Some people lead through action while others lead through words. But how powerful can one man’s speech really be? A certain NFL team believes retired Col. Greg Gadson's words actually helped them win the Super Bowl.
The 2007 NFC Championship game was one of the coldest games in NFL history with the temperature reaching 24 degrees below zero with a windchill. Gadson, who was in the hospital only two days prior, was standing on the sidelines while the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers fought for a spot in Super Bowl LXII. The game went into overtime and cornerback Corey Webster intercepted Brett Favre’s would-be game-winning touchdown pass, which won the game for the Giants.
“As Webster is coming off the field, obviously the biggest interception of his life, he gives me the ball,” Gadson said. “So I have in my office at home the last football that Brett Favre ever threw as a Green Bay Packer.”
It was only earlier in that year when Gadson started on this journey with the Giants. While serving overseas in Baghdad, Gadson was returning from a memorial service when he fell victim to a roadside bombing that resulted in the loss of both his legs. Former teammate of Gadson’s from Army football at the United States Military Academy Mike Sullivan was serving as the wide receiver coach for the Giants when he visited Gadson in the hospital.
The Giants were having a tough start to the season and playing up to their potential, according to Gadson, so Sullivan — and head coach Tom Coughlin — asked him to talk to the team before they faced Washington. Not really much of a public speaker, and still recovering from his injuries, Gadson reluctantly said yes. Little did Gadson know his speech would be so profound that Coughlin would end up canceling the rest of the team meetings that evening because he felt nothing else needed to be said.
“I remember going in the locker room at halftime and the Giants were down 3-14 to [Washington] and in my mind, I’m like, ‘that wasn’t a very good motivational speech,’” Gadson said. “But, the Giants would end up rallying and won the game, and actually started an interesting win streak of 10-straight road victories that culminated in Superbowl XLII.”
Gadson didn’t engage with the team anymore until the Wild Card Playoff game when the Giants faced Tampa. Before that game, Sullivan would call Gadson from time to time, ask him how he was doing, and try to get him to another game. A crazy schedule kept Gadson from going to another game for some time, and that’s when he flew to Tampa for the Wild Card game. Gadson had thought the team was only being polite because he was “a veteran whose legs were blown off.” It wasn’t until Gadson arrived in Tampa that he realized the team really did love him. Gadson said the team embraced him, and he got to hang out with all the players.
The Giants defeated Tampa and headed to Dallas to face the Cowboys. Gadson was asked to join, but he couldn’t as he had to go back to the hospital for surgery on his right arm and leg, and stayed for over a week. The night before the game, however, Gadson called Sullivan.
“I left him a voicemail saying I was really missing being with the team, I was back in the hospital, and the depression that had taken hold of me,” Gadson said. “I really wasn’t in a good place, but I thanked them for allowing me to be part of their team.”
Sullivan listened to the message and passed it along to Coughlin who shared it during the team meeting, and again, Gadson’s speech inspired another Giants victory. A week later, Coughlin himself invited Gadson to the NFC Championship game, and he made his way to the sidelines at Lambeau Field.
As we already know, The Giants defeated the Packers and were headed to Super Bowl XLII. Gadson was invited to that game as well and this time, he brought his entire family with him. The Saturday before the game, Gadson was riding in the team bus after practice when he got the courage to ask Coughlin if he could speak to the team at the meeting that night. One inspirational speech later, the Giants won Super Bowl XLII, and the rest is history.
Gadson may not have been in a direct leadership role like a coach or a player for the New York Giants, but he was a leader in inspiring the team through his words. It was his words that inspired the team to put it all out on the field and it was his words that motivated the team to win. And it was his words that got him a specially minted Super Bowl ring.
Photo credits: NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive (header image), Flickr, NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive