I am a sucker for underdog stories. Aren’t we all?
The underdog inspires us, gives us hope, shows us heart, comforts us amidst our own struggles, reminds us of the sacrifice it takes, and ultimately, convinces us time and again to believe the impossible is possible. I believe, help my unbelief!
A few months ago, I took my sixth grade son to watch American Underdog, the inspirational story of former St. Louis Rams and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. The film brought back many memories as a college student in Iowa witnessing one of the greatest NFL underdog stories of all time. Kurt Warner, the undrafted, aged, arena league quarterback who achieved the unimaginable and led the St. Louis Rams to an unforgettable season and victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.
As I watched the film, I quickly realized how unfamiliar I was with Warner’s story off the field. I quickly realized how unfamiliar I was with his journey. It was Kurt and Brenda’s (wife) journey, which made this underdog story so special and so relatable to many of us. Their journey, which demanded unwavering faith, commitment, sacrifice, selflessness, trust, courage and perseverance in the face of countless trials, setbacks and even tragedy. It is the journey of this underdog story, which ultimately set the stage for its triumph.
One of the most dramatic moments in the film was an intimate exchange between Warner (played by Zachary Levi) and Head Coach Dick Vermeil (played by Dennis Quaid), who ultimately held the decision to keep or cut Warner from earning a final roster spot on the team.
Vermeil’s powerful reflection and words to Warner said it all:
“Kurt, how long for you in the wilderness (out of college)? Fourteen for me. Fourteen years out of coaching. I burn out. I am not embarrassed to say it.
When I did come back they said I was retread, has-been, too old. The game has passed me by. All the same stuff that they’re gonna say about you.
What they didn’t know was all that experience I had in all those years made me who I am. Made me ready for this moment. Gave me something others didn’t have. And I see that in you, Kurt.
Destiny. It belongs to the underdogs.
You want to prove that, together? There’s something special about you, son. And I’m really going to enjoy finding out what that is. Welcome to the Rams.”
As I reflected on this exchange between Vermeil (employer) and Warner (employee), it reveals the heart and journey of two underdogs. It also reveals that at one point, in each of our lives and careers, we too, have likely been the underdog.
Perhaps you are the underdog patiently seeking your first breakthrough management opportunity when you know you are ready.
Perhaps you are the underdog feeling overqualified, undervalued or passed by on promotional opportunities during this last chapter of your career.
Perhaps you are the underdog experiencing a career misstep or unexpected job loss that has shaken your confidence.
Perhaps you are the underdog that has stepped away from the workforce to care for your family, or a loved one, and find yourself re-entering the workforce with uncertainty.
Perhaps, if you are like me, you are the underdog that has made a career transition with a new company, in a new industry, with a giant leap of faith.
So how does the underdog respond?
Let us turn back to the film, and assess Kurt Warner’s response when scrutinized and challenged by Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz (played by Chane Kelly) with the question:
“Why in the world would I give you a shot?”
Warner’s response reveals his journey:
“Because this is my time. Because I know who I am and why I am here. Because I have earned it. I’ve waited for it. I’ve bled for it. I’m finally ready for it. I wasn’t before. God knows I wasn’t ready, but I am now. And I will not let you down. You put the ball in my hands and we will win.”
Destiny. It belongs to the underdog. Are you the underdog?