Imagine you’re a quarterback. No, not that quarterback, not the starter, the one earning the big dollar number, tasked with trying to lead his team to the Superbowl. No, you’re the back-up quarterback.
You learn the playbook, and you get to take part in practice to even though you don’t get to take most of the snaps. You travel with the team to all of the games, but you don’t get to play. Until the moment something goes wrong, the starter is out, and then you do.
Now you’re on the field, game rusty because the last time you played was, when? Playing with a team who hasn’t played with you in competition since the last time they called you off the bench, or maybe with a team who has never played with you before, other than in a pre-season game. But even if you did that, you probably didn’t play much with these guys, the starters. You were playing with the other back-ups. Maybe you had a few days notice and you got to take the snaps in practice, maybe you didn’t, but either way, it’s your turn now.
Will you be able to play at the best of your ability with almost no practice, with guys who haven’t played with you all year? Will how this one game goes, under these conditions, affect your future with this team, your future in the NFL full stop? When the off-season comes, will you still have a job?
Now imagine this entire scenario again, but with a few things switched up.
You’re still the back-up quarterback. However now you get to take no snaps in practice, at any point during the season, unless you’re going to play this week, and then it’s the day before the game. You don’t get a playbook until the week it’s confirmed you’re going to play, and the rest of the time you certainly don’t get to travel with the team. Unless you play, you don’t get paid, and sometimes you get to play, but you don’t get paid. So you find a job, several jobs. You coach kids wanting to play, you coach adults still learning to play. The work is inconsistent, and often out of state, and you’re trying to find enough of it to make ends meet, while fitting it in around your other commitments.
Other commitments? What else could possibly be important?
Well, if you’re going to be ready, should you get called up, obviously you have to train. You can do this by yourself as best you can, or you can pay some of that income you just earned coaching to someone to help you try and get the best out of yourself on the days you can be in the gym.
Also, what if I told you that if you could add another job, this time a marketing one, also unpaid most of the time, but that if you did this job diligently, intelligently, and worked hard at it, that you would greatly increase your chances of getting to start another game? Specifically, if you were able to master this largely unpaid marketing job, along side your training, your other paying jobs, and the travel where you do try to join the team, what if I told you now it’s not just any game you get to play. Now maybe you can play the Super Bowl.
Except, of course, this isn’t the NFL Super Bowl. This Super Bowl has 33 teams taking part. Around 22 of those teams are full time teams, playing in every game, working together in harmony, but maybe you can be one of the 11 teams who are going to be joining the biggest event of the year, as a one-off appearance.
With just under two weeks to go until the big day, you start to take the snaps in practice with your team. Your team is mainly made up of back-up, non full-time guys too, and even though you have two weeks to go, some of your team won’t arrive until the last day of practice before the game.
You get your playbook, and some it is the same as last year, but some of it has changed. You meet your quarterback coach for this big game. Have you worked with him before? Hopefully you have, because you have just under two weeks to learn to turn yourselves into a tight knit team.
Then of course, you don’t actually get to practice every day in those two weeks. In reality it’s about 8 days practice. And that’s if it doesn’t rain.
Sometimes, you get the call to play even without having succeeded at your marketing job, because the team just decides they want you. But, if it’s not the Super Bowl, with this big two week build up, your build up, and time to practice ahead of the game, will instead likely be just one day. You’ll still say yes of course. Because for you, there is nothing you want more than the opportunity to play.
None of this happens quietly, all of it happens in the spotlight. Those watching know you’re just the backup quarterback, and opinions will be loud and vocal as to whether you’ve earned your opportunity to play this game, or whether someone else should have had the opportunity instead. You’re a public figure, everyone has an opinion, and in the age of the internet, everyone has a platform to share that opinion. So you’d better not have a tough time, or have something go wrong that weekend, or that day.
Welcome to life on the fringe.
I spend as much time in a suit jacket, in meetings, talking activation sponsorship, and opportunity than I spend in a drivers suit, sitting in a racing car. I spend more time wearing the manufacturer/school logo shirts at the places where I work than I do wearing my Dale Coyne Racing driver polo, and my road car that I cover countless miles in on my way to work, to race tracks is not some fancy, expensive, luxury car. I drive a second hand Honda Civic.
I didn’t always live out here on the edges. Photos have been appearing in my memories recently of Indy Lights, and pole positions, and podium finishes, and of winning in Kentucky six years ago. Normally these are photos that make me smile, but this past month has been hard. I’ve been mourning the loss of a friend, and while I was so grateful to have the opportunity to race at Pocono, and to honor him on my helmet, that turned into such a tough weekend at a track I love so much… It ended up feeling like another body-blow while I was already down. Then seeing those photos in my feed, it felt like a reminder of how many years have past, and of lost hopes and dreams.
Six years ago, if you had told me this would end up being my life, I’m pretty sure I would have struggled to find the silver lining, and over the past month the lining has certainly felt more like a dull shade of gray. But as I was driving home in my green BC T-shirt from work late at night, just last week, I couldn’t help but think that he would be one of the first people to remind me how lucky I really am, and how good life actually is.
I might not get to run 200 races a year. I might not even get to run 20. Some years I might not even get to run 2. But if I work hard, and I do the marketing part of my job well, the one race I get to run is a pretty big one. Effectively it’s the Super Bowl. And while I might only be the backup quarterback, I can take to the field knowing I have a great team standing with me, behind me.
I might often have to work extremely long hours, coaching people who are bemused, or confused as to why an Indy 500 driver is their instructor, and then sitting at my laptop hours into the night trying to get to inbox zero, but I’m getting to spend those long days working with great people, and with cars and often at race tracks. And every night I’m up late after work, responding to those emails, I’m potentially getting another step closer to getting back in that race car.
So while I might be railing about adding another set of initials to my helmet, they are a pretty special set of initials. It might take me the rest of my career for me to even get close to another 200 starts in any form of car, but Bryan will be riding with me for all of them. And despite the fact I’m just the backup quarterback, I think he might approve.