Thursday, January 14, 2021

Here are the life lessons we should all learn from A Guy Named Blake

One of the fun storylines in my Cleveland Browns' playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday involved a young man playing in his first NFL game.

His birth certificate says he is named Blake Hance. But to Cleveland football fans, he will forever be "a guy named Blake."

Hance, who played his college ball at Northwestern (which, I'll go ahead and say, suggests he's a pretty smart dude), was a member of the New York Jets' practice squad when the Browns signed him on January 2nd. The team was in need of a backup offensive lineman, and they liked what they had seen of Hance.

Blake didn't play in the regular season finale against Pittsburgh, but when backup lineman Michael Dunn went down with an injury against the Steelers the following week in the playoffs, in came Hance.

I saw him sitting on the bench earlier in the game and said to no one in particular in my living room, "Hance? I have no idea who this person is."

My unfamiliarity with him didn't last long.

Hance came in and played brilliantly, particularly when you consider it was his first-ever NFL game, and in the playoffs no less! He was a back-up to a back-up. No one would have blamed him if he had had some trouble handling Pittsburgh's vaunted defensive line.

But he didn't. He and his linemates kept quarterback Baker Mayfield fully protected throughout the rest of the game as the Browns recorded their first playoff win since 1994...and their first road playoff victory since the year I was born (1969).

After the game when he was being interviewed on NBC, Mayfield gave this now-famous sound bite: "A guy named Blake that I introduced myself to literally in the locker room before the game started up."

And a Cleveland star was born. There are "A Guy Named Blake" t-shirts for sale, the proceeds from which Hance is donating to the youth football program in his hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois. Hance has been doing all sorts of media interviews and will always be remembered for being one of the heroes in the win against the Steelers.

All of which is a great story, but there's more to it. Each of us should learn something from what Blake Hance did. In fact, I'll give you three things:

  • "Next man up" is not just a sports cliche: Coaches and players use this phrase to suggest that even back-up players always need to be ready to play, because you never know when your number will be called. The same is true in business and in life. You have no idea what opportunities are going to be thrown your way. Much of the great stuff that happens to you will seemingly come out of the blue. What are you doing to prepare yourself for it? You have goals and ambitions. When the opportunity comes along, how are you making yourself ready to seize them? Seriously ask yourself these two questions.
  • You don't want to hear this, but it comes down to hard work: By all accounts, Hance has worked hard in practice and in the meeting room during his short tenure with the Browns. However improbable it seemed that he would get into a live game, it was still a very real possibility. So he put in the work, both physical and mental. You have heard this before (to the point that it may not even register anymore), but you have to be willing to put in the work. That's just the way our existence on this planet works. If you don't work hard, your chances of success are minimal. A guy named Blake worked hard and it paid off.
  • What Hance did is what professionals do: To me, the highest compliment anyone can pay you in your career is that you are "a professional." In sports, the implication is that even though you're playing a game for a living, you play it the right way. You take it seriously, and that shows in the way you prepare, the way you execute, and the way you carry yourself. I don't care what your job is. If you cannot say you approach your work as a mature professional, then it's time to step back and figure out why not. Blake Hance is the professional we all aspire to be.
Well done, young man.

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