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Attitude Is The Name Of The Game-Positively

Midweek Motivator

100_100_timby Tim Moore



Some of us were sitting around remembering our favorite motivational moments. Earlier in the decade former perennial power and then heavy favorite Tennessee invaded the hallowed ground of the Rose Bowl, home to the undermanned and underdog UCLA Bruins. That game was replete with object lessons and a theme. At that point UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was making a triumphant return to his alma mater with the Bruins in their familiar position as L.A.’s second best college football team. Worse luck, the new coach stared at an empty cupboard at the quarterback position, yet Neuheisel had to concoct something from nothing.


Before you write this one off as just another sports corollary, know that it’s not important you saw that game or crucial even that you like football. What may appeal to your leadership instincts lies in a sort of parallel plot. First, consider that Rick Neuheisel had traveled a checkered path. The rosy-cheeked coach whose youthful appearance belies his years and battle scars was a controversial choice for UCLA. Off-the-field issues at Colorado and Washington sidelined Neuheisel for a few years, until his call to arms in Westwood.


At Tennessee, Phil Fulmer was the antithesis. For longer than we could remember Fulmer had piloted the Vols’ program to national stature in the power-laden Southeast Conference. Fulmer as they say in coaching, never had to rebuild but instead, simply “reload.” So it was that Tennessee was the prohibitive favorite. When the teams lined-up, the game momentum seemed heavily on the side of the Volunteers, but UCLA’s defense played beyond their expectation and for most of the first half, the game remained close. Later in the first half disaster struck. UCLA’s third-string quarterback and junior college transfer Kevin Craft found himself in the starting role, simply because there was no one left on the Bruin’s roster that could play the position. First one, then both veteran UCLA quarterbacks suffered pre-season injuries leaving Neuheisel with a transfer who had never played before nine thousand fans, much less ninety-thousand. And Craft showed it with first one, then a second, followed by a third and ultimately a fourth interception; the last of which was returned for a touchdown!  Most rookie quarterbacks playing in their first big time college game might have folded like a pup tent. For fans on the bubble over Rick Neuheisel’s coaching leadership, the ensuing 30 seconds may have tipped the scale.


As he jogged off the turf, ABC’s sideline reporter asked Neuheisel “if he would consider pulling his rookie transfer quarterback; what with four pick-offs in the first half?”  Neuheisel’s patented grin and casual response were a lesson for leaders under duress: “Nah…he’ll be fine. He just needs to find his rhythm, and we’ll help him with a little better play calling. He’ll be fine.” Let’s understand this: four interceptions in 30 minutes, one returned for a touchdown, and “he’ll be fine?”


Somehow Craft miraculously found it during intermission. UCLA’s staff later recounted that Neuheisel softly reminded his quarterback that “he was there in the moment, and thus might as well seize the chance to help win the game.”


Thirty minutes later UCLA’s new coach, offensive coordinator Norm Chow, and a third string quarterback in Disney-esque fashion had beaten a heavily favored Tennessee team in overtime 27-24…so much for Vegas odds. Team victories often hang on moments that are beyond words. Somewhere within each of us lies a game-changing synapse that ignites when and if our leadership extracts it with the right words and tone. The message we send matters more than we can know.