Many of the people I like the best, the people I find most impressive, don’t take themselves very seriously. It’s not that they don’t care about their work, it’s that they truly enjoy what they are doing, and they don’t make it about them.
Frank Reich is the former backup quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. He is the one who orchestrated the greatest comeback in NFL History. I was there, sitting in the stands with my brother. Our dad was there, too, but sitting on the other side of the stadium. If we’d all had cell phones at the time, we would have left early in the 3rd quarter, when our team was trailing 35-3—who could blame us? But we were supposed to meet Dad at the car after the game, and we didn’t have phones, so we had to stay. We figured we’d sit there, watching our team lose, and freeze.
And then Frank Reich does it. Leads the Bills back to victory, winning 41-38 in overtime. The Greatest Comeback, ever.
There were other moments I witnessed Frank Reich do amazing things as the backup quarterback, but that one lives on forever.
Years later, living in Charlotte, I was invited to go to an event at The Touchdown Club, to watch a speaker, learn about the Nagurski Award, and meet some incredible people. Frank Reich was the featured speaker.
The one part of Reich’s talk that stands out in my memory was the way he talked about being the quarterback coach for the Indianapolis Colts. The quarterback? Peyton Manning.
If you know football, you know Manning is one of the most respected, smartest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He has often been referred to as a coach on the field. And Reich coached him? Well, you know he must have been (or he could have felt) a big part of Manning’s incredible performance, so that talk would have been a great opportunity for Reich to bask in Manning’s glory, remind all of us how important he was.
But that’s not what he did.
Reich actually made fun of himself, saying that Manning was so good, there really wasn’t much for a quarterback coach to do. The crowd laughed. He immediately captivated the audience. How can you not be drawn to someone like this?
I had an opportunity to shake Reich’s hand afterwards—of course, he was gracious. He smiled and said he loved that I was from Buffalo. I’d looked up to him since I was a kid, and in person, he was exactly how I had hoped he would be.
It’s not that he doubted himself. I’m sure he knew, just like Manning knew, the Colts people knew, and the people in the audience knew that Reich was a very valuable coach. But Reich isn’t the kind of guy that will tell you all about it.
He’s not the kind of guy who will turn up his nose at a job offer, either. He was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles that won the Super Bowl, and after that he got job interviews to be a head coach, but no offers until the guy the Indianapolis Colts really wanted said no. By that point in his career, Reich could have been forgiven for not wanting to be anyone’s second choice, but he didn’t care. He took the job.
Again, it’s not that he doubted himself. This year (his first year as the head coach of the Colts), his team started out 1-5. The media doubted him. What was he thinking, everyone asked (especially in that OT loss to the Houston Texans where he went for it on 4th down). But he didn’t worry. Then the Colts went 10-1 to finish the season, winning their last game of the year to make the playoffs. That takes conviction. That takes knowing you can do it (on the inside), regardless of what anyone else thinks or says.
But Reich never has taken himself too seriously. He’s never made it about himself. The great ones don’t. And we shouldn’t, either.
Thank you, Frank Reich, for teaching us this lesson through your actions.