Under a clear, blue sky, a man sprints to catch a speeding train. He has fired a machine gun at his pursuers-Nazis-and thrown grenades at them, setting various other charges and traps for them as well. Now, he has almost caught up with the German transport train that he and his fellow prisoners of war have commandeered and are riding into Switzerland. He closes in on the train, running with his hand out…and is shot and killed with his hand just inches from his fellow prisoners and only feet away from the Swiss border and safety. Death by inches.
I showed that movie clip in the first meeting of Indianapolis Colts training camp in 2004. When the clip ended, I explained the theory of death by inches, which Frank Sinatra suffered at the end of Von Ryan’s Express.
It was one of those movies I had watched as a boy late at night with my uncle Paul, my aunt Rosemarie, and my dad. I explained to the team that it wasn’t the big things that had tripped us up in previous years but rather a combination of small details. By focusing on those details-inches-we could reach our goal rather than coming up short.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to do what we do; we’re just going to do better. We’re not going to focus on improving last year’s 12-4 season, but we are going to look to improve and win our first game. And then we’ll get better and win our second game. We’re going to do it by doing the little things right.”
Every year, the topic of my first talk at training camp was family. I wanted each guy to understand that his family is his first priority. “Deal with them, focus on them, and take care of any issues or problems related to them,” I said to the team in 2004. “If I ever learn that there was something with your family that needed to be addressed and you put team considerations before family without talking with me, there is going to be a problem. A big problem.”
It was especially true that year. My dad had just passed away and I reflected on memories with him. I realized that we just don’t have family forever. When you’re thinking about death, you get more focused on time-the time you have today and how it seems to be screaming past. Live in the now, take advantage of every moment, and be faithful in the details, especially with your family.