Game Changers

A few minutes into the second half of Super Bowl XLVII, a Baltimore Ravens receiver returned a kickoff 108 yards, tying a NFL record, and with the score 28-6, essentially putting the last nail in the coffin of the San Francisco 49ers. Seconds later, most of the lights went out in the New Orleans Superdome, and the game had to be stopped.

Once the game resumed after a 34-minute delay, something odd happened. The Ravens lost their momentum. In short, the lighting distraction zapped the leading team’s emotional—not just electrical—energy.

Taking advantage of this unique situation, the 49ers closed the gap with consecutive scoring drives that put Baltimore on its heels. For me, it was a significant teaching opportunity, and as I turned down

One must be prepared to take advantage of game changers when they appear.  © Can Stock Photo Inc. / djpadavona

One must be prepared to take advantage of game changers when they appear.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / djpadavona

the volume and offered a lesson to my unwilling family, I pointed one finger high in the air. “This is what I mean!” This is what I am always talking about! Are you guys seeing this? You never know what might happen! You never ever know! This is a game changer!”

That long Baltimore kickoff return was nothing more than 7 points. Baltimore was now the team feeling real pressure.

The crowd could feel it, the broadcasters kept mentioning it, the fans at home were well aware of it; the time delay had been a friend to the 49ers, and they were locked in to capitalize on the moment.

The quarterback suddenly got “hot,” hitting receivers on the fly; runners came charging out of the backfield with knees high; blockers were knocking people left and right—the energy was contagious, and Baltimore seemed powerless to stop the momentum. And although the effort was valiant, San Francisco could not sustain the comeback and overtake Baltimore’s advantage. But what a ride! The game was a nail-biter to the end, with the final score 34-31. As the confetti fell and the Harbaugh brothers shook hands, I kept repeating my point.

Opportunity Abounds

That game was such a validation of the value of perseverance despite the threat of failure. Other different game changers come to mind. Ross Perot was a political game changer in the 1992 presidential election, splitting enough Republican votes so that Bill Clinton won fairly easily, denying George H. W. Bush a chance for a second term.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey victory was more than a sporting event because it reversed a lot of thinking about Soviet superiority on the ice and in the political arena. The U.S. team was scrappy and feisty, and wasn’t intimidated, giving Russians a solid demonstration of American grit and toughness. I firmly believe that victory initiated a new way of thinking about Soviet/American relations.

In the field of entertainment, there are probably no better game changers than Michael Jackson and Madonna. Their concerts, with pyrotechnic and lighting phenomena, became the benchmark that continues today. Madonna and Michael pioneered a concert as an “event.”

Pay Attention

Heroes in any field of endeavor can be seen as game changers because they persevere, starting a trend which becomes the “new normal,” I want to offer an example closer to home. How about the one executive in your office who is willing to take a controversial position that may be tough to defend, the one who steps out of the box, finds a new light by which to look at a problem, and perseveres despite criticism. He is the game changer of the future, and has his own mind.

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