Darrell Green – The Pursuit of Excellence

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BY BOB HUNTLEY, CFP®, CHFC®, CKA®

FOUNDER & WEALTH ADVISOR

 

Proverbs 22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.

Everyone believes doing something well is a good idea. 

But some people take the pursuit of excellence to an entirely different level. Excellence and competition sort of taking over as a driving force in their lives. They become the best in their chosen field. They achieve heights not seen before. 

I recently read the book Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by author Tim Grover. Tim is a sports trainer who worked with Michael Jordon and many other high-performance athletes. The book is about what drives someone like Michael Jordon to work and compete as intensely as they do. 

While I found the book intoxicating, I also found it a little saddening. The problem for someone so intense about achieving excellence is once they’ve conquered all the opponents and time begins to wear them down physically, they are left without a driving purpose. They struggle to know what to do with themselves once the lights go down. 

 

Is it possible to be professionally driven without it defining who you are? 

Recently I listened to a private interview with the great Washington Redskins, Hall of Fame defensive back Darrell Green talk about money and life. 

Darrell is 60 years old today, married a father and grandfather. He played 20 years in the NFL, won a couple of Super Bowls, many pro-bowl and all-pro selections, and was inducted in 2008 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His message is pretty simple really. He did not use these words but everything he said made it clear to me that the secret to his success was knowing his true identity. 

 

The Search for Significance

Darrell spoke about where he came from. He grew up in the same projects in Houston, Texas that George Floyd grew up in. His parents divorced when he was ten years old. But his father stayed involved in raising him and believed in him. He taught him to believe in himself and never accept that he couldn’t do something.

He went to college in a small, southern Texas University with no scholarship. While in college he became a Christian and that changed his life completely. 

He was drafted in the first round of the draft in 1983 by the Washington Redskins. He says he didn’t grow up with aspirations to play professional football. He just loved playing the game, and he was fast, really fast. In an age where he could easily have made more money by going to another team, he chose instead to stay with the team that drafted him and keeps the family stable. He knew who he was and what his priorities were. 

His faith in Jesus Christ changed his understanding of who he was, why he was on this planet, and what he was supposed to do with any success he might be fortunate enough to enjoy. He believes God gives you the ability to earn wealth and will hold you accountable for how you manage what He entrusted you with. That was and remains the core of his identity and the source of his value. He is a steward, accountable to the real owner. 

Young men are not famous for handling fame well. You can do no wrong. You’re in the limelight and have more money than most. Suddenly, everyone is your ‘best friend’. They all focus on your every word and thought. They laugh at your jokes. They agree with whatever you say. 

That’s hard for anyone to deal with, much less a 22 or 23 three-year-old. 

But Darrell didn’t change. He stayed true to his identity in Christ. 

Forty years later he stays busy with community service and his family. Knowing your true identity and life priorities makes all the difference. 

 

Excellence matters. 

Make no mistake, Darrell is and was a driven man. He worked hard. He prepared relentlessly, just like Michael Jordon. But he didn’t let what he did on the football field define his identity. That’s what stood out about his story to me because it’s so rare and difficult to pull off.

He was as obsessed with excellence at his craft as anyone on the team. He watched more films, worked out relentlessly, and was always setting a great example for his teammates. 

But when you aren’t crystal clear about who you are and what gives you value, most men will define their personal value and worth by what they do.

Darrell Green was able to thread a needle that few people successfully do. He pursued excellence at football without it becoming his identity. It’s just what he was gifted and motivated to excel at. He did what he did with excellence, as if doing it for God, not for man. 

As a result, he navigated the transition from football hero to ‘just a dude down the street” smoothly. He turned his zeal for excellence from the football field to being a husband and father and investing in people around him. Community service, Church service, anywhere he could use his platform to make Christ known and serve the needs of others, that’s what he put his focus and energy towards.

We can learn a lot from the example of someone like Darrell Green. He is living his life on purpose, not by default. He achieved great things vocationally, but his greatest achievement has been his work as a husband, father, grandfather, and in his community. He understands that life is about relationships and stewardship. That’s what defines you and your ultimate legacy.

Darrell Green knows who he is. Darrell Green knows what gives him value. And Darrell Green achieved excellence without it becoming an idol in his life. 

Well done sir. 

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