The Super Bowl’s Lesson in Resilience

Like 114 million other people, I watched Super Bowl 50 last night. As a Denver Broncos fan, it was a fun night. As a speaker on resilience, and a general fan of humanity, last night was even better because I got to watch one of football’s greatest quarterbacks play what was quite likely his last game. That’s pretty special. What makes even better though is that it is a game that he had no right playing in at all.

There were at least 3 good reasons why most people would never have predicted in October that Peyton Manning would be playing in last night’s game:

  1. He’s OLD: Okay he’s not old by “regular Joe” standards, but in the world of professional sports, especially football, he’s ancient. At 39, Manning became the oldest QB to start a Super Bowl.
  1. He Lost His Job: A few months ago, Manning wasn’t the starting quarterback of the Super Bowl Champion Broncos. He was battling through an injured foot and was suiting up as the starter for the practice squad. It was uncertain he would even put on the uniform again, ever, let alone start in the Super Bowl.
  1. He Almost Wasn’t Even on the Team: Before the season began, Manning’s contract was up for negotiation. John Elway and team ownership asked the unthinkable of the future hall of famer: take a pay cut! Most professional athletes of Manning’s caliber would have refused to take less money. Manning however recognized the potential of the team. He signed the contract and now he’s a 2-time Super Bowl champion.

There were many key insights about resilience that came from Peyton Manning last night but I want to share 3 of them with you in this post. Manning exhibited 3 key characteristics of a resilient leader last night.

  1. Determination: Resilience doesn’t happen when everything is running smoothly. Resilience is developed in the crucible of trial. Manning shouldn’t have been in the game last night because with his injury at the start of the season, and at his age 39, many in his position would have simply hung up the cleats and called it a career. No one would have blamed him.Instead, Manning went to work. He rehabbed for months. Played with the practice squad; worked his rookie receivers like crazy putting in extra practice time; and eventually made it back to playing shape by week 17, just when the team needed him most.
  2. Sacrifice: Manning sacrificed his wallet for the sake of the bigger picture. At a time in his career when Manning had earned the right to demand the salary he wanted, he instead took a $4 Million pay cut to play with the Broncos this year.Resilience is the ability to come back from challenges. It isn’t magic. It’s hard work. It doesn’t happen simply because you want it to. If you are facing a challenge and you want to be resilient, be willing to make sacrifices
  3. Attitude: He accepted where he was so that he could move forward. He didn’t let his ego get in the way. He was benched after a poor performance mid season. Then he missed several games with a foot injury and eventually made his way back to the team but suited up as the backup to Osweiler in week 17 (the first time he was a back-up since his freshman year in college).Most players of Mannning’s caliber would not have tolerated being benched without pouting. They certainly wouldn’t have suited up as a back-up. I mean this guy is headed straight for the Hall of Fame, how could he play second fiddle to anyone? But he did. And he did it with grace.


Peyton Manning is not the perfect football player or the perfect person. I’m sure he has flaws like all of us. But last night, and throughout his career, he had demonstrated his ability to be resilient by his determination, sacrifice and attitude. May we all learn something from him.