Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson gave a stunning display of grace under pressure, team spirit, and emotional intelligence Monday night after his team lost a game–by one point–that many believe they would have won if he’d been allowed to make a key play. His example is a lesson for every leader, and for everyone who’s ever been part of a team.
Here’s some of what he did right.
1. Seahawks fans booed Wilson. He took it in stride.
Until this season, Wilson was quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, a team with such fiercely loyal fans that they’re known as “12s” because their enthusiasm is supposedly equivalent to an extra player. These fans would now see their beloved former quarterback return to play against the Seahawks instead of with them. A local radio station likened it to meeting up with an ex who’s now dating someone else.
So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Seattelites booed Wilson the moment he took the field for pre-game activities. And they made a point throughout the game of loudly cheering their new quarterback, Geno Smith. Wilson’s response was mild. “I didn’t waver,” he said during his post-game press conference. “They’ll love you one day and they’ll hate you the next. That’s sports. I’m going to keep competing, I’m going to keep battling. I know who I am.”
2. Wilson defended the Broncos’ controversial decision not to give him the ball.
In the last 20 seconds of the game, the Seahawks were ahead 17 to 16. It was fourth and 5 for the Broncos at the Seahawks’ 46-yard line. Many observers, including Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, assumed the Broncos would let their new star quarterback run the play and try to gain those 5 yards. Instead, Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett chose to have kicker Brandon McManus attempt a 64-yard field goal.
It did not go well. With McManus’s powerful kick behind it, the ball sailed high into the air and then came down a bit too far to the left, missing the outside of the goal posts by what looked like a couple of feet. Wilson watched helplessly from the sideline. The Seahawks held the ball for the last few seconds to win the game.
Hackett’s decision drew immediate and pointed criticism. “Nathaniel Can’t Hackett,” crowed the sports news website The Ringer. Some wondered why the Broncos gave up three players and many draft picks–and paid $245 million–just to get Wilson but then didn’t give him the ball for a crucial play.
Even so, when asked about the incident, Wilson called McManus “the best field goal kicker maybe in the game.” Wilson said McManus was quite capable of making the kick, even if it didn’t go in this time. And he said he believed in Hackett. “If we get in that situation again, I wouldn’t doubt whatever he decided.”
It was a wise thing to say. Wilson was supporting his new team, which is important for him to do. But he’s also smart enough to know that McManus’ kick could just as easily have gone in instead of out. And then Hackett would have been praised as a genius.
3. Wilson is taking the long view.
Wilson spent 10 years in Seattle and he talked a lot about how much he loved playing in the Seahawks’ Lumen Stadium. He also said how much he enjoyed playing football with some of his best friends, even if he was now on an opposing team. He said his new team was working well and very focused. “It just didn’t go our way,” he added. “But guess what, there’s 16 more games to go. There’s a lot more football to play and I’m looking forward to what we can do.”
That sense of perspective, seeing every win or loss as part of a larger whole, is a powerful ability that every great leader has. It sounds like Wilson is worth everything the Broncos paid for him, and more.
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