John Elway

Teachings from the Trenches, on Football and Decisions

I watched football ‘game film’ for the first time in third grade. A local high school coach brought tape of a recent game over to our house to dissect and critique the team’s offensive line play with my dad. I remember being excited for the night. All day at school, my brain drifted to scenes of football plays and imagined coaching conversations. I thought the coach and my dad were members of some elite, football secret society that I would join if only for a few hours. Juice from chewing tobacco would be spit into Styrofoam cups, and I could casually toss a football in the air to myself while listening to their analyses. It would feel as if heaven descended to earth. Pigskin perfection.

Except, after 30 minutes spent seeing only two plays somewhere around 27 times each and enduring enough rewinds and slow motions to spin me dizzy, I bolted the room—bored, drained, and disinterested in their offensive line jargon. Give me touchdowns and interceptions, not 3-foot splits, reach steps, backside seals, and kick-out blocks.

As I’ve grown older and continued watching football, I find that I actually spend most of my time observing the offensive line play and not watching the path of the ball. I suppose this is natural after two decades watching games with Dad, who always said he should have been born an offensive lineman and obsessed over the ‘big uglies’ up front. I’m not surprised, then, that when I recently visited the website Smart Football I couldn’t pull my eyes from former Denver Broncos assistant coach Alex Gibbs’s discussion of offensive line mechanics.

I drifted away from the game while listening and focused on the content of his words. Maybe my ears are less trained on the particulars of football now and more accustomed to gleaning lessons from unexpected places. Perhaps it’s merely that I’m older and can back pedal from the minutiae of each play to see the larger game unfold. Coach Gibbs’s analysis resonated in unexpected ways. I heard its relevance not just for football but for life, especially as it relates to achieving goals.

Look, sports are not life. At their heart, they are a collection of games played for fun. Sports do not define our values. Parents, families, educators, and school systems must accomplish this important, life-shaping task. Instead, the wonder of sports is that they can solidify and enhance our guiding principles.

I found that I gained more from this video because I took a different perspective while watching. As I outline below, several themes emerge that represent helpful lessons: Attention to detail, informed decision-making, and decisiveness. While these lessons are important in football, they also matter in other aspects of our lives, and that is why I’ve shared them (as a word of warning, there are some swears and phrases in this video that are not suitable for work).