Competitive Greatness and the Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers lost the Super Bowl.

They could easily have won it. It was there for the taking. The Denver Broncos offense at times looked like they would have had trouble moving the ball against me and ten of my friends, while the officials hindered both teams by calling everything except direct eye contact a penalty.

The difference was competitive greatness. The Broncos had the competitive greatness required to win the Super Bowl. The Panthers did not.

Consider this: more than once we found ourselves wondering why a Panther chose to run out of bounds rather than take a hit and fight for a couple-three more yards. I’m not Dick Butkus, but it seems to me if you’re in the Super Bowl and you have a choice between running out of bounds and putting your head down and fighting for a couple extra yards you put your head down and fight for a couple of extra yards. More than once the Carolina Panthers chose not to.

Later in the game, after he fumbled and with everything he has worked his life lying there on the ground, Panther quarterback Cam Newton chose not to dive after the ball. He thought about it. You could see it. He thought better of it, though, and Denver ended up recovering the ball.

All right. They didn’t want to take a hit. You can’t blame them for that, really, because the players are the ones who will have to live with the consequences years from now. But it’s why they didn’t win the Super Bowl.

Those familiar with John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success know that Competitive Greatness is the block at the very top, right behind Coach’s definition of Success and flanked by Faith and Patience.

(We went to Coach’s basketball camp a couple of times as a kid. I call him Coach. Sue me. Long after I’ve needed to screen someone out, the lessons about patience and hard work are still with me.)

Wooden defines Competitive Greatness as, in part, being at your best when your best is needed. The Panthers were not. Would the Panthers not running out of bounds have made a difference? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe it would have only resulted in a couple of extra yards. Maybe not, though. Football is no different than life: you never know what is going to happen when you put your head down and bulldog your way forward.

As the Broncos showed, sometimes you win the Super Bowl. As the Panthers showed, sometimes you don’t.

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