I saw the movie Hoosiers for the first time a few days ago. Okay, so it was sort of cheesy, but I still loved it for its motivational message.
In fact, as NFL draft day approaches, I’d highly recommend it to scouts and analysts (and Dan Synder, the meddlesome owner of the Washington Redskins) trying to figure out what constitutes a winning formula.
Hoosiers was inspired by the story of the Milan High School basketball team, which won the 1954 Indiana state basketball championship. Like its counterpart in the movie, Milan was a small town team with no real shot at winning much of anything.
The film portrays the team, with some exaggeration, as a scrappy squad with an enlightened coach. Mainly, they’re awkward athletes who pull together and gut their way to victory. This lures the town’s top basketball prospect to join them as they run the table against all odds.
Of course, stories of David beating Goliath are legendary in sports. Who can forget Appalachian State surprising Michigan or Villanova beating Georgetown or the U.S. Olympic hockey team handing it to the Russians?
The lesson of the upset is that it takes more than raw talent to win on the field (and in life). Sure, you need great coaching and luck (among other things). But an athlete needs intangibles, and so does a team, especially from its leaders.
Things like pluck, guts, heart, perseverance and the sheer will to win.
Which is why I find it odd that these intangibles (more often than not) get lip service and the short shrift when it comes to evaluating prospects for the NFL draft.
Okay, maybe it’s not odd. It’s important that a guy have strength and speed, an accurate arm or leg, and know how to tackle. And it’s a lot easier to evaluate his talent than it is to assess his character.
Indeed, questionable character only seems to become an issue if it’s in some way related to money. Specifically, the possibility that a team might lose money if their guy ends up in jail or if Roger Goodell benches him or if he has such an unlovable image that all of the seats might not be filled with fannies.
Listening to the prognosticators and pundits and unidentified scouts on ESPN, you’d think there was some proven methodology (theirs) for deciding who was going to make it on Sunday. Something in the film or on the field or in the weight room that made it a safe bet to gamble with millions. (Or not.)
Vince Young. JaMarcus Russell. Tom Brady.
Of course the list of athletes who've defied conventional wisdom goes on because—as Hoosiers and triumphant Davids teach us—there really is more to it than blocking, tackling, passing, running and kicking.
There’s no denying that when they’re drafted, pro prospects are not fully developed as football players or human beings. Trying to predict the future isn’t always easy. Half of all marriages end in divorce for a reason. In spite of all that you know, there’s always more that you don’t know or can’t predict.
Look at Matt Leinart. I’m not sure anyone could’ve foreseen that he’d be a third string quarterback (Sorry about that, dude.).
Still, the Denver Broncos got it right when they drafted Tim Tebow. I’ll be the first to admit that his goody-two-shoes image borders on the insufferable. But on the field? If I owned an NFL team and he was still on the board when our pick came up, there’s no question that’s who I would select.
That man is a leader who is determined to win. As much as a team needs a quarterback with an accurate, strong arm, it needs The Tebow Effect even more.
We all know that the aforementioned “experts” said Tebow couldn’t play quarterback in the pros unless he wanted to be a back up. Really? Did you hear his “Promise” speech? You don’t want that guy leading your team?
This year, Cam Newton is mainly projected to go in the first round. And I think that’s right. But not because that’s where he belongs.
The Newton Effect is what you don’t want on your team. A guy who thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Stolen laptop out the window, three cheating allegations (never denied), shopped around for the highest bidder.
His interview with ESPN’s Chris Fowler last month reminded me a lot of the (infamous) one Alex Rodriguez gave to Katie Couric a couple of years ago.
When Couric asked Rodriguez whether he ever used performance enhancing drugs, Rodriguez said no with a sly grin so transparent even the producers at Saturday Night Live would’ve told him to tone it down.
Cam Newton was wearing that exact same smirk when he artfully dodged questions about his character and allegations of wrongdoing. He played the system and so far has a national championship and a Heisman to show for it.
But unlike Rodriguez’s sport of baseball, football demands intangibles of the highest order. And unlike the NCAA, Goodell is no one’s fool.
There’s no question Newton’s a gifted athlete. But I won’t be surprised if he’s sacked by The Tebow Effect in the pros.
Just like the taller, more athletic South Bend team was knocked off their perch by the unlikely champions of Hickory High in Hoosiers.