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Creating Your Super Bowl Moment: NFL Champion Randy Cross On The Power of Preparation

The last time Atlanta hosted a Super Bowl, the world was treated to a fantastic game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans. The contest came down to the last play of the game—Titans receiver Kevin Dyson broke across the middle, and Rams linebacker Mike Jones rushed to cover.

Jones got there about a half-second after the ball did. He wrapped Dyson up, and the receiver fell less than one yard shy of the end zone. Mere inches determined who was crowned champion and who finished second.

In an interview with USA Today about the play, Jones recalled how writer Peter King approached him after the game to talk.

“You do realize that might be one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history,” King said.

But for Jones, it was just another play.

“Until that time, I was just happy that we’d won the Super Bowl…I didn’t even think of the magnitude of the play until he said that.”

Jones wasn’t thinking about the significance of the play, but he did recall thinking about something else, something that happened in the Rams locker room before the game.

“I remember that Randy Cross came and talked to the team,” Jones said. “Randy played for Coach (Dick) Vermeil at UCLA.”

The words Cross offered in that locker room stuck with Jones throughout the game…and should stick with each of us for many years.

After reading the story, I got on the phone with Cross to ask him about that pre-game speech. We caught up on Monday evening, right as this year’s Super Bowl week kicked off. Cross, an Atlanta resident, remembered his speech from 19 years ago pretty well.

“If you remember, that was the year Atlanta iced-over, so it took me three hours to get from my house to the team’s hotel. And I remember thinking all during that drive, ‘What am I going to say?’”

Cross, who played offensive line at UCLA, won Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII with the San Francisco 49ers during the Bill Walsh era, retiring after that third Super Bowl victory.

“So I’m driving, and I remember the stuff that guys used to tell us when I was playing. ‘Give 200 percent’, ‘Leave it all on the field’, and I didn’t want to give those Rams players any of that crap. Let’s be honest: No one has 200 percent to give!”

Instead, Cross told the team something so amazingly simple that it was unforgettable. Mike Jones still remembers every word.

“He said, ‘Guys, there’s going to be a part of the game where a guy that a lot of people don’t know about is going to make a play’,” Jones told USA Today. “Kevin Carter, Todd Lyght, D’Marco Farr and myself sat there, because we always ate pregame together, and said, ‘Who’s going to be that guy he was talking about?’”

Cross remembers the message a little differently.

“I just told them that the game is filled with ordinary plays that the moment would make extraordinary,” Cross said. “Every Super Bowl has a play like that, where a guy is just doing his job, but the circumstances make it memorable.”

I love that idea—in fact, I love it so much it’s why I got Cross on the phone.

In my study of Greatness, I’ve watched the best athletes in the world turn ordinary moments into extraordinary memories. They do so because they are relentless in their preparation—they’re obsessed with honing their skills so that what we see as exceptional is just another day at the office for them.

And it’s not just true of athletes. This is a lesson that should be taught in every business, every company, every team. Your day is filled with ordinary moments that context makes extraordinary, but it’s up to you to perform your task with excellence in precisely that moment.

Cross drove that point home with me by referencing a Super Bowl moment that was memorable for the wrong reason.

“Just think about [former Cincinnati Bengals DB] Lewis Billups—he dropped an interception in his hands on the last drive of Super Bowl XXIII. And that was something he probably did thousands of times in practice.”

This weekend, after the players are introduced and the anthem is sung, the biggest football game of the year will kick off. Players for both the Patriots and Rams will go out and play the most significant game of the season.

But no matter how big the game there will still come a moment when one player makes an ordinary play and it will become an indelible memory. Whether it’s good or bad will be up to him—and how much he’s prepared.

Ordinary plays. Extraordinary moments.

Will you be ready when your moment comes?

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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