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Hall Of Famer Morten Andersen On Leadership Lessons In The NFL

Bob Levey / Stringer

In recognition of my friend and former teammate, Morten Andersen’s upcoming induction into the NFL Hall of Fame on August 5, 2017, here’s a story indicative of great leadership skills he recognized in a fellow player in a moment of high pressure.

Morten Andersen stepped into a moment of leadership with the legendary quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler.

"In 1983, my locker was next to his in the Saints locker room, and I often saw him walk his talk. We’re playing the Atlanta Falcons in the old Fulton County Stadium, and we were down by two points and had less than two minutes to go. We’re moving the football, and I had a thirty-five yarder from the left hash to win the game. It was a beautiful afternoon out there."

Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, an outstanding high school athlete, received contract offers from several pro teams. However, he chose to play college football at the University of Alabama. He then moved on to the NFL and played for the Oakland Raiders, and with his team, won the 1976 Super Bowl Championship. Late in his career, Kenny moved on to the Oilers and finally the Saints.

Andersen continued: “I was so nervous that I was sweating bullets. I’m coming on to the field and Kenny was standing with the referee, arm draped over the ref’s shoulder (something only a veteran like Kenny could do), letting the clock run down. When the clock hits three seconds, he called timeout. Now, I’m going out for one of my first game wins as an NFL player against our nemesis and archrival, the Atlanta Falcons. So, Kenny’s coming off the field, and I’m coming on to the field.

“’Morton let’s go home!’

“Those words caught me completely off guard. He could have said how much we needed this kick in the last three seconds of the game. He had to know I was shitting in my pants, but his calmness calmed me.

“He could see the fear in me; my eyes were as big as tea cups. Well, he grabbed me firmly on the shoulder, then grabbed my arm, and looked right at me with a smirk on his face. He said, ‘Morton let’s go home.’

“I went out and kicked it, and we did go home.”

“He pushed me to step over the line, and it takes a leader to recognize these high-pressure situations and totally deflate them. I learned a lot from him on how to handle these big situations with humor and with quiet confidence.”

Morten Andersen’s view of a leader’s self-perception suggests that humor helps a leader not take the game too seriously.

“How seriously do you take yourself? I mean let’s look at the big picture. I’m playing a kid’s game here. This is a very privileged existence that we’ve carved out for ourselves because we get paid very well to play a game we love. So how seriously can you take yourself? My brother still claims I haven’t worked a day in my life! I’m the luckiest human being alive here."

What other player stands out as one of the top leaders in the NFL?

“Also, I would say that Clay Matthews is the single most influential leader I know who truly lived his vision of leadership—one of the top three players that I’ve ever played with. As a linebacker who played for nineteen years with the Cleveland Browns, he was remarkable to be able to play that position so long, be in the kind of shape that he was, and take the physical abuse that he did.

“Clay Matthews had no false sense of entitlement, and that’s why he played as long as he did.”

Morten Andersen always says, “You need to be aware. If you’re a confident person, you carry yourself a certain way and you talk a certain way. You act a certain way.”

In my first book, Life’s a Snap! I talked of how leaders carry themselves with awareness and a positive viewpoint. A leader’s confidence is the assurance that you can succeed, and it is infectious. An aware player in the game of life can read his own emotions and sense his moods. He can shift to the mood needed in any situation, like being upbeat in a team meeting, inspirational in a speech or aggressive on the field.

A leader’s confidence is the assurance that you can succeed, and it is infectious.

Awareness is trusting yourself to know how to respond when things aren’t going as well as you’d like. You literally have to be fearless and, ultimately, trust your training and instinct to take over.


Excerpt from Game Plan: Leadership Lessons from the Best of the NFL. Get your copy here to read more great NFL stories. 

Image credit: Doug Pensinger / Staff