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NFLPA Legends Brunch: There Were Giants Among Us

Gene StrotherCorrespondent IIIOctober 21, 2016

NFLPA Legends Brunch: There Were Giants Among Us

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    On the day when the NFL takes its place on the world’s largest stage, Super Bowl Sunday, the NFLPA rolled out a panel of former players that would make anyone’s “Who’s Who” list of players that impacted America’s game.

    In the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Dallas, The National Football League Players Association presented its first annual Legends Brunch.

    Featured guests included Pro Football Hall of Fame legends “Mean” Joe Greene, Deacon Jones, Floyd Little, Ronnie Lott and Jack Youngblood. They were joined by NFL greats John Lynch and Eddie George. Greene, Little, Lott, Lynch and George formed a panel, fielding questions from attendees and talking about life in the NFL and beyond.

    The eloquent Spencer Tillman served as Master of Ceremonies.

    Those fortunate enough to be in the crowd filling the Sheraton ballroom were treated to some of the most insightful, straightforward and opinionated football talk anywhere on the planet.

NFLPA Legends Panel On What It Means to Be a Super Bowl Champion

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    The NFLPA Legends panel took on the subject of winning Super Bowl titles.

    Between the five men on the panel— John Lynch, Ronnie Lott, Floyd Little, Joe Greene and Eddie George— there are nine Super Bowl rings. Joe Greene and Ronnie Lott each won four titles while John Lynch's Tampa Bay Buccaneers were crowned Super Bowl champions once. Eddie George played well in Super Bowl XXXIV, but his Tennessee Titans fell one yard short of sending the game to overtime, losing to the St. Louis Rams, 23–16.

    Joe Greene said that, before he played in his first Super Bowl (Super Bowl IX, versus the Minnesota Vikings), he was nervous and just kept telling himself not to trip and fall when he ran onto the field. Greene didn't trip, but plenty of his opponents fell because of him.

    Greene talked about the fact that a player has no way of controlling circumstances around him. He doesn't draft the other players. He doesn't assemble the team. So, he has to play within those parameters. Joe was fortunate to have played alongside some of the greats in history.

    And they were fortunate to have played with him.

    Both Greene and Ronnie Lott talked about the commitment to excellence— from players, coaches and the organization— necessary to win multiple championships.

    The highlight of the conversation was when Denver Broncos legendary running back Floyd Little quipped, "I want to talk about what it's like not to have played in a Super Bowl. I need everybody to understand that I never played in the Super Bowl. I want you to understand how I feel. I had it so bad. When I retired from the Denver Broncos, then they went to the Super Bowl."

    "I was trying to figure out how I could sue my parents for having me too soon."

    The crowd erupted in laughter and applause.

    The self-effacing Little did not mention that when he played for the Broncos, he was about the only thing they had going. He was a special player.

    Floyd Little retired in 1975, but was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2010. It was an overdue honor.

    Still, you have to wonder if he wouldn't trade that yellow Hall of Fame jacket for a championship ring. After all, everyone on the panel agreed that football is about team.  

Spencer Tillman To Legends Panel: Does Twitter and Facebook Impact Player Focus?

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Spencer Tillman: Let's talk about the importance of focus. I was taught that focus has an anatomy to it. You have to unpack the parts you have and, collectively, they lead to focus. With all the psychic noise out there— cell phones, MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter— do these guys today have the ability to focus at the level that was required of you?

    Ronnie Lott: Tweeting about your coach or teammates: 'Man, our offensive line sucks,' stuff like that, it's a distraction. To succeed on the field, Everybody has to be there, to be present 100 percent.

    I think it has its place, Twitter and all of that, but now it has become about, "How can I promote myself, get a reality show?"

    You win as a team. It's not about you; it's about everybody on the team.

    Joe Greene: Our success with Pittsburgh was definitely a product of focus. We get trivialized a lot. What we say is just words. But it matters.

    You look at a circle. It is 360 degrees. You cannot make it anymore than that. That is all it is ever going to be. So, take a pie. If you cut that pie up into any number of dimensions, that means that is less amount of focus you will have on the job at hand.

    Spencer Tillman: Look at your computer. When you minimize a program on your computer, it is still running, using up memory.


    Wow! Who knew? These guys are not just brawn, folks. They are intelligent. They are insightful. They are wise.

    And that wisdom applies to more than just football.


Deacon Jones, Floyd Little: They Don't Pay Us To Dance

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    Floyd Little's response to the question of "focus" opened up a whole new can of worms.

    Little said, "They had just started with microwave ovens when I played. Technology is great, but at certain times, you have to put that aside and focus. As a team, we have to make sacrifices for each other.

    "When I see guys today dancing every time they make a play, they exert so much energy. I would want that energy for the next play. If I am thinking about my choreography, how am I going to focus on what defense the opponent is in and what my responsibility is on the next play.

    "My coach told me that, when I got to the end zone, to act like I had been there before."

    But where Floyd Little ended, Deacon Jones was just getting started. The panel had found his hot button and pushed it. The 72 year old legend leaped from his seat, took the microphone and went off.

    "I tell you, when I was playing, if a player celebrated the way these guys do when they score, he would have limped back to the huddle. That is just showing up your opponent. It is disrespectful. We would not have tolerated it. I am not physically able to do anything about it now, but I hate it.

