Seattle’s Fine Line of Risk and Reward in Super Bowl 49

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas, USATODAY Sports

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas, USATODAY Sports

Twenty seconds left to go in the game. One yard to go for the game-winning touchdown. The possibility to clinch back-to-back championships with a running back nicknamed “Beast Mode” on the field. Given this scenario, it seems like a simple play call: with three downs to go, hand the ball to the running back until he gets into the end zone…or until he doesn’t, but at least give him the ball.

Instead, during Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks elected to attempt a risky inside slant pass to try to beat the New England Patriots. Their reward? An undrafted rookie for the Patriots broke on the ball, intercepted it in the end zone, and essentially sealed the victory for New England. If there was ever an instance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, this was it. In those few seconds, the emotions of two teams, two cities, two fan bases, and the millions watching on TV changed instantly.

What followed was shock and dismay at what seemed to be the most mind-boggling play call in Super Bowl history. However, if that play works, Seattle’s Coach Pete Carroll perhaps looks brilliant, calling a “gutsy” play (football term for risky) that no one expected. Now, we’re talking about one of the “dumbest” play calls in recent Super Bowl memory.

The same situation can occur in your business. You may have a great track record and look like a genius. However, if you take huge risk that doesn’t work out – one that looks like a super blunder – you suddenly appear to be woefully under qualified. In this situation, people may react in many different ways. Coach Carroll took the admirable route, and quite frankly, the best route to take: he put the blame on himself.

“That’s my fault, totally,” Carroll said after the game.

Marshawn Lynch, the Beast Mode waiting for the ball in the backfield also took the high road. When asked if he was surprised he didn’t get the ball, he responded: “No…because football is a team sport.”

Two of the biggest leaders on the team refrained from pointing fingers. These individuals and the rest of the team may get back to the big game next year. They may never reach it again. But even though the risk they took didn’t work out, costing them the game, it’s how they handled it that showed the true measure of their championship character.

After all, this is a franchise that took a risk on a twice-failed NFL head coach (Carroll) and drafted a 5’11” quarterback. Seattle’s reward? A combination that has helped them reach back-to-back Super Bowls and – even after that stinging loss – has made them favored once again to win it all next year.

Three main takeaways from Seattle’s situation:

  • Measure Your Risk vs. Reward: Businesses are based on taking risks; just be sure if your risk fails, there’s a backup plan so you don’t bottom out.
  • If it’s your fault, shoulder the blame: No one like being thrown under the bus and it’s pretty hard to accomplish your goals if you’re the only one left standing.
  • Fail fast so you can recover quickly: Getting in the same position again – and doing it differently – is the only way to get over it.