Mediocrity or greatness? That is the question.
The NFL consists of the world's most superior athletes (no disrespect to my NBA and FIFA brothers). Whether we're talking about superstars like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady or the 53rd player on a roster, the athletic and physical ability of NFL players is nothing short of phenomenal. With that said, there is still a very clear split between players considered "NFL good" and those considered "NFL great."
Why is that? In my brief four years in the NFL, I've come to believe the answer to this question rests with "want-to." In other words, because the talent level of most NFL players is so high, the question of greatness ultimately boils down to whether players "want to" do the things necessary to be great. While many criticize certain players like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco for their off-the-field antics, no one can question their commitment to excellence on the field. Their work ethic and preparation are second to none.
These players and others who are considered the best at their respective positions indeed are blessed with god-given abilities, but they don't rest on these talents. They work to maximize them. While others are sleeping or partying, the great ones are running hills, lifting weights and studying film. They do this not because a coach has instructed them to do so. They do it because they simply desire to be the very best.
Most people never see the sacrifice these players make to pursue greatness. They only see the finished product on game day. But rest assured that any player on the field whose performance separates him from his peers has made that possible because of the willingness to push himself to his physical and mental limits. Think of all the great ones of the past: Walter Payton and Jerry Rice and their hill-running, or Michael Jordan and Larry Bird shooting hundreds of free-throws a day. The formula has always been and always will be the same: Talent + "Want-To" = Greatness.
Now, although the formula appears rather simple, in actuality it's pretty complex. The decision to pursue greatness can be a scary one for a couple of reasons. First, the physical and mental sacrifice required is enough to make many shy away from making the commitment. I'm talking about a true grind. For instance, where I train in South Florida, it's not uncommon to see perennial Pro Bowlers bent over, hands on knees, emptying their guts (apologies if you're eating while reading this) after a workout. Then these same players come back the very next day to repeat the same post-workout ritual. That's what it takes -- an unrelenting commitment to achieve greatness. And this is in addition to us attending our team's mandatory voluntary offseason workout programs. For many, just the thought of having to pay such a huge price is enough to bail on greatness and simply get by.
Second, the pursuit of greatness forces the athlete to put his ego aside and face the limitations of his athletic ability. The thought process goes a little something like this: What if I make the necessary sacrifices, put in hours of extra work on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom, yet my play only marginally improves? Or what if there is no significant improvement in my game at all? What if I do all that's required and then some, but I'm simply not talented enough to be "great?"
That's some heavy stuff to consider for a professional athlete. In some ways it's understandable why many players would rather not have those questions answered. Instead, they accept mediocrity, especially when average pay at the NFL level is pretty darn good.
My grandfather instilled in me from a very early age that whenever you commit to something, "be in it to win it." Why else commit to it? So I choose to pursue greatness. Only time will tell if I get there.
1. I think I'd consider an 18-game regular season if the owners and GMs agreed to suit up and play too. C'mon man, seriously? Ray Lewis said it best: "We are not machines!" If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
2. I think you should follow me on Twitter. Doing so means getting an insight into my private life, including tales of a cab ride I recently took where the driver -- or the last passenger -- decided to, um, change the atmosphere. There seriously should be a law against flatulence in cabs and elevators.
3. I think potty training is way more difficult than running away from 300-pound linemen. Somebody needs to come up with some new strategies on this one. I'm beginning to think my son prefers "poo-poo" pampers over fresh pampers. Help me please!
4. I think I'd like to know where Dave Chappelle is. Show us your face, Dave. Comedy Central has been kinda weak without you. Come back, brother! We need you!
5. I think I like the vuvuzela. I know a lot of soccer fans are annoyed by the buzzing sounds these little horns make, but not me. I think they add to the madness of the World Cup. But don't hear me wrong, Colts fans: You don't need to blow these when the Jags come to town.
6. I think you're not living a fulfilled existence if you haven't seen The Hangover, Wedding Crashers and Old School. These are the funniest movies I've ever seen.
7. I think Manu Ginobili is the best player in the NBA ... by far. He plays every position but center and always guards the other team's best player. Stop watching highlights and watch the game, and you will see what I'm talking about.
8. I think this whole notion that small market teams can't succeed in the NFL is ridiculous. The NFL is a global brand. Let's think outside of the box, Jag fans, and take over the world. I'm tired of everyone doubting us.
9. I think I have a book recommendation for all the rookies out there: Forty Million Dollar Slaves, by William C. Rhoden. It will enlighten you on the success and failure you can have as a professional athlete. This book cut down my rookie learning curve a lot.
10. I think I'd like to thank the great Peter King for this opportunity. I hope you enjoyed my column and have a great day.
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Nnamdi Asomugha: Advice for rookies on adjusting to life in NFL