2 Stories of Season Saving Preparation
“At practice they had that play, and I got beat on it.”
– Malcom Butler
We usually don’t switch from sport to sport, but with the culmination of the SuperBowl, these two stories from the NFL are too good to pass up…typically we try to find anecdotes within the world of basketball that learn more about how to increase our leadership capacity, but after hearing these next two stories from the NFL in the past two weeks, I thought we had to write a post on it.
Two stories of extraordinary preparation from two of the games greatest coaches (Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll) made the difference in two of the biggest games of the year for their teams. These two stories were reminders about how thorough preparation can make the difference in hyper competitive contests. After hearing these stories, I can confidently say that neither team, the Patriots nor the Seahawks would have accomplished what they did this season if it wasn’t for the attention to detail exhibited by their coaches on the two most crucial plays of their seasons.
The Fake Field Goal
In the Seahawks conference championship game, they were struggling against a visiting Packers squad. Down 16-0 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter they executed a fake field goal that changed the momentum of the game. On the surface it could appear that Carroll decided on a whim to go for the fake field goal, but underneath the surface was a much more intricate decision process; this process was informed by their scouting and preparation for the Packers.
The Seahawks coaching staff had noticed a tendency for reserve linebacker Brad Jones to come screaming off the edge trying to block the field goal attempt (ultimately losing outside contain and opening up the possibility for a fake). They concluded that they would only run the play if Jones lined up on the left side, because that would allow Jon Ryan (kicker) to roll out to his left and throw a pass or run for the first down. If Jones wasn’t on the field they would take a delay of game penalty and kick the field goal.
Gilliam (the tackle turned tight end who caught the touchdown) couldn’t help his excitement when he saw that Jones lined up on his side:
“I broke the huddle like, Please be on my side, please be on my side,” Gilliam says. “And then [Jones] was.”
They made the call, ran the play, and scored 7 points instead of 3. They went on to win the game in overtime which gave them the chance to win their 2nd Super Bowl in 2 years. None of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the preparation that gave them the confidence and intelligence to run that play at the perfect time.
The Seahawks had the ball 2nd and goal on the Patriots 1-yard line. Their season was slipping away. All the Seahawks had to do was punch the ball in the end zone and they would have taken a 3pt lead with little time left for a comeback. Many teams would have panicked. Many coaches would have called a timeout to regroup. Bill Belichick and his Patriots did neither. They trusted in their prep and put the burden of execution back on the Seahawks.
They knew in that particular situation that the Seahawks would likely run a quick hitter, a Russell Wilson pass on a slant. Here’s what Malcom Butler the Patriots cornerback had to say. “At practice they had that play,” Butler said. “The scout team ran that same play, and I got beat on it. [Belichick] told me, ‘You gotta be on that.’ At that time, memorization came through, and I just jumped the route and made a play. I just did my job.” The difference between a touchdown and a SuperBowl saving interception can be summed up in one word: preparation. Butler was prepared to make the biggest play of his life because his coaching staff but him in a position to do so, he ‘just did his job’.