When Gadson lost both legs in Iraq, Sullivan visited him at the hospital. His first take: “This man had suffered so much, yet he was so happy to see me.”
Sullivan also noticed what a figure Gadson cut at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, encouraging patients and staff alike. Sullivan wondered whether Gadson would talk to his losing Giants, who already had given up 80 points in two games last fall.
“A lot of the guys were frustrated and searching for answers,” Sullivan says. “And I thought: ‘This is someone who knows about pressure and sacrifice when it’s life and death, not just a game.’”
He asked Gadson to speak to the team. You can guess what happened. Quickly, Gadson became a magnet for the Giants’ aspirations.
The night before a game against the Redskins, Gadson met the team and improvised. “You have an obligation not only to your employer but to each other to do your best,” he said.
The result was pretty direct. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress says he’d never met anyone like Gadson and thought, “Wow, I have a little ankle injury. I have to go out there and give it my best.”
The team invited Gadson to watch from the sideline the next day. When Burress scored the winning touchdown, he gave Gadson the ball.
The Giants won their next 10 road games.
Gadson met up with them again at the playoffs. At the NFC championship game, Gadson sat on the sideline. This time, Corey Webster intercepted a pass from Packers quarterback Brett Favre and gave it to Gadson. It turned out to be the last pass Favre threw before he retired.
For the 2008 Super Bowl against the undefeated New England Patriots, the Giants flew Gadson and his family to the game. The night before game day, Gadson spoke to the team. In a stunning upset, they won.
Bottom line: Your secret weapon is not that you have to be a Gadson. You can’t be. But like Sullivan, you can capture inspiration when you see it.
—Adapted from “Most Valuable Player,” W. Hodding Carter, Reader’s Digest.