Even in his final moments, he led with his strengths…and he did it in a profoundly calm and peaceful way… St. M’s oldest beloved brother, Tom, passed from this life to his eternal reward today. While we’ve spent the remainder of this day preparing, pondering, and sharing remembrances, this one particular story keeps resurfacing as an illustration of a man with extraordinary strengths and gifts. If you will, please indulge me in a moment of personal reflection…and Tom, this one’s for you, big guy…
The legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, once hosted a four-day football clinic for coaches and devoted two full days to just one play, the Power Sweep. If you know football history, Coach Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers won five league championships, including the first two Super Bowl Games because of that one play (see, St. M; I DO listen to your football lessons). Everyone, including Green Bay’s competitors, knew the Power Sweep was coming, and yet, they still couldn’t stop it. Coach and his team developed a strength that became an unstoppable force of positive momentum, and they led with this strength every time.
As a part-time coach of YMCA football for 24 years, Tom often visited with me about teaching and learning. He was fascinated how educators (and coaches) find ways to be masters of not only their own strengths, but of those in their care. Tom understood how focusing energy and practice, mastering fundamentals, and developing individual strengths created a culture of personal excellence on the field, and off. The more time spent developing and leading with strengths, the more each person became successful in them.
After one particularly lively conversation with Tom during a Van Am family meal, St. Michael shared this extraordinary moment from his young life, perfectly demonstrating Tom’s very truth:
“It was August 20, 1966. In May of the year, I was struck by a car sustaining severe, life-threatening injuries. Living within a full-length body cast for several months, my father sought to provide encouragement and motivation for powering through during the long recovery process. As a member of the Dallas Salesmanship Club, he secured sideline game passes for the Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. My oldest brother, Tom, wheeled me in my stretcher chair onto the field at the 40-yard-line (what an experience of a lifetime!). Late in the third quarter, the Packers were driving down the field using their infamous Power Sweep on almost every play. When they reached the 35-yard-line, we had a perfect view to watch each play develop. Bart Starr handed the football to Paul Hornung, who followed a parade of blockers around the right end. The Cowboys defended the play well, pushing the onrushing team of blockers and runners to the sidelines exactly where we were located. Sensing an imminent collision, my brother Tom sacrificed his quarterback body (because he was the star quarterback on the high school team) to block the blow by diving in front of the onrushing Packers and Cowboys. Thankfully, eighteen players ran around my location without injury or incident. After the game, Bart Starr walked over and presented Tom with an autographed chin strap from his helmet, saying, “Bud, you had the best block of the entire game.”
Now THAT is knowing your strength…mentally, physically, emotionally…and leading with it, even in the midst of possible defeat and bodily injury!
Tom often said, “We don’t need an average team or an average “you;” we need the best you…and when you lead with your strength, you share your best always.” He never forgot the power of one simple, clear truth: lead with your strength.
Thanks, Michael, for sharing this most personal of stories and heeding the advice of your big brother all these years; he’s a part of the reason you’re called Saint. Tom, thanks for sharing the true spirit of brotherhood and love with the world by actively demonstrating how to lead with your strengths as a part of your profound legacy. May we all take a moment in this season of hope, peace, joy, and love to pause and powerfully reflect on our strengths and how best to lead with them. Just imagine the possibilities when we genuinely find more ways to create positive Power Sweeps of our own in the coming year…