John Madden: To be great, surround yourself with greatness

John Madden, here with Hailey Rose Gattuso on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, says that surrounding yourself with greatness is the key to being great yourself. (Photo by Lauren Kirchmyer)

John Madden, here with Hailey Rose Gattuso on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, says that surrounding yourself with greatness is the key to being great yourself. (Photo by Lauren Kirchmyer)

Being blessed with talent is clearly crucial to anything you pursue. Want to be among the best? You need ability.

From there, many people think as long as you work as hard as possible, you can get to the top.

Is this true?

Earlier this month, while covering the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions in Canton, Ohio, I got some input from legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden.

You may know him as the man who coached the Oakland Raiders to seven AFC Western Division titles and a victory in Super Bowl XI. Or you may know him as the sports broadcaster who won 13 Emmys. Many of you also know him from the Madden football video games.

He’s a well-rounded Hall of Famer, for sure.

“You have to have talent,” he told me on the steps of the Hall of Fame, “because if you don’t have talent, then you can do all the work in the world and it doesn’t make a difference.”

Talent and hard work aren’t the only keys, though. Who you’re surrounded by makes a big difference too.

“There are some great players that are on bad teams that don’t get noticed,” Coach Madden said. “And there are probably some great coaches who don’t have great players who don’t get noticed.”

Marv Levy, at left, told LSY's Hailey Rose Gattuso that his Buffalo Bills wouldn't bring on players with a history of questionable character. (Photo by Lauren Kirchmyer)

Marv Levy, at left, told LSY’s Hailey Rose Gattuso that his Buffalo Bills wouldn’t bring on players with a history of questionable character. (Photo by Lauren Kirchmyer)

A factor that often gets pushed to the wayside is how the success of others can affect yours. There is a reason why adults drive into our heads clichés like “choose your friends carefully” and “don’t give in to peer-pressure.” The people you surround yourself with do influence you, whether you want them to or not, and even if you don’t realize it.

In a recent phone interview with former Buffalo Bills coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Marv Levy, I learned that the coaching staff “would not bring guys with a history of flawed character on the team … regardless of how good they were.”

Bill Polian, the former Bills general manager who went on to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, once told Levy, “Ability without character will lose.”

In the world of an athlete, surrounding yourself with talent and competition brings your own ability to the next level. Your teammates should inspire, motivate, and at times frustrate you because it pushes you to be your best. It’s healthy competition.

I asked Coach Levy to what extent he thought teammates influenced each other.

“I think very definitely they influence each other,” he said, “and I honestly think there is a better chance they do influence each other more positively than negatively.”

He offered the example of Bruce Smith, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman who played on the Bills during the Levy era.

“I know when Bruce Smith, maybe one of the greatest defensive ends that ever played the game – joined us, he was a little bit overindulgent,” Coach Levy said. “(Veteran linebacker) Darryl Talley took him under his wing in such a way, with such example, that Bruce became extremely well-conditioned.”

It is common to hear athletes say that their team is their family, especially those who are successful. Why is that? They have learned to work together both on and off the field because it is essential to being great.

Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who recently pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge, is a prime example of how being surrounded by the wrong people can bring you down. Some of his Patriot teammates told the media that he did not spend much time off the field with his team like everyone else did. Instead he spent time with his friends from Connecticut who were seen as suspicious. Exactly who these people were are unknown, but you have to wonder: If Hernandez had made more of an effort to make his team his so-called family, could he have avoided the legal troubles he’s currently facing?

If you are looking to be the best of best, in anything you are pursuing, take into consideration who your friends are, and who your teammates are, and how they could affect you.

Hailey Rose Gattuso, LSY sports editor, Mount St. Mary Academy

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