I guess it is far too easy, now, to take for granted this extraordinary franchise, these New England Patriots.
Our Pats face the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at Gillette Stadium. It is the sixth time in the past 11 years that the Patriots play in the American Football Conference championship game of the National Football League.
It is incredible. I mean, really, over the past 11 years, New England has three Super Bowl wins, and five Super Bowl appearances. And, let's face it – if a few plays had gone the other way, the Patriots could have won five, if not six, Super Bowls, during this period.
Yeah, yeah, OK – I understand the flip side of the coin, that if a few plays had gone against the Pats there may have been only one Super Bowl win.
Still, none of this negates what a powerful and competitive, and consistently winning team is New England.
And this dynasty would not have been if not for team owner Bob Kraft and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
You can talk about Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker, “Gronk,” Aqib Talib, and Shane Vereen, all you want, yet if not for Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick there are no Lombardi Trophies.
Bill Belichik is one all and out epic winner. And, he has strong ties to, and is motivated by, a guy from Easton.
So there it was in late May 2008, and I was behind the wheel, driving back from Syracuse, N.Y., with Jim Craig, Olympic gold medalist, goalie for the 1980 U.S. “Miracle on Ice” hockey team. Jim, of course, is an Easton native, and a 1975 graduate of Oliver Ames High School.
I did, and still do, a lot of work for Jim, researching and working with him to structure his speeches and various presentations.
Jim is one of the most in demand motivational speakers, teamwork coaches, and sales and marketing consultants in the U.S.
From coast to coast, and internationally, some of the most accomplished, established, and successful corporations and other organizations bring in Jim to guide and direct their groups to even bigger wins, and to achieve beyond the possible.
As we drove, Jim was in the passenger seat, and he was going over some notes, and he was checking his voicemail on his mobile phone, and said, “Hmm, Bill Belichick left me a message.”
Now, that might seem a huge and big-time event for most people: Bill Belichick leaving you a voice message.
And, yes, for Jim Craig, when he heard Bill Belichick's voice on the message, he was more than curious and wanted to hear what the great coach had to say – but, as well, and for sure, Jim Craig and Bill Belichick already were friends. The two men got along, and knew each other, well.
Jim and Belichick had met at a philanthropic event on Cape Cod, and they stayed in touch.
Indeed, if you read the back cover of the well-reviewed business book Jim co-wrote, Gold Medal Strategies: Business Lessons From America's Team, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011), you will find this testimonial from Belichick: “Jim Craig is an inspiration to all of us! I thank him for setting the bar at the top!”
So, let's get back to the voice message.
What was up, as Coach Belichick explained on the message, is that his beloved Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, in two days, was playing heavily favored Duke in the semifinals of the NCAA championship tournament at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Gillette Stadium was not far from the office in Norton of Gold Medal Strategies, the company Jim founded, for which he served as president, and for which I worked.
Coach Belichick asked if Jim could possibly give a pep talk the next day to the Johns Hopkins team.
Jim called Coach Belichick back and said sure – he would be happy to do so.
Jim prepared, and the next day – the day prior to the semifinal tilt – Jim and I drove over to Gillette Stadium. I thought it funny when we got to the security booth, how there we were in the massive embrace of an NFL football dynasty, and Jim presented the gentleman at the booth with his name, and the reason he was there, and the gentleman says, “Jim Craig, hockey, right?”
Yep, it is still Jim Craig and hockey, and all that.
Jim and I walked in through the New England Patriots corporate offices, and we were met by Berj Najarian, who is Belichick's chief of staff, his closest administrative confidant. That day, Coach Belichick was in Connecticut, at his alma mater, Wesleyan University, for his induction into the Wesyleyan University Athletic Hall of Fame.
By the way, Berj, a Boston University guy like Jim, is one of the nicest, down to earth, and considerate people you can meet.
Berj was all smiles and gracious. He walked us through the Patriots locker room, and we stopped at Coach Belichick's office, and we saw that in front of the legendary coach's desk, set on a chair in front of and facing the desk was, framed, the famous photo of the on-ice celebration following the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's historic upset of the Soviet Union at Lake Placid.
Again, with a smile, Berj Najarian said, referring to the framed photo, “Just so you know, that isn't there because you are here today. It is always there.”
Maybe 20 minutes later, Jim addressed the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, a huge underdog to Duke which it would play in the NCAA semifinals the next day at Gillette Stadium.
Jim did what he always does – he fired up the Johns Hopkins team; he challenged it – and he called it out and told it that it could accomplish beyond what so many thought it could accomplish. Jim nailed it.
And, the next day, Johns Hopkins pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA lacrosse history, besting Duke, 10-9.
Yes, Syracuse would beat Johns Hopkins in the NCAA final – but Johns Hopkins, in that tournament, with no small assist from Jim Craig, won a game that so many thought couldn't be won, and beat a team that so many thought couldn't be beat.
It was all good. All of it.