I know what you came here for. You came here for a story on how I witnessed a game long 1-on-1 battle between the greatest cornerback and greatest wide receiver in NFL history. Sorry to disappoint you but don’t leave. What I am going to testify to will enrich your mindset.
I have had this saying for 32 years now. It simply goes like this “success is not an accident” I didn’t take it from a book or off of a caption on some picture. It literally came into my head as I stared out of the head coach’s window at the University of Miami in January of 1995.
I had completed my senior season at the University of Miami and was in the weight room prepping for pre-NFL draft workouts. The city of Miami was fortunate enough to be hosting the Super Bowl that year and fortunately for me it was featuring my favorite player, Deion Sanders. Sanders had left the Atlanta Falcons and joined the San Francisco 49ers that season. He also enjoyed what I believe was his best year as a pro. This was prime Prime Time in 1994. He racked up 6 interceptions and returned them for 303 yards including three touchdowns. Add to that he bitch slapped former teammate Andre Rison in a much publicized fist to cuffs in his return to the Georgia Dome earlier in the season. Deion was already a legend before he arrived in the Bay Area but in this season he became legendary.
To my great fortune, the San Francisco 49ers were using our facility to practice and prep for their matchup against the San Diego Chargers. On this particular day, a couple of us players in the weight room decided to go up to head coach Dennis Erickson’s office to watch them practice. What I saw blew my mind.
Leading up to this, I was of the impression that Deion Sanders was largely successful because he was blessed with 4.2 speed, elite jumping ability, long arms and a go get it mentality. There was no social media then so there was little out there about his work ethic. There were no video taped workouts in 4k that I could view from my smart phone. What I witnessed on the practice field told a story. Prime Time took none of the things I mentioned for granted. He competed on every snap in practice. When the play was away from him during team period, he sprinted across the field to get to the ball carrier. Why? He was in year six of a career in which he already made multiple All Pro and Pro Bowl rosters and been named Defensive Player of the Year. He had already proven his point.
Working across from Prime Time was Jerry Rice. Rice had already cemented his legacy as the best in the game by this point. He was in his 11th year and had done everything thing a single player could do in the game. Unlike Deion though, Rice’s work ethic was highly publicized. Running hills, perfecting routes and catching bricks from his dad was all a part of his legend. However, he had already spent over a decade in the game and was playing in his 4th Super Bowl. This had to be old to him by now. Not a chance.
I had never seen anyone practice like Jerry Rice did that day. It was borderline OCD. Rice would catch a pass during team period and sprint all the way to the end zone every time. He would then run back down and be ready for his next snap as the 49ers didn’t waste time at practice. They weren’t going to wait for Jerry, that next play was getting run. They didn’t have to wait, he was there, in his stance and ready to go. When the first unit came off of the field, you would think he would take a knee and recover. Not this man. Rice grabbed a trainer for what I thought would be to get an I.V. No, he had the trainer throw him footballs non-stop until it was time for him to go back out on the field. It was insane.
For their final act, when the whistle blew to end the period, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders sprinted to the next field for the upcoming period. They were seemingly racing to the field. Our time to be able to watch the practice was up and I remember stepping away from the window thoroughly impressed, if I could used that word. Immediately in my head, I thought “success is not an accident.” It is a mentality that drives a conscious series of decisions that are focused on getting what you want. Then I thought, I should hit a casino and put everything on the 49ers because there ain’t %$#@ the Chargers are going to be able to do about this. This turned out to be right as the 49ers blew out San Diego 49-26. Rice had a touchdown and Deion had an INT. Neither of those things were just luck.
So, if you are ever around me and hear me say “success is not an accident” you know where it came from and remember why I said it. You get in life what you focus on. Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice were gifted by God to play but they did not take any of that for granted. They are immortalized in the profession for having done it.
Chad Wilson is the owner of All Eyes DB Camp. He played college football at the University of Miami and briefly in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. Over his 15 year high school football coaching career, he tutored over a dozen Division I defensive backs and as a trainer has worked with NFL All Pros, first round draft picks, college football all americans and Top 10 ranked high school football prospects.