NFL player drafted for his basketball skills?
Got a wild story for you today:
Ben Roethlisberger started a (somewhat cringe) podcast. And his first guest was one Merril Hoge — a Steelers legend.
Merril Hoge has one of the craziest “origin stories” I ever did hear, and it can be summed up in three words:
Find A Way.
(He published a book by the same title.)
Let’s dissect Merril’s story and see if we can uncover any lessons you can apply to your business or career.
Merril grew up on a farm in Idaho. The epitome of “blue collar.” But young Merril had a dream: He wanted to become an NFL player.
Like any young person with wild dreams and ambitions, the people closest to a young Merril crushed his dreams at every chance they got. They weren’t malicious with it. They were “realistic,” which may be more deadly than malice.
Whenever a young Merril (he was around 7 or 8 at the time) told his family about his dreams they said,
“Son, that’s great you have dreams. But you must have realistic dreams. You have no chance of making it into the NFL.”
This crushed him. He loved football. And his dream of playing in the NFL motivated him more than your random Twitter guru guzzling down methamphetamines.
Everyone he told his goals to shot him down. Teachers, parents, friends, aunts, uncles, you name it.
But one day, while Merril was on the verge of giving up on his dreams, a thought crossed his mind:
Find A Way.
Soon this simple 3-word sentence consumed him.
Sure, the odds of him making the NFL were slim to none. But he’d find a way.
Fast forward several years:
Merril made it to the Scouting Combine. This is where NFL coaches and scouts come and put a bunch of college players to the test.
Merril was sick that weekend, and all doped up on antibiotics. He performed terribly, running an awful 4.89 in the 40-yard dash. (That ain’t good for my non-Athletes reading along.)
In fact, at one point a scout walked up to Merril and told him he wouldn’t get drafted. But he also told him that a team would pick him up, the starter would get hurt, and Merril would have his chance to shine.
One of the last teams to reach out to Merril at the combine was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead of asking him about football, the scout heard he was a great basketball player and asked him about that.
Because back in the day, in the off season, some Steelers players would form a basketball team and play other random basketball teams — like the Harlem Globetrotters.
Merril didn’t know if he’d be drafted, but if he knew one thing for certain, he knew the Steelers wouldn’t draft him.
Fast forward to draft day:
Merril was originally projected to go on the first day of the draft. Now, the draft was much bigger than it is now. There were 12 rounds instead of 7. And the first day of the draft accounted for the first three or four rounds.
He didn’t go on the first day though.
On the second or third day, he received a call from the unlikeliest of sources:
The Pittsburgh Steelers. They ended up drafting him in one of the later rounds.
And the scout’s prediction came true:
Merril wasn’t a starter, but once the starter got hurt, he got his opportunity, and he found a way.
Merril went on to have a great career — even being named captain of the team.
Not too shabby for someone who grew up hearing from his loved ones how he’d never make it to the NFL, eh?
I have a similar experience:
I remember telling my family members how I planned on quitting my first “big boy” job to start my own business.
Don’t do it. It’s too risky. 90% of businesses fail in the first 5 years.
(Spoiler alert: I didn't listen to them.)
But it brings up an important point:
Often, the ones who love you the most will do the most to stop you from reaching your potential.
Fast forward to after Merril retired. He worked at a radio show for ESPN (don’t quote me on that). And his world shattered after a doctor diagnosed him with cancer.
But like with any other grueling obstacle in Merril’s life… he found a way.
In fact, one of his buddies challenged him to a bet:
If Merril beat his cancer, he’d have to write a book about his life.
After Merril beat it, he had completely forgotten about his obligation to write a book. But he kept his word. And I also believe Merril wrote this book without the help of a ghostwriter — something which can’t be said for most celebrity nonfiction books.
Moral of the story?
You’re gonna have obstacles in your way. Sometimes they will seem insurmountable.
But you can find a way.
You can conquer them.
And you’ll make the world a better place because you did.
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