“Special teams is what allowed me to play in this league. So I take that with a lot of pride to play on that unit.”Julian Edelman, Super Bowl LIII MVP
In high school, unless you were a kicker the last unit you wanted to be on was special teams. Yes, you were on the field playing, but in our heads, that didn’t really count unless you were the returner. It was just unappreciated grunt work.
We (ignorantly) believed that since special teams weren’t fun and sexy like offense and defense, it wasn’t as important. But ask any football coach about special teams and they’ll show you how crucial that unit is, despite being often overlooked by fans.
Special teams work is grunt work. It’s not glamorous blocking for a punt. It doesn’t get you on highlight reels to snap a punt (unless you make a mistake). And who can even name two players on their favorite team’s field goal unit, not including your kicker?
Grunt work is an expression used to describe thankless and menial work. Grunt work can also refer to jobs that lack glamour and prestige or are boring and repetitive.Cambridge English Dictionary, source
But here’s the mistake most people make when they see grunt work. “Thankless” work doesn’t equal “unimportant work.”
Read that again.
Just because it’s boring or repetitive doesn’t make it unimportant.
In fact, 30 NFL games were decided by less than a field goal this year (30+ more decided by just 3 points). That’s one special teams play deciding a Win/Loss. Hundreds more college games this season were decided by a single special teams “grunt” play.
Thankless – but important.
So why does this matter?
Julien Edelman, NFL Super Bowl LIII MVP, was asked about his work on special teams and how he handles it as the starting wide receiver for the Patriots.
You see, on most teams, from high school to the NFL, the starting receivers don’t play special teams. Many believe being on that unit is beneath them as a starter. Not Edelman.
- Edelman had no scholarships out of high school.
- He played QB in college at Kent State
- He wasn’t invited to the NFL Draft Combine
- He was a 7th-round draft pick, behind 231 other players in 2009
Edelman had to play special teams if he wanted to make an NFL roster. So he did. And then he kept playing the position because he knew as long as he was willing to do the grunt work, he’d have the chance to play. No role was beneath him.
So what does that mean for us?
It’s a great example for our kids that no matter how great we believe we are, no role – and no person – is beneath us. If the Super Bowl MVP is willing to play special teams, block on running plays, and be focused & actively participating in team meetings, so can we.
It’s a great example for us as adults, that no job is beneath us. As managers, we occasionally step in and do the work interns do. As owners, it’s not beneath us to make our own cup of coffee or wipe down the bathroom sink.
My dad used to own 10+ convenience stores in east Texas. He had hundreds of employees working for him, yet, if he saw a dirty parking lot, he had no issues rolling up his sleeves, grabbing a broom, and sweeping it. It’s how a leader reinforces the culture that no work is beneath us and we all chip in together. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
No matter how big we get, a leader knows he/she is never too big for grunt work.