As most of you know, I played in the NFL for five years. I had seven knee surgeries while I played. At the very end, the last play I remember playing was in Miami. We were down there playing with the Dolphins.
I was coming up to tackle a guy and the guy was big. As I went to tackle him, my foot, the cleats on my shoes got stuck in the turf of the Orange Bowl in Miami. This guy that weighed about 245 or 250 pounds, landed on top of me. Not only did he land on top of me, but about six guys hit him from behind and they all landed on top of me.
So, I had about seven or eight guys on top me, probably a couple of tons of weight on top of me. As I was going down, I heard this–and everyone heard this–Pop! Pop! Pop! That was my foot breaking, my leg breaking and my knee blowing up.
Everyone who is lying on top of me in this pile was going, “Oh, who was that? Who was that?” They’re all reaching for their own limbs to see if it was them. I was at the bottom of this pile. I look over and I can barely move my head. I was lying on my back and I can barely move my head. I could see my shoe right there next to my head and my shoe was pointing that way.
I said, “Fellas, I think that one was me,” and everyone was really relieved to hear that. Like, “Oh good, good that was you.” So, they all unpile off of me and I’m being wheeled off of the field. This one was going to be my seventh knee surgery.
As I was being wheeled off the field, this fear just came over me and my whole life passed in front of my eyes. I thought, “What am I going to do now?” The first thought was prison, the first thought was, “Man, I’m best in the world at running this head into other bodies going 25 mph. What am I going to do now?” How is this ability that I have going to translate to the civilian world? Well, it’s not? I am going to go to prison.
The very next moment to avoid prison, guess what I thought? I thought, “I’m moving to New York City.” I’m going to a find stage. I’