Superbowl LIV, the 2020 Superbowl played by the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the San Francisco 49ers, features two young quarterbacks with very different playing styles and strengths. This is not something I (Mendel) would have known on my own, but Seth B. graciously and patiently explained this to me. And I thought: Wow, what relevant personal messages!
But first about the two players and then we’ll get to the life messages and relevance – and even a Rebbe connection.
Let’s start with Patrick Mahomes. After just a few years in the NFL he led his team to the Superbowl for the first time since the Superbowl started. He has incredible raw talent, he’s smart, out-of-the-box, he improvises and changes it up all the time. He can even throw passes with his left hand. This is a guy who doesn’t have every plan programmed but plays more on the fly, he’s much more unpredictable, the coaches don’t micro-manage him.
Now onto “Jimmy G.” James Garoppolo. He started with the Patriots and now is the quarterback who brought the 49ers to the Superbowl for their fifth time. He is more of a systems player. He may not have the extreme level of raw talent or spontaneity that Mahomes has, but he is very well-integrated with his team, organized and on top of his plays, he executes the plan, and his coaches’ hands-on guidance brings out his greatest strengths. He works best in a defined planned structure.
Both of these approaches are valuable and necessary in real life. Most people need structure and thrive on it. In college there are classes to take, requirements to meet. Having systems in place enables us to do thing we may not want to or be able to do on our own. But there’s a lot to be said for personal initiative, creativity, and the unique attributes and characteristics of each person. It’s usually a blend of both that works best in life.
You find these two types of Torah study. In Ethics of Our Fathers it extols two Rabbis, one is compared to a cemented cistern that doesn’t lose a drop, the other to a wellspring of new ideas. The former is about solid retention, holding onto everything you learned from others, while the latter is about creativity, new ideas, personal initiative. Both are valid approaches to learning, important to Torah study. In the Talmud, the former is called “Sinai” (like the mountain where we recieved the Torah), the other is called “Mountain Uprooter” (who turns everything upside down to discover more, to develop it further…)
Prayer is another example. The Rabbis set up systems: times for prayer, texts and formulas and a liturgy. Without such format and structure prayer would be too loose and might not happen altogether. But its important that we don’t just go through the motions but invest of ourselves, pray with feeling, add our personal touch and style, and make it real and make it our own.
Students at this pre-Super-Bowl Shabbos lunch shared examples of when each style works best for them. Some prefer structure with enough flexibility when things go wrong, others are much more the individualized creative and spontaneous types. Some are more into teams and groups, and working well with others, while some like to do it their own way and in their own style. All recognized that there’s a time and place and need for both approaches.
The Superbowl LIV 2020 happens to fall a few days before “Yud Shvat” the 10th of Shvat 70th anniversary of the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn) leadership since 1950. So this ties into Rebbe’s leadership, teachings and vision as well.
I think you can see these two approaches, both Mahomes and Garappolo, in the Rebbe’s teachings: For one, the Rebbe was very into the balance between individual and community, he devotes a lot of learning and discussion to this balance, and while both are important, Rebbe always emphasizes (in idea and in his practice) to always keep sight of the individual in the community, in a Waldo-esque kind of way “never get lost in the crowd” (see link for more on the Rebbe’s teachings on this).
You can also see this balance in the Rebbe’s great invention and institution of “Shlichus” sending couples on life-long missions to build and serve Jewish communities all around the world. One on hand, its a system. The Rebbe set this system in place so that you don’t have be to an extraordinary person to do extraordinary things. Many shluchim are regular guys, not everyone is a genius, not everyone is super or unusually talented, but the extensive system and support network that the Rebbe set up enabled all kinds of people to do amazing things. So that’s more the Garappolo style.
But unlike most national organizations with top-heavy hierarchies, the Rebbe believed in local style and local control. He wanted leaders not followers. Rebbe’s “coaching” style was more hands-off, more about overall inspiration and vision than specific plays and detailed direction. He wanted Chabad Houses to be supported on the local level, and empowered Shluchim to be independent, think for themselves, and make their own decisions and operate in their own style and use their own strengths and abilities. It’s an incredibly independent and individualized approach, where Shluchim use their own talents, style and local color. No two Chabad Houses are exactly the same. Much more Mahomes-esque.
and a few more Superbowl LIV (54) insights and messages:
ANDY REID HAS TO COME THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH
This one, too, is based on Seth B’s football analysis and patient explanation to a football ignoramus Rabbi.
Andy Reid has been a pro football head coach since 1999 when he coached the Eagles (almost as long as we’re at Shabbos House, we came in Fall 1997). He’s a great regular season coach, he wins a lot of regular season games, but somehow doesn’t come through as much in the post-season, especially when it comes to big conference championships. The Chiefs have been to the playoffs a bunch of times under Coach Reid, but haven’t come this far since 1970!
The message? Regular is good, but it is easier. When the challenge and pressure increases, we have to up our act, be on top of our game, even as it becomes much harder. We gotta come through in the clutch!
AWESOME FEARSOME DEFENSE
The old saying goes “Defense wins championships”. If that’s the case, the 49ers have an edge here. It may be hard for Mahomes to get past their defensive line, and to deal with Richard Sherman further out. So, don’t discount the role of defense!
The Rebbe says that Kosher fish have two signs: fins and scales. Fins propel the fish forward (think offense), scales are like a protective (defense) armor. Nowadays, people tend to focus more on the positive of Jewish life, but Kosher fish also need scales. You need to protect, defend and hold the line to win!
DIFFERENT TYPES OF HUNGER
If the 49ers win this game, they tie with the Patriots and Steelers for the most Superbowl wins. If they don’t, they have 5 past Superbowls to fall back on, some of them recent. Not so the Chiefs: Their last Superbowl win was 50 years ago, back when Superbowls first began, and they haven’t been to the big game since then!
Both are hungry and thirsty for this win, but it is a different type of hunger.
Psalms speaks about a thirst for spiritual revelation in a parched land, and then continuing that thirst even when it is quenched, to be thirsty for more. But the two thirsts are different.