Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers has no shortage of tantalizing storylines. The Taylor Swift Effect. Mr. Irrelevant vs. Future GOAT. The Top Tight End Showdown. The crowning of a dynasty or a return to glory. But for the moment, let’s shift our focus from the gridiron to the playing field of business, where every day is game day.
Each year this singular sporting spectacle offers metaphors for building a championship team off the field, a team fueled by the Right People. As we prepare for kickoff (if you’re interested, our prediction for the over-under on times Taylor Swift is shown on TV during the game is the over), we take a look back at the past five Super Bowls and break down what lessons and insights the battle for the Lombardi Trophy can offer any business striving for success.
Manage the Process, Manage the Moment
The Game: Super Bowl LVII / Chiefs vs. Eagles 2023
The underdog Chiefs (why are these guys always Super Bowl dogs?) defeated the Philadelphia Eagles on the hobbled leg and uncanny ability of quarterback Patrick Mahomes to make the big plays in the big moments. Tied at 35 with just over five minutes remaining, a mix of incredible Mahomes clock management and magical improvisation led to a 38-35 victory
Only once in the prior 56 Super Bowls had a team overcome a larger halftime deficit (they were down 10) to win the game, and never before had the regular-season MVP been voted Super Bowl MVP in the same season (yes, that would be Mr. Mahomes). Of course, he did it with a little help from his friends—Travis Kelce snagged a touchdown, kicker Harrison Butker drilled the field goal that Mahomes had set up for him with eight seconds on the clock, and coach Andy Reid kept his faith in both the game strategy and the ability of his on-field leader to adapt and deliver results.
The Game Plan: Have a strategic plan that is designed for success by anticipating challenges you’ll likely face along the way, but build a team that can also remain adaptable to changing situations and timelines. Develop leaders who will not only manage those shifting timelines but will also inspire their team to see projects through to the end.
Take on Top Talent When It Is Available
The Game: Super Bowl LVI / 2022 Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals 2023
The Los Angeles Rams reached the Super Bowl in 2019 behind quarterback Jared Goff but fell short in a loss to the New England Patriots. So when they saw the opportunity to bring in QB Matthew Stafford in a trade with the Detroit Lions prior to the 2021 season, they made the move. During that 2021 season, when they had a chance to sign highlight-reel-making receiver Odell Beckham Jr., they signed him. And a few months later, the Lombardi Trophy was theirs.
But the MVP of the 2022 Super Bowl was not Stafford nor Beckham (who started on an MVP pace but was knocked out of the game with an injury at the end of the first half). It was wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who had been a Ram since being picked when he came available in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Kupp said that after the Rams had lost in 2019, he had a vision that they would get back to the big game and that he would be MVP. He had a historic regular season in 2021 and continued that kind of production when he was needed most, hauling in the game-winning TD pass with 1:25 left in the game he had foreseen two years earlier.
The Game Plan: Continuously evaluate the marketplace and be ready to make a move when top talent becomes available. Understand they type of talent with which you can supplement your team in order to make the existing players even better. Give that talent the tools and infrastructure to succeed, including backup scenarios for when things don’t go according to plan.
Learning from the Past…and the Competition
The Game: Super Bowl LV / Tampa Day Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs 2021
There was plenty of “dynasty” talk before this championship game, but for most it was whether the Chiefs would repeat as champs and cement their place as the NFL’s dominant royalty. Instead, Tom Brady made it his personal dynasty moment by winning his seventh ring, more than any other franchise could boast, as Tampa Bay took a page (or two) from the Patriot playbook.
In Brady’s first season in Tampa Bay after two decades in New England, the team also brought in running back Leonard Fournette and fellow former Patriot Rob Gronkowski, whose two Super Bowl LV touchdown catches helped prove that certain time-honored approaches can work no matter the location or situation. On the other side of the ball, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles prepared and executed a strategy that grounded the normally high-flying Chiefs offense and gave Brady and Co. the opportunity to soar.
The Game Plan: Assessing what successful businesses in your space are doing well, and taking advantage of opportunities to adopt and integrate similar practices and skill sets into your own system, can transform an already strong team into a champion. As you’re doing so, don’t forget about the power of versatility and diverse experience, and the importance of complementary pieces to your puzzle to enhance the strengths of those individual superstars.
Patience, Perseverance, Perfection (When It Matters)
The Game: Super Bowl LIV / Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers 2020
If there’s a Super Bowl in recent memory that defines the concept of resilience, this is the one. The Chiefs were one year removed from a crushing Super Bowl loss (more on that in a few minutes) and San Francisco had managed only a 4-12 record just a season prior. Chiefs coach Andy Reid had never won a ring as a head coach since taking the top sideline spot with the Eagles in 1999 (the Chiefs themselves hadn’t won in 50 years), and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was still feeling the sting of an epic Super Bowl collapse while offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons three years earlier.
At a moment when most pundits were pontificating that Mahomes was having one of his worst games ever, trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, he led the Chiefs to not one, not two, but three touchdowns in the final 6:13. He’d been intercepted twice earlier in the game (he’d never thrown a post-season interception in his career before this), yet he still kept taking his shots and they paid off when the game was on the line. As mayhem swirled around him with the clock ticking away, he famously asked, “Do we have time to run Wasp?”—referring to a bold downfield play that netted the team 57 yards and set up a TD pass to Travis Kelce and paved the road to victory.
The Game Plan: Adapting after setbacks and changing circumstances sets winners apart from also-rans, and it leads to long-term excellence. In a fast-paced business world where planning and precision are paramount, success is also a result of an ability and willingness to embrace calculated risks, encourage experimentation and learn from failures.
Long-Term Layers of Talent and Trust
The Game: Super Bowl LIII / New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams 2019
In the confetti-festooned moments immediately following Tom Brady’s sixth Super Bowl victory with the New England Patriots, the 13-3 final score put an end to any debate in the Greatest of All Time discussion. It also perfectly framed the dynasty built by New England.
Their success wasn’t built on one-off wins, but on years of sustained excellence where not only Brady was given a chance to rise from unheralded draft pick to perennial hero, but where coach Bill Belichick had decades to create a distinct culture, where the likes of Rob Gronkowski developed into an all-time great and the various players who were brought in and filled key roles year after year were quickly and successfully immersed in the overall team framework.
While Brady’s role in the big game was undeniable, and fellow legend Gronkowski hauled in a pair of catches for 47 yards in the game’s only touchdown drive, while veteran receiver Julian Edelman won the game’s MVP and coach Belichick orchestrated the game end-to-end, it was actually rookie running back Sony Michel who was entrusted with punching in the game-winning, and game’s only, touchdown.
The Game Plan: Take a long-term and consistent view of fostering a culture of shared goals and unwavering trust within your organization—champions are built, not born, and sustained success requires a long-term commitment. Prioritize career development. Encourage cross-departmental collaboration, celebrate collective achievements and continually build upon a strong foundation with new team members who are the right culture fit to help you grow.
A team that functions as a unit is far greater than the sum of its parts. Just like the players on the field, each member of your organization plays a crucial role in establishing and achieving your business goals. By building an adaptable and future-focused team with myriad skills and experiences, you'll be well-positioned to navigate the ever-changing landscape of 2024 and beyond.
And regardless of what questions your team faces, today or in the future, remember, the Right People are the Answer.