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Former NFL Player Joe Valerio discusses The Concept of a Team

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Everyday Life Lessons from an Everyday Athlete by Joe Valerio

Prior to joining the local little league, I clearly remember dressing up as a pint-sized Joe Namath, complete with uniform and plastic helmet from the local toy store.   In my back yard “stadium,” with mere seconds left on the clock, I’d walk calmly to the line of scrimmage and call out the quarterback signals in my best hoarse QB voice… “Blue 15, Blue 15…Hut..Hut.”  Then I’d drop back and throw a beautiful spiral into the air high enough and slow enough for me to run under the ball and catch it myself, all while giving a Cosell-inspired play-by-play: “And the ball is caught by Joe Valerio at the 30 yard line.”  Joe Valerio

After dodging a few imaginary defenders and my mother’s azaleas, I’d dive into the end zone as the crowd roared. Pausing for a celebratory dance, I’d bang my heel into the ground to make a kicking tee, place the ball and then kick the extra point over my mom’s clothesline to win the game, just as time ran out.  If I could have lifted myself up on my own shoulders and carried myself off the field, I probably would have done it.

The harsh reality of being a legend in my own mind hit me at the first organized practice I ever attended.  I was seven years old and showed up thinking I was going to be the next Joe Namath.  I had quarterback written all over me, what with all the backyard training I had done. So imagine my dismay when the coach sized me up, grabbed me by the shoulder pads and thrust me towards the offensive linemen and more than a decade of anonymity.  

Needless to say, I was crushed. I finished the practice, never touching the ball once.  I finished the season never touching the ball once. In fact, I finished the seventies and eighties without laying a finger on the pigskin I fought mightily to protect. Seventeen years elapsed before I touched a football during a game and heard my name announced for doing something other than getting a holding penalty.  Ironically, that long-awaited moment came in a pivotal NFL  game and the ball in question was a touchdown pass thrown by none other than iconic quarterback Joe Montana in a tackle eligible play—an experience worth the seventeen year wait.

As a seven-year-old, it was a rude awakening to the concept of team. My days as a backyard superstar made me think it was possible for one person to do it all.  When I actually began playing football with other humans, I realized that if a group of people is going to succeed at anything, they must learn that we all have roles to play.  Success only comes when everyone does his part. Tough lessons for a spotlight seeking seven year old, but valuable understandings for a young adult learning to function in the world.Joe Valerio

The road from the backyard to the NFL, and eventually back to “regular life” back in Delaware County with a family of my own has been an exciting adventure. My grandmother used to tell me that experience is life’s greatest teacher. Here are a few unique ones I’ve had over the past two decades that have taught me a wealth of life lessons:  

Becoming the first college graduate in my family after making my way to Penn’s hallowed halls from a blue-collar upbringing; making the leap from an Ivy League football program to the NFL as an offensive lineman for six seasons; and settling back into “regular life” after feeling the spotlight as a professional athlete and sportscaster for the ABC affiliate in Kansas City.  

I’ve overcome obstacles along the way and hit my share of bumps in the road, but mostly I’ve learned some valuable lessons in the process.  I pass the lessons along to the current generation of backyard heroes every fall when I coach football at Garnet Valley High School.

And every two weeks, I’ll be sharing them with you on this website—a little humor, some unique stories, and some “lessons from the gridiron” that have shaped my life. 

Joe Valerio is available for public speaking and appearances at events such as keynotes, corporate events, charity events, and more.  to www.gridironconcepts.com and my contact Joe at 610-476-1880 or: info@gridironconcepts.com 

Follow Joe on Twitter at  @joevalerio73

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