One of my all-time favorite memories comes from the Forty Acres in Austin, TX, home of the Texas Longhorns, where I had the fortune of watching Ricky Williams shatter Tony Dorsett’s all time rushing record. The game pitted us against our biggest rival, 6th ranked Texas A&M, where we were vast underdogs. But everybody knew something special was about to happen, as Ricky Williams was just 63 yards away from breaking the record, and considering he was running like a freight train that year, we knew it was just a matter of time.
Towards the end of the first quarter, he was getting close – only 11 yards away. At this point, it was possible, if not probable, that he could break the record at any moment. Most likely, it would be maybe a 5 or 6 yard run just barely making it past the milestone. But that’s not what happened. Instead, he slid through the left side of the line, bulldozed a defensive back, ran 60 yards down field and dove across the line into the endzone, crushing the record in the process. It wasn’t just a record-breaking run, it was an exclamation point that was the culmination of 4 years of hard work. So no one would blame him if he relished in his moment, right?
Fast forward to today and I watch an interview with Ricky, where he recounts that historic game. He described the play in great detail, the moment that might have been the greatest achievement of his life. This is where I saw great leadership.
Most people, if asked to describe their greatest achievement, would likely recount the story from their own eyes. “I saw a gap on the left side”… “I shoved through the DB in my way”… “I was exhausted but dove through the last tackle, making it into the end zone”. And frankly, I think he would have been well deserved to describe it that way.
But let’s hear how Ricky described it in his own words: (Fast forward to 42:50)
Leaders often get told how smart they are for creating something amazing. They get the interviews, they get the accolades, they get the praise, and it’s easy to buy into one’s own sense of infinite brilliance. But Ricky showed true leadership by understanding that while he was the face, the one breaking the record, he didn’t do it by himself. Everybody had to do their part to make it happen.
That day he broke the record. They also pulled off a massive upset by beating 6th ranked Texas A&M. But it wasn’t just Ricky Williams – it was a cast of teammates who all brought their own effort to make it happen, and a true leader recognized that and even in the biggest moment of his life, he still remembered to appreciate those around him and honor their effort.