Be a Weirdo by Anthony “Champ” Kelly
“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn
Who the heck wants to be ordinary!?
In 2013, I accompanied John Elway, John Fox, the Denver Broncos football team and several million viewers to MetLife Stadium for the Super Bowl XLVIII. As I entered the field and looked around the stadium, I thought to myself in the tone of Radiohead, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here!” I’m sure someone reading this is a football fan, who knows the results of the game, and is thinking, “You are right. You all didn’t belong!”
We lost the game by the third largest point differential in Super Bowl history. It’s not as fresh now, so I can look back and appreciate the journey to getting there. Moreover, I can think back to my own journey from Campbellton, Florida through the Denver Broncos and now at my current position as Director of Pro Scouting for the Chicago Bears.
My hometown is small. It doesn’t have a star or even a dot on the map. It is located right below the Alabama state line. Most of the time, I tell people I’m from L.A. (Lower Alabama). The population of Campbellton is less than 500, and, to this day, the median household income is still around $35,000. My mom and dad were never married, and they both were young when I was born. My dad was a drug dealer at the time and my mom was an addict. Now, this wasn’t ideal, but I thank God for my beginnings. Will Rogers stated that, “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you, if you don’t let it get the best of you.”
I was raised by my grandparents on a dirt road across from a cornfield. I’m still afraid of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn! I loved sports as kid and always knew that I wanted to play in the NFL. Ironically, Neal Anderson, the running back who followed Walter Payton with the Chicago Bears, graduated from my high school and played football with my uncle. I would go watch them play and dream of myself making the type of plays that I saw them make.
I am an only child on my mom’s side, and it’s tough playing the game of football alone. This is why I’m a weirdo. Before I was old enough to play middle school sports, I would get home every afternoon and play football by myself. I had a plastic football that I caught during half time of one of my uncle’s games. There were several pine trees towering over the driveway of our little house, and as the wind blew, the needles from these trees would drop down basically covering sections of our entire dirt driveway.
I would throw that ball up as high and as far as I could into the pine tree branches over my driveway. The ball would bounce from limb to limb as I sprinted to retrieve it before it hit the ground. If the ball hit the ground, it was an incompletion. If I made the reception or caught the ball before it hit the ground, I would dodge the pine needles (would be tacklers) that had blown to the ground. If I stepped on a pine needle, I counted myself as being tackled. Otherwise, it was a touchdown. I scored a lot of touchdowns!
“A head full of fears has no space for dreams.” Now, I’m not recommending that everyone needs to go technically dodge pine needles, but I do believe sometimes your personal pine needle will be your taxi to winning. As a child, it would have been easy for me to get stuck in mediocracy and complacency. My environment was not stable, and I was a very angry and desensitized kid.
My grandfather was the predominate male figure in my life. He exemplified consistency and worked at a lumber mill for 50 years prior to retirement. I don’t think he loved his job, but he did love providing for us, his family. His paycheck barely covered living essentials, especially adding an active grandkid in the mix. We didn’t have funds to take vacations or shopping sprees. We had the things we needed and learned to live without some of the things we wanted.
His walk taught me the definition of work and dedication. He was so patient. Never complained. He never uttered a word without careful thought and consideration of its consequences. He taught me that a loving and giving spirit could make a man content in any situation. He taught me to measure twice and cut once. My grandfather taught me so many things, but ultimately, he taught me that I wanted to be like him but never live like him.
I could never fathom how much money my grandfather made at that saw mill and he really had nothing of his own to show for it. Tony Gaskins Jr. stated that, “If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to build theirs.” My grandfather deserved more. Our family deserved more. I didn’t exactly have a blueprint or picture of what “more” looked like, but I wanted something other than the picture I came home to each day.
In my young rationale, I thought the only way for me to attain “more” was for me to live a lifestyle different from those in my immediate environment. This commitment eventually made me eccentric, strange, different, a winner, a weirdo. I wanted to be the best thing for which my mother was ever associated. Out of all of her wrongs, I wanted to make sure I was her “right,” her “victory.”
