Entrepreneurs and Placekickers: The Pressure to Win

No one understands the mindset of the football players about to compete in the Super Bowl better than a business owner. Failure can be cruel. But it can also be the best business lesson you'll ever get

Written by Ian Portsmouth

There’s no bigger day on the U.S. cultural calendar than Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a massive celebration of such cherished American values as giving it your all, cheering for the underdog, celebrating winners and believing that anyone, no matter how low their initial station in life, will rise to the top if they put their mind to it.

Read: Branson and Musk: Most Businesses Fail. So What?

It’s a pretty big deal for competition, too. Apart from the overhyped battle on the gridiron for a chance to lift the Vince Lombari trophy, there are tens of millions of contests of educated guessing (e.g., betting against the point spread), braggadocio (this year, art galleries in Indianapolis and New Orleans wagered fine works of art that their respective teams would win) and blind luck ($500 says the coin toss comes up heads!).

Risk is involved in all instances, but no individual has a higher risk-to-reward ratio on Super Bowl Sunday than the placekicker. Kick the big field goal, and you’re the hero of the moment, for sure — but you never leave a lasting impression. After all, a kicker’s defining role amounts to a single precise motion that takes barely a second to complete — and is performed two or three times a game. It’s the quarterback who, marshalling the troops on offence play after play, gets lasting credit. Introduce a kid to the undefeated ’72 Dolphins or the dynastic Steelers of the late ’70s, and he’ll never ask you who the kicker was.

But the punishment is harsh and redemption is rare for the kicker who misses the would-be winner in the game’s dying moments. Among the most famous is Scott Norwood, whose last-second miss from 47 yards handed the New York Giants victory in Super Bowl XXV and began the Buffalo Bills’ ignominious run of four consecutive championship losses — a mark that might never be equalled. Although Norwood played one more season for the Bills, he was released and forced into retirement when no other team would take a chance on him. Today, he’s a real estate agent in Virginia, and, reportedly, spends the weeks leading up to each year’s Super Bowl evading reporters who want him to relive what’s etched sarcastically into the football playbook as the “47 Wide Right.”

Yup: failure can be terribly cruel and, in some professions, fatal. But business owners can have second chances — and third and fourth chances as well. Moreover, failure is not an end in itself but a means to future success. The ultimate difference between winners and losers is not whether they’ve failed, but what they do with their failures.

When true entrepreneurs fail, they identify and learn from their mistakes, dust themselves off and start building again — despite the stinging gaze of cynics and doubters. And when they rebound, they remind us that the greatest limits on business endeavour are the ones we put on ourselves.


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