The 12th man

“You’ve got approximately three seconds,” said an NFL quarterback, explaining his job, “before the opposition rushes in, knocks you down, and crushes you.”

The other night, like 100 million other people, my wife and I watched the Super Bowl. Neither of us follows the sport closely, so we’re never entirely sure what, exactly, is going on.

But the pressure is unmistakable.

So is the constant struggle. Football is like work. You can’t say that about every sport. Badminton, for example, is not like work. Nobody really cares what happens in badminton. Badminton may not even be a sport.

But in football, like work, you suit up, you show up, you’re ready to move the ball down the field. And then, you’re blocked.

You could be blocked at work by 10,000 things. Doesn’t necessarily have to be the entire defensive line of the Seattle Seahawks that’s getting in your way.


But they did get in Denver’s way. The Denver Broncos lost the ball 12 seconds into the game, when their center snapped the ball right past their quarterback, Peyton Manning, into the end zone.

Suddenly, before either my wife or I could say, “What just happened?” Denver was down 2 points.

Ever have a day like that? 12 seconds in, and you’re already in the hole.

Apparently, the noise from the stadium—from the Seahawks’ fans—was intentionally deafening, and the Broncos’ center misheard the quarterback’s call.

Football fans at a game are called the 12th man (the other 11 are the team’s actual players) for their effect on the game.


“Shouldn’t excessive noise be illegal?” my wife wondered. We decided it should.

But the Broncos’ center didn’t blame the stadium for the bad snap, he didn’t blame anyone. Called it his own mistake.

Things never got better for the Broncos. Later, after they’d lost, 43-8, Peyton Manning was asked at a press conference if he was embarrassed. “It’s not embarrassing at all,” Manning said. “I would never use that word.”

Peyton Manning is like a Jedi master, said Star Wars novelist, Drew Karpyshyn. “The guy always seems calm, cool, and collected.”

Manning went on to say he was disappointed. That’s a useful distinction: embarrassed vs. disappointed. The first means feeling badly about yourself, the second is about the outcome.


If you’re an NFL quarterback, or a Jedi master, or simply you or me at work—not in the stands, where it’s easy, but on the field, where it’s not—there’s no reason to feel badly about yourself.

That’s excessive noise. Especially if you show up each day and, like a top athlete, play all out.

Tip: Anyone can have a bad day, and everyone does—that’s good to remember the next time you’re in the middle of one.

Keep going.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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