I believe that your attitude defines your aptitude, and I’m a living testimony that if you can dream and step in faith, then God will provide the rest. But, stepping in faith requires belief without sight. The African impala is said to be able to jump to heights of up to 13 feet and bounds spanning 30 feet. However, we see African impalas at the zoo all of the time, and a 5 foot high wall usually barricades them. Really?! The African impala won’t bound over this short barrier, because it can’t see what’s on the other side. Not one of these impalas is willing to be the weirdo and take the leap!
I really believe that everyone wants to be associated with winning. That is the reason why millions of fans watch their favorite team or athlete perform. However, not everyone is willing to do the extra ordinary in order to be a winner. Winning and greatness require sacrifice. They require an honest self-assessment. Then, they require a commitment to battle doubt and fears to the point it hurts. There is a cost to being a winner that most don’t want to pay. Ducking the norm is weird. It is also hard, but it is necessary to be a winner.
In my profession, I work with some of the best of the best in their profession. Over the years, I have learned that there are very few things that separate good players from great players. Typically, the great players have an intrinsic quality that makes them different. They are weird. Peyton Manning’s recall and detail. Champ Bailey’s ball skill and versatility. John Elway’s grit and competitive spirit. All weird and uncanny!
“Aerodynamically the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it. So it keeps flying.” Despite my awesome ability to dodge pine needles, I never signed to play with an NFL team. I lived in a house with three other guys during college, and all three of my roommates went on to play football in the NFL. Were my efforts lost and dream denied? No. Because I dared to be weird and worked despite my circumstances, I was able to attain a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky to play football. I was salutatorian of my senior class. I graduated college in 3.5 years with an undergraduate degree in computer science. I finished my MBA in a year. Although I never attained my dream to play in the NFL, I am blessed to have been employed by a NFL franchise for the last 9 years, and…I’m still being weird and dodging pine needles.
Weird to Win:
- Have a thorough plan. The #1 reason why people don’t attain their goals is because they never set them.
- Know your own faults and limitations. I’m well aware of the things that trip me up in life and cause me difficulties. Knowing your weaknesses allow you to avoid pitfalls.
- Be willing to sacrifice. Being great requires a commitment. This commitment often means altering what you are accustomed to in life. Sacrifice is a product of discipline.
- Work and don’t quit. “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth
- Learn. Grow through the process. To stop learning is to stop living.
- Execute. “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Have the confidence to perform. Preparation and confidence lead to proper execution.
Champ and I discussed what it means to be a weirdo, and how being weird and different has served him well throughout his life. To hear more, listen on…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony “Champ” Kelly was a former wide receiver and defensive back at the University of Kentucky where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2001 and a master’s degree in business administration in 2003. Proficient in computer programming and software development, he worked for IBM in Lexington, KY from 2002-05 as a software/quality engineer.
Kelly continued his football playing career with the Lexington Horsemen of United Indoor Football from 2003-06 as a defensive standout and was a two-time first-team UIF All-Star. In 2006, Kelly received the UIF Man of the Year Award recognizing his leadership both on the field and in the community, and then worked as the general manager and wide receivers coach for the team during their 2007 campaign, when he helped lead the Horsemen to the United Bowl III. He was hired by the NFL’s Denver Broncos in 2007 as a Northeast region scout, and eventually became the club’s Assistant Director of Pro Personnel in 2010. He was hired by the Chicago Bears as their Director of Pro Scouting/Pro Personnel in 2015.
In 2010, Kelly and his wife, Stephanie, founded Heart Power Inc., which funds “The C.H.A.M.P. Camp,” a two-day free camp focusing on teaching underprivileged kids not only about football, but life off the field, and the importance of academics and contributing to the community. It’s currently held in Denver, CO, Lexington, KY and his hometown of Panama City, FL.
Kelly enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, Claire and Chloe, when not working with the Chicago Bears or on Heart Power, Inc.
Images via Heart Power and WJHG