Not many people understand the things he did as far as his philosophy. The San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s and the Green Bay Packers during the back-to-back Super Bowl years of 1996-1997 owe Bill Walsh for giving them the knowledge on how to build a winning tradition. Let me further explain by telling you about our relationship, Bill's and mine, and, trust me, words don't do it justice.
Our relationship goes back to 1981 when it was my first year trying to make it in the NFL. I tried out for the Seattle Seahawks and I was released on the last cutdown. Most say the numbers got me, but deep down I knew I had things I needed to work on. I had some pretty good games, but I was young and didn't really understand the commitment it took to play at the highest level. However, in one preseason game against the 49ers I scored a couple of touchdowns and played well on special teams, which must of gotten Bill's attention, or at least made him remember my name.
Well let's just say the story goes like this: I got cut the next year by the Cincinnati Bengals, then signed with the Denver Gold of the U.S.F.L. and played there for two years. I was traded to the Memphis Showboats the last year of the league. Once that league folded I went and played for Montreal in the CFL until that team folded. We all have, or had dreams when we were kids and because mine was to be a NFL player and I hadn't done it. To everyone else I was some form of hero because I had done something others had dreamed of, but for me my life was incomplete and I was a failure.
At that moment I thought I would give it one more chance. I had to before I would have to walk away from my dream and go on to my second choice, whatever that was, so I did like all other businessmen do and that was send out my resume to every team in the NFL.
Within weeks I got letters from most of the teams saying ‘thanks, but no thanks.' Well, that was what every team except for the 49ers and Bill Walsh. He not only gave me an opportunity to reach my dream, but surpass it. Not only did I play in the NFL, but I also was fortunate enough to be involved in four Super Bowl games, winning three rings. Because of Bill I've gotten to travel the world and meet presidents and be treated like royalty. Because of him, this little boy from Fayetteville, N.C. got to learn football and be teammates with some of the greatest in the game, either as a player or coach.
Guys that have had a major influence on the game like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, Charles Haley, Brett Favre, Reggie White, Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, Tony Dungy, Matt Millen, Ron Wolf … I owe so much to Bill Walsh. He saw something in me that others didn't. He was very influential with me getting into coaching because when I retired from playing we met and had lunch and he told me that's what I should be doing because he said I was different and had the communication skills necessary to educate and become a very good coach.
Most of what I am is because of this man, so when he died Monday it affected me. He wasn't this figure that was bigger than life. He was the man, the mastermind that designed the blueprint for success; his philosophy changed the direction of organizations. He knew how to get the best out of people and he did it by treating them with respect and making them believe in themselves. I know this is true because that's what he did for me as a player and person, but he did the same of the secretary, the janitor, etc.
When I played for him he treated me as if my role was as important as Jerry Rice's or Joe Montana's. There wasn't any wall I wouldn't have run into for this man. He was my friend, my coach, my mentor the guy that told me the truth even though I didn't want to hear it. We all need that person to believe in them and Bill Walsh was that person for me. Even though he is gone he will never be gone because without him there wouldn't have been me. He was so much MORE THAN A LEGEND!!!!!!!!!!!
Harry Sydney is a former fullback and assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.