Leading From the Bench

Jan 28, 2009

I take a lot of slack for my love of football. I hear it’s weird for a girl to dig a game. WhatEVER. I’ve loved watching football since the first time I sat next to my dad on the sofa watching Tom Landry coach his heart out for the Dallas Cowboys. Half the time my dad’s snoring drowned out the TV, but I kept watching. The NFL was as much a part of my Sunday as hymnals and potluck casseroles.

I’ll be warming another sofa this Sunday afternoon. I’m pumped over this Superbowl, rooting for Arizona all the way. Not because I spent the first 7 years of my life in Arizona. Not because my parents were both raised there. And not because aunts, uncles and cousins still make their home in the blistering state. This Bronco fan will be rooting for the Cards for one simple reason: Kurt Warner.

I remember when Warner won the Superbowl in 2000, a record-breaking game which earned him the Superbowl MVP. But it didn’t make me a fan. And I remember when he led the Rams to second Superbowl appearance in 2002, quite an accomplishment for a former unknown from the Arena Football League. Still, not interested.

I didn’t sit up and take notice until Warner’s years of wild success were followed by a lengthy season of pride-swallowing demotion. The starter football quarterback, Superbowl champ and MVP found himself warming the bench. That’s when I started paying attention. You can learn a lot about a person by watching him handle defeat.

While up-and-comers assumed his starter QB position, Kurt Warner found himself demoted to has-been status in record time. Game after game I watched him stand on the sideline, knowing how difficult it’d be to go from Superbowl giant to second-string nobody. Who enjoys watching from the sidelines when you’re passionate about playing the game?

The change in rank didn’t appear to bother Warner in the least. Every camera shot showed him with his arm around a teammate, offering encouragement to the new QB, or clapping his hands while cheering his team on. I’m sure he had his moments, but I never saw anything resembling bitterness or resentment. Instead, he radiated courage and leadership. Even from the bench.

That’s precisely why I’m cheering for the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Because one man dared to make it less about himself and more about everyone else. And, in the process, he inspired me to be someone who can cheer and applaud and encourage and lead even when I’m not the one calling the shots or bringing home the trophy.

Leadership is not a position. It’s an attitude.


  1. Jerolyn

    So true Michele. We’ll be watching the game too. You are not alone in your femine love for football. One of my decisions when I got married was to learn to love and understand.it While I’m still short on understanding all of it, I really do enjoy watching it and will miss it for the next 9 months or so. We’re rooting for the Cardinals as well..

  2. Robin Archibald

    Okay, Michelle, you’ve almost convinced me to switch from my tradition of “sports team allegiance dictated by geographical proximity” to one of “allegiance dictated by sports figure’s personal character.” I’ve just never known much about the individual players. But my curiosity about Warner was piqued when the Eagles (my home team) lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs and my husband remarked that he might root for the Cardinals in the SuperBowl just because he liked Warner. Since I was looking for a new SuperBowl fave, and in fact do favor personal character above all else, I asked “Why? What about Warner?” But he only said, “I just like him.” But now you have made the case for Warner and I’ll have to make a decision: proximity or character? It’s tough to let go of old ways . . .
    Pittsburgh IS in my state, even if it’s at the other end of it. But then I AM from So. Cal. and So. Cal. shares a border with AZ and I lived in CA a lot longer than I’ve lived in PA. Plus I’ve been to AZ more times than I’ve been to Pittsburgh . . . Okay, I think I’m there: GO CARDINALS!!!

  3. Michele

    Robin, hilarious … Reading your comment felt like pulling up a chair and eavesdropping on a conversation between your warring selves . I resemble that. I’ll be thinking about you on Sunday! Go CARDS!!!


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