Otto Graham was quarterback for the Cleveland Browns when they played the Rams for the championship in 1950. Graham recalls, “We were one point behind, moving down the field in the last two minutes. All we needed was a field goal to win. I ran a quarterback draw and picked up about ten yards. I was blindsided and fumbled, and it was recovered by the Rams.”
Graham couldn’t forget that turnover. The Browns were close enough to kick a field goal and win it. Otto said, “I never felt so downhearted in my life. I acquired cancer about 17 years ago and I wasn’t anywhere near as devastated when I had that cancer as I was when I dropped that football. It was our first year in the league and we had a chance to win this thing and I blew it.”
But an interesting thing happened. As Graham came off the field he saw Coach Paul Brown coming toward him. Graham’s stomach tightened. “He and Vince Lombardi were very much alike, except Lombardi would yell and scream at you, where Coach Brown would never raise his voice. He would look at you with those cold eyes that would go right through you.”
Graham said that when he came off the field he was feeling dejected. He was shocked because Coach Brown did not get angry at him, but encouraged him. “He tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Otto, we’re still going to get them.” Graham said, “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me emotionally.”
The Rams needed only a first down to win the game, but the Browns were so pumped up by Otto Graham’s emotions that they held the Rams and got the ball back to Graham with a minute and 30 seconds left. Graham moved the Browns 80 yards, and with 20 seconds to go Lou Grozza kicked a field goal and the Browns won 30-28!
Otto Graham said, “Paul Brown knew when to kick you in the pants and when to pat you on the shoulder. If he had glared at me, we would have lost. His encouragement gave me so much confidence, and I passed on that confidence to my teammates in the huddle and we went right down the field and got three points. That’s part of coaching people don’t understand.”
We might not play quarterback for a championship team, but we have that same tendency to respond better to encouragement than an angry scolding. Everybody will make mistakes. A little encouragement might turn a “fumble” into a “winning score.”
[The above is an excerpt found on page 66 from the book Extra Effort by John Ed Mathison. Extra Effort is available through the John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries.]