In order to play a sport and compete at a high level, you must be confident in yourself. You have to have confidence in your off-season preparation, skill set, ability, in your mental preparation and mental toughness.
Even when you are able to achieve this confidence within yourself, you are still a human being. You are not perfect and you are going to make mistakes because that’s what humans do. Playing 10 years of professional football in the Arena Football League taught me a lot about myself as a competitor and a human being.
The Ultimate Factor of Success
In 2008 I realized what the most important contribution to my personal success, as well as the success of my teammates would be. It wasn’t all of the time we invested during the off-season practicing and working hard on the field. It wasn’t even all of the amazing coaching we received. While all of those things were strong contributing factors, they weren’t the ultimate factor. The ultimate factor that created success for myself and my teammates, was one another.
I was blessed enough to be part of a very special Arena Football team, the Philadelphia Soul. I played wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner for “The Soul”. In 2008, we were able to win the Arena Bowl Championship!
It was incredible!
When I watched the final seconds click off of the Arena Bowl clock, I realized that my teammates and I just achieved the greatest of our professional goals. It was such an amazing and memorable experience!
But during that season, there was an even more memorable experience – one that led our team forward, allowing us to move on and achieve our ultimate goal of playing in the Championship game.
Tackling the beast
It was the last game of our regular season and our chance to earn a bye in the week one playoff match. We were matched up with the Dallas Desperados. The Desperados had the second best record in the league at the time, as well as one of the highest-powered offenses and defenses.
The game was very physical; it went back and forth. At the very end of the second half, the Desperados ran a fullback screen to a 5’10, 250 beast named Zues, who caught the ball on the sideline; 10 yards from the goalline.
The only thing keeping him from running into the endzone was me – 6 foot, 185 pound-me.
I was never scared of contact and when I saw Zeus catch the ball, I immediately attacked. I ended up wrapping him up and slamming him down to the ground after the five-yard free ride he gave me. We both fell at the one-yard line. The very next play, they handed the ball off to Zeus and he scored with no time remaining on the clock.
Dallas went into the second half with a 6-point lead.
Facing incredible pain
When we got into the locker room and my adrenaline started to taper down, I felt a very deep and sharp pain between my right pectoral muscle and my biceps. By the time the second half started, my pain was about a 7 out of 10. But this was the playoffs!
At first, all of my preparation and years of training up to this point made it easy for me to overcome the pain and discomfort. I was able to push through all the way up to the 4th quarter. The game continued to go back and forth throughout the second half. By the 4th quarter, the pain I had was at a 10!
I could barely hold my right arm up and we had a couple more players go out with injuries. We were out of substitutes, and the pain was so great that I was bent over with tears in my eyes. I had given all I had. In my mind, I was done.
I couldn’t go on.
With 55 seconds left in the game, my team drove down and scored to make the score 71-64. We were in the lead. (If you don’t already know this, 55 seconds in the Arena league is an eternity!) With 55 seconds remaining, we still had to kick the ball off and play defense.
Did I have enough left?
As I was bent over on the bench my special teams coach yelled out my name, “Mike Brown! We need you!!!!” I stepped over the board and got into the huddle, bent in half, writhing in pain.
Enter Brent Holmes. Brent Holmes was a lanky, 6-foot wide receiver who joined our team as a free-agent wide-receiver, about halfway through the season. He was a football player and two-time track champion at Texas A&M Kingsville. He ran silky-smooth routes, was fast like the wind and was truly the missing piece to our team’s puzzle.
Brent made our offense dang near unstoppable! His work ethic and attitude toward life and toward his teammates was always positive. He stayed upbeat and was always laughing and smiling every time you saw him. Brent led more by example than he did with words, and he was highly respected by his team and the league.
This takes us back into the huddle; where I had all but given up on myself and my ability to help my team finish out the game, and ensure we could move onto the next round of the playoffs.
In Arena Football, there is a limited roster so most players have to play special teams. As I was bent over writhing in pain, I heard this low calm voice in my ear. “Mike, we need you…Mike we need you for just one more play. Bro, I need you. Look at me…” With tears in my eyes, I stood up and looked him in his face. He said, “Your team needs you for just one more play. I believe in you. Go down and get the ball back for us!”
The Immeasurable value of a teammate
Then he hooked his arm around my arm and walked me over to my position. I responded to him and said, “I got you…” The referee blew the whistle, our kicker dropped his arm and away we went!
I was able to avoid the first line of blockers and by the time I looked up, Brent had dove and wrapped his arms around one of the best kick returners in our league! This made the returner hesitate just for one split second, allowing me to stretch my left, non-injured arm out, and knock the ball out of his arms.
The ball was then immediately recovered by one of our teammates! All I remember after that is laying on my back and looking up at the American Airlines ceiling, when one of my teammates stepped over me, looked down, and with a huge smile on his face said, “Thank you!”
It was Brent.
I played contact football for 27 years until this point in my life and I had never felt so much pain or wanted to give up more on myself and my teammates. It turned out that I had partially torn my pectoral and biceps muscle. I had to take some pretty serious pain killers and wear a harness for the last two playoff games and championship.
Without Brent and who he was as a man and a teammate, I don’t know what would have happened for the rest of our season. I also don’t know where my confidence as a man and a football player would have gone. Brent saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He saw my pain, he knew who I was, and also saw who I could be.
It takes great teammates who lead and who know how to be led at the same time, to achieve success. Sports are very special because they parallel real life. Without special teammates and leadership, you cannot reach your own or team’s full potential.
Success is truly all about the TEAM.
I became very emotional while mentally reliving this time in my life. I realized while writing that this experience was literally a life-changing moment for me. Brent’s belief in me ultimately helped shape me into the coach, husband, father, son and friend I am today! I owe him a big thank you, for knowing what it really means to be part of a team.
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