memorable catches came on national TV in what by then had become THE game in professional football: Super Bowl X. Swann was already a star in the league, but this play put him in the superstar category. The catch was also key in leading the Steelers to a 21-17 victory against the Dallas Cowboys.

Lesson learned: A lot of stuff gets in the way of achieving your goals, whether they be short- or long-term goals. Preparation and focus, however, can help you attain those goals, no matter what obstacles you face.


Day 3: Super Bowl XIV, January 20, 1980


Context: Lynn Swann again, but four years later. You don’t need a video to imagine what happens on the tail end of this play. After the hit (and catch), Swann falls flat on his shoulders and back, forcing him out of the game. Just another routine catch for Swann, one that helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 31-19 come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Rams.

Lesson learned: Sometimes, what you want or need to do is going to hurt, but if you’re committed to the results, nothing will stop you from completing the task at hand.


Day 4: NFC Championship Game, January 10, 1982


Context: This memorable moment came with 58 seconds to play in the 1981 season’s NFC  Championship Game and gave the San Francisco 49ers their first berth in a Super Bowl. Dwight Clark, who was not the intended receiver, went high to pull down what is simply known as “The Catch.” The play gave San Francisco a 28-27 victory and ended the Dallas Cowboys’ stranglehold on NFC dominance.

Lesson learned: Sometimes, life’s challenges are going to stretch you. They’re going to require you to be the unintended receiver, the unlikely candidate, the person who’s in over their head, the person whose back is against the wall, or (insert sports cliche here). Stay the course, no matter what the challenge. As you do so, you’ll find yourself in the open and ready to make a difference.


Day 5: Super Bowl XVII, January 30, 1983


Context: This play—a 43-yard scamper on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter—put the Washington Redskins up for good as the team held on for a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins. At 33 years old, John Riggins was in the twilight of his career, but gave all that he had in Super Bowl XVII, earning MVP honors for the game.

Lesson learned: You don’t have to be the best at what you do to rise to the top. Preparation, desire, and will power can carry you places you might not have otherwise gone. Preparing and giving everything you have to reach a goal is, more often than not, going to lead to success.


Day 6: Super Bowl XX, January 26, 1986


Context: Defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry—all 300+ pounds of him—made a name for himself the season leading up to this match up between the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots. You see, Perry was occasionally given the ball in short-yardage situations, including this touchdown which put the Bears up, 44-10, late in the third quarter. The Bears held on for the win, 46-10.

Lesson learned: When opportunity knocks, grab on and don’t let go. Maybe some think you can’t do what the opportunity is offering, but that doesn’t mean you shrink from the chance to succeed.


Day 7: Super Bowl XXV, January 31, 1991


Context: Trailing 20-19 with eight seconds to play against the New York Giants, Scott Norwood had the opportunity to be a hero for the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV as he prepared for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Instead, his kick sailed right of the goal posts, earning the play and moment the moniker, “Wide Right.”

Lesson learned: Some days, things just aren’t going to go your way. The table may be set, the ducks all in a row, but, for some reason, your best effort is going to miss the mark. When this happens, pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.


Day 8: Super Bowl XXXIV, January 30, 2000


Context: Look closely at the photo. See how close the ball is to the goal line? Had wide receiver Kevin Dyson been able to stretch a yard farther, the Tennessee Titans would have had the chance to tie or possibly win the game. Instead, linebacker Mike Jones’ tackle preserved the St. Louis Rams’ 23-16 victory.

Lesson learned: In spite of your best efforts, sometimes you’re going to come up short. That doesn’t mean to give up, it just means to prepare for the next opportunity. Don’t let it stop you from trying again.

Bonus lesson learned: Life will sometimes hit you like a 200-pound wide receiver. Wrap your arms around it and hold on for dear life. Better days are ahead.


Day 9: Super Bowl XLII, February 3, 2008


Context: Heading into Super Bowl XLII, the New England Patriots had not lost a game all season, and were heavy favorites to beat the New York Giants. When New England took a 14-10 lead with 2:42 left to play, it looked like the Patriots’ perfect season would stay intact. However, on the ensuing drive, Eli Manning connected with David Tyree on this unlikely catch to keep the Giants’ game-winning drive alive. Final score: New York 17, New England 14.

Lesson learned: Even in the midst of affliction and challenges, there’s a way to hold on to what’s most dear and empowering. Tyree held on to the ball in the only place he could in that crucial moment: his helmet. Where will you hold on when the game’s on the line?


Day 10: Super Bowl XLIX, February 1, 2015


Context: Trailing 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, the Seattle Seahawks were driving for a probable winning score against the New England Patriots. Their chances looked good with a second-and-goal situation with 26 seconds to play. Everyone thought the Seahawks would run the ball in that situation, but they opted to throw instead. Malcolm Butler picked the ball off at the goal line, preserving the Patriots’ lead and victory.

Lesson learned: Don’t assume you know how things are going to unfold. Put yourself in a position to do good, even when you and everybody else think you won’t have the opportunity to do so. Be aware and ready to do your part when the opportunity arises.

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