As I'm sitting here listening to hour 7,682 of Brett Favre comeback talk, I start thinking about my own views on Favre and other NFL greats. I'm wondering what makes a man able to play at Favre's caliber when he's in his forties. For that matter, why do some players with all the talent in the world never make it in the NFL and others with less talent go on to Hall of Fame careers? It obviously isn't all about talent. What else makes them NFL greats? Let me try to calculate this equation using the elementary school math I learned growing up back in South Carolina when we were 48th out of 50 states. Thank you South Carolina Education lottery for giving back.
The way I figured out what makes an NFL player great was to simply think back to players like Favre, John Elway, Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, etc. Why were these players different from Brian Bosworth, Tony Mandarich, Lawrence Phillips, Maurice Clarett, etc? Well, the difference was that these NFL greats had four parts that added up to equal a whole.
1) Talent - You see talent in all the players I listed above. John Elway could throw the ball through a concrete slab, but at the same time, Jamarcus Russell could throw a football from one end zone to the other. Russell was a proven winner at LSU, so why is Jamarcus now fat and out of the NFL? The reason is that Russell didn't have all four attributes like Elway and Montana had.
2) Passion - When you hear this word mentioned in football, you have to automatically think Brett Favre. Whether you are a Favre fan or not, you have to love watching a 40 year old millionaire running around with another millionaire athlete on his shoulder acting like a kid. No one playing the game today shows the same passion as the fans, as Favre does. This is what makes me pull for Favre. I would love to have that type of happiness doing my job.
..... I imagine making a sale and running over to my co-worker and throwing him over my shoulder in celebration. Then, I point outside as my wife drives by and yell I did this for you and then calmly go over to the water cooler, refresh myself, and go back to work.....
Once again though, this isn't what made Favre an NFL great. He had all the attributes and that's what made him great. Brian Bosworth also played with a lot of passion. Bo Jackson showed Bosworth and everyone watching that game that there is more to football than passion when he used Brian as a floor mat on the way into the end zone. Bosworth loved playing the game and had some talent, but you can't fake greatness.
3) Heart - Ronnie Lott once cut off his own dislocated finger to play in a game because it was getting in his way and affecting the way he played. Terrell Davis went back into the Super Bowl with a migraine while he couldn't see, just to be the decoy. We all like to talk the talk, but I'm not cutting off my own finger for nothing. I don't care if some crazy reality show calls and offers me a $1 million. I also suffer from migraines and I wouldn't think of letting a 350 lb lineman run at me full speed when I can't see. Byron Leftwich is remembered for having his teammates carry him to the line of scrimmage after every play during a game at Marshall. He got injured in the game on a crucial drive and couldn't walk to the line after the play. Instead of leaving the game, two of his teammates would come throw his arms over their shoulders and carry him to the line for the next play. There aren't many players with NFL aspirations that would play through that in college. He showed a lot of heart but just like Passion and Talent, this doesn't get you to greatness by itself. He had a decent career in Jacksonville and is now back with the Steelers. He could beat out Dennis Dixon to start for Pittsburgh while Ben Roethlisberger is out, but he will never make it to greatness.
4) Opportunity - Tom Brady, as everyone now knows, was a 6th round pick out of Michigan. He probably never would have seen the field if Drew Bledsoe didn't get injured on the way to the Patriots first Super Bowl run vs. the Rams. He also had the benefit of knowing the defensive plays for his first 8 years in the league. (Did you think I forgot about the Patriots cheating?) Steve Young was left for dead in Tampa Bay, but when he was brought to San Francisco and Joe Montana went down, his career flourished. He had a Super Bowl winning team around him and the best wide receiver of all time to throw to. David Carr was the first overall pick for the Houston Texans franchise. People were comparing him to Montana when he came out of Fresno State. The Texans had no offensive line and no running game. They didn't really have anything because they were an expansion team. A lot of people seemed to forget that Carr showed flashes of premier talent, but after several years of just leading the league in being sacked, he became gun shy. I honestly believe that Carr could have been something in the NFL, but a key factor that people forget is that it really matters who is around an individual.
This happens every year. Players that could and should be NFL greats fall off the radar due to coaches, no offensive line in front of them, injuries, etc. If I was CJ Spiller, I would be afraid of becoming the next victim. The Buffalo Bills was the worst place for Spiller to go. He has the NFL's worst O-line in front of him, no franchise QB, and only one proven wide receiver in Lee Evans.
Enjoy the great ones because they truly put everything into being great... Passion + Heart + Talent + Opportunity = NFL Great - Jayson Braddock
Jayson appears on Sports Radio 790 AM in Houston, TX once a week as the football insider on the Dylan Gwinn show. He's a graduate of the Sports Management World Wide Football GM & Scouting Course and has been mentored by former NFL player / executive John Wooten and Sporting News.com NFL Draft Expert Russ Lande. His work is mostly appreciated by die-hard fans interested in every little detail about their team and not just watered down mainstream talk.
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