    "You too busy doing the boogaloo to focus on the next play."

    Deacon got the loudest applause of the day. Apparently, the crowd agreed.

    I know I did.

    No one ever mentioned any names, but you have to wonder how  a Terrell Owens or  a Chad Ochocinco might respond to their elders on this topic. The generation gap is a pretty big chasm (think Grand Canyon) on this topic.

    Of course, they may just respond via Twitter or FaceBook, and I doubt ol' Deac has an account on either platform.


John Lynch, Notorious For His Hitting, Was Focused

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    For his part in the "focus" discussion, two-time All-Pro defensive back John Lynch said that he had a mentor tell him how to complete a tackle with authority.

    Lynch explained how he was able to be such a ferocious hitter as a defensive back:

    "I was told, 'Don't think about hitting to someone; hit through them. Visualize that there is a second guy behind the one you are tackling. You hit through the first guy and to the second one.'"

    Lynch said he took it a step further and visualized a second, a third, or even a fourth guy back there.

    Eddie George chimed in and said that the hardest hit he ever took was during the Pro Bowl, when John Lynch essentially knocked him out.

    The Pro Bowl!

    (Nothing remotely like that happened in this year's Pro Bowl, I assure you.)

    Now, that is focus. 

Jack Youngblood's Wisdom: Respect Your Opponents and Prepare For Tomorrow

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    I caught up with Jack Youngblood, one of the most fierce competitors of his generation, one of the greatest Los Angeles Rams players ever, and a hall of fame linebacker.

    I asked Youngblood about the notorious running battle he had with Roger Staubach. Both men were supremely competitive and that competitive nature boiled into fights on the field of play.

    I asked Youngblood if those animosities carried over. What was the relationship between such combatants like after football?

    Youngblood said, "I think, when you go into battle against other men who are great competitors, and you both leave everything you have on the field, it forms a bond. The mutual respect you have for each other is the foundation for the strongest of friendships.

    "I had some fierce battles with Conrad Dobler and Dan Dierdorf, but I could call either one of them right now and ask any favor I wanted and they would do it. And I would do the same for them."


    I also asked Jack Youngblood to talk about what it is like to be in a profession that lasts only a few years and then you are forced to retire at a relatively early age and figure out what to do with the rest of your life.

    "You mean, how to go back to the real world?" he asked. "That is what I call it. The real world. It's tough. It can be a difficult transition."

    How would you advise a current player to prepare for it?

    "Save your money," was the answer. "Save your money and think about your future. Be prepared beforehand. have a plan."


    This is what being a pioneer is all about, folks. When you cross that river that is off the map, stop and build a bridge for those who follow. These legends of the NFL are doing that when they share their wisdom with the generations behind them. 

Ahmad Bradshaw: In a Contract Year Right at the Wrong Time?

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Ahmad Bradshaw was one of the current NFL players in attendance at the NFLPA Legends Brunch. Always gracious and forthcoming, he talked with me about what it is like to be in a contract year when the league is threatening a lockout.

    "Well, Bradshaw said, "I always hope for the best. It is what it is. I cannot control it, but I won't worry about it. I believe we will get it worked out."


    Ahmad Bradshaw's plight is another stark reminder of how the uncertainty of the future impacts lives and careers. Sure, football is a business. But business is more than business: It's people that matter.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith: We Can Make the Game Better, Safer

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    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    No one is arguing that the NFL is a good product. Super Bowl Sunday is the single greatest example of that fact. America is obsessed with NFL football. It is a good business. It is a profitable business.

    So, what is the problem?

    DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, addressed the Legends Brunch crowd. He addressed the labor talks and the potential lockout.

    One of the most passionate parts of his speech had to do with health care for players. He pointed out that players currently had to be in the league for three years to receive any health care benefits beyond retirement, and that those benefits only extended for a five-year period.

    Mr. Smith pointed out that player injuries are not the results of "accidents." Their football-related injuries are a health care concern.

    Currently, teams do not contribute to player pension funds. 

    Smith said, "It is a bad thing when we see former players who cannot get around, who have gone bankrupt."

    Mr. Smith is convinced that football can be made better for everyone and safer for its players.

    "We have been blessed," Smith said.

    The game, he pointed out, has been economically beneficial for both sides.

Super Bowl XLV: Proof That The Game Must Go On

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    Matt Ludtke/Getty Images

    Super Bowl XLV is now another chapter in the storied history of the NFL. Fittingly, in a season with so much on the line for the future of the game, one of the NFL's most historic franchises has emerged victorious.

    The Green Bay Packers, in business since 1921, represent what the NFL has always been about. The team founded by a regular guy, owned by the people, located in the NFL's smallest city remains as relevant as ever it was.

    Enjoy what the game has become. But remember the past. Remember the Deacon Joneses, the Joe Greenes and the Jack Youngbloods on whose backs the game you watched on Sunday was built.

    Yes, remember the past. But hope for the future. Hope for level heads to prevail. Hope for the NFL and its players to come together: Not just for their own sakes, but for the sake of every fan. For the sake of every grandfather who remembers when football was football. For the sake of ever dad who grew up believing and has never stopped. For the sake of every son whose eyes light up when his favorite team takes the field.

    The game, Mr. Goodell, must go on. 

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