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Super Bowl 50 (XLVII) was played this week between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers in beautiful Santa Clara, California. Many have said that it wasn’t a “great” game. However, what’s being rightfully touted as the “greatness” within this game came from the Denver Broncos defense. And for an average fan like myself, and one who’s never played football competitively, it did seem like every time Carolina had the ball on offense, there was an overwhelming mass of angry, swarming orange bees savaging the league’s most potent offense lead by this years NFL MVP. While the Bronco defense was great, there was also a powerful undertone that struck me which came after the final whistle, where gratefulness trumped greatness.

First, a smidge of context.

One of the plots in this game was legendary quarterback (Peyton Manning of the Broncos) vs. rising quarterback phenom (Cam Newton of the Panthers). Cam had just been named the league MVP a few days prior and led his team to a 17-1 record leading up to the Super Bowl. Peyton, meanwhile is the first quarterback in NFL history to lead two different teams to two Super Bowls as a starting quarterback (the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts). He is also the oldest starting quarterback in a Super Bowl at age 39. His age has been apparent in recent years. He wasn’t the dominant quarterback of a decade ago. However, he was and is still effective, especially with the supporting cast around him. So the big question in this Super Bowl was, would this be the “crowning” of a new quarterback king, or would an “already-once crowned” king (Peyton won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts) reclaim the throne despite many odds?

The outcome is now well-known. The Broncos, with their almost-impenetrable defense and enough on offense, won 24-10.

Here’s where gratefulness showed up, and in my mind trumped greatness.

As the winning quarterback of a Super Bowl team, there are many reporters wanting to talk to you. In several of his post-game interviews, Peyton focused measurably on how grateful and honoured he was to be a part of the experience. Presumed by many to be “finished” after significant neck surgeries in recent years, he came to Denver to help a team win vs. have a team built around him to win. When talking about what he was grateful for, he mentioned gratitude for the teammates, a “great bunch of guys” and coaches who have included and supported him through several years of ups and downs in Denver (he and the Broncos lost the Super Bowl two years ago to Seattle in a lop-sided 43-8 affair). The tone that struck me was that he had been “included” in this team vs. assuming he was always a key part of it. When asked about whether he would retire “on top,” he emphasized that his priorities were to go hug his family, those that support him inside football and out. And when asked if moments like these cause to him reflect on a great career, he emphasized that he thought a lot about all the great coaches, teammates and supporters he’d had along the way, and how grateful he was to have had them in his life and career. And then he said:

“I’ve taken the time to call all those people and tell them how much I appreciate their support.”

Gratitude expressed as a practice, not just based on an outcome.

And finally, he emphasized how grateful he was to have been a part of this whole experience, and that he would go and “say a little prayer to the man upstairs” who, he feels, is a key part of this journey.

In my mind, it was and is Peyton’s humble gratitude that has him be truly great as a leader. Yes, he had immense talent. Yes, he worked hard to learn the game physically, mentally and emotionally. Yes, he played with some great teams and coaches. And with all of this, he clearly states that it is the people, circumstances and forces beyond him that have helped him be a part of great outcomes, and he’s sure to express that thankfulness to all.

In a sport where it pays to play big, talk big and get paid big, it’s refreshing to see a “thank you” trump a “thank me!”

We know that expressing gratitude promotes health and resilience in both those who give and receive it (see this 2014 Forbes article as a reference)

So where in your life can gratefulness lead greatness?

Who in your professional world (think team mates, coaches, mentors, etc.) are you grateful for? What do they represent to you and/or what have they done to foster your gratitude?

Please go let them know their impact on you.

What support systems do you have in your life (family, friends, community, beliefs, practices) that inspire you to moments of greatness and help pick you up when you fall?

Thank and nourish these people and practices.

And what experiences are you grateful for having co-created in your life?

Put your attention on that experience and its impact on you. Then, as Gay Hendricks suggests in his book The Big Leap, have your focused attention remain on that experience and impact for 15-20 seconds. This helps to strengthen the feeling from which you can go and create more experiences like these.

Thank you for reading this post. I’m grateful for having shared these thoughts together. And I’d love to hear what you have to say of greatness and gratefulness. Please share!