What CMOs Can Learn From Two Super Bowl Legends

Not sure if you heard or not but there is apparently some professional football game this coming Sunday. The Panthers of Carolina are squaring off against the Broncos of Denver for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and proclaim to the world they are the champions of the NFL.

Obviously my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek for the whole world, seemingly, is aware that Super Bowl 50 is this coming Sunday. And to say things have changed since the very first Super Bowl until now would be a gross understatement.

For example, the cost to run a commercial during Super Bowl I in 1967 was $37,500. The cost to run a commercial in Super Bowl 50 is $4 million. That’s just one example of Lord knows a whole bunch of other things have changed both in our world of marketing but in the world at large, too.

The More Things Change

But as much as things have changed, many have remained the same, such as the undeniable similarities between being on a winning team on the gridiron and being on a winning team in the marketing conference rooms and boardrooms across the land.

Teamwork. Chemistry. Dedication.

These are just three of the words that are applicable to both worlds.

Last year I had the honor of speaking with not one, but two multiple Super Bowl winners – Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. My intention was to find out some of the lessons they learned while playing that they now apply to their private lives in the business world.

Here’s some of what these Hall of Famers had to say.

SO: How would you say being an NFL QB is like running a company?

JM: You are in charge of a group of diverse talented people attempting to get them to play, execute and win at whatever that business is. For example, getting people to believe in each other and trust in each, knowing mistakes will be made, yet helping people thru those mistakes instead of pointing fingers. I used to say when people would ask me ‘What do you say out on the field when someone makes a mistake?’

Well, I tried to find out what happened, why it happened and how can I help them not to repeat the same mistake. I would say… ‘we all are going to get yelled at when we get to the sideline so let’s work together and stay together.’ Believe and help each other cause we will all have our turns at making mistakes. We can’t get better by pointing a finger.

SO: Risk taking was part of your M.O. when you played. You took chances when perhaps others would not and you were successful more often than not. What would you say to a CEO/CMO, etc. who is perhaps risk-adverse and prefers to play it safe? And as a follow up can someone take too MANY risks? Is the key to know when to “go for it” and when not to?

JM: There are times to take risks. Without putting yourself on the line, at the appropriate times, you may be good but will never be the industry leader. To get to the front of the pack you have to take chances —calculated chances. Knowing when that time is is what determines a leader and whether people will follow.

SO: What are some of the lessons you learned playing football that you applied to life after the game re: the business world?

JR: I apply so many of the same principles from football to the business world every day. Some of the most important things are the values of professionalism, being on time, teamwork and work ethic.

SO: The chemistry between yourself and Joe Montana, then later Steve Young is legendary. Why is chemistry so important and how does that apply to the business world?

JR: Without chemistry, we couldn’t have had the long-term success we did and won so many Super Bowls. But chemistry isn’t something that comes naturally. For us, it took countless hours of practice and working together to develop it. Joe was right-handed, Steve threw with his left hand, so we had to put the time in to create the perfect chemistry. We eventually had a good understanding of each other and it became second nature, but you can’t take short cuts to get there. The same can be said for business.

Teamwork and work ethic play a huge role in achievement. A business, for example, whether larger or small, can’t succeed if the CEO is the only person focused on a specific outcome. The entire company has to be working hard towards the same goal.


A lot of what both Montana and Rice spoke about was building the right team, the right organization and along those lines we invite you to download The CMO Solution Guide For Building A Modern Marketing Organization. Presented in partnership with The CMO Club, you’ll learn from 20 progressive CMOs and senior digital marketing executives about building more effective Modern Marketing teams.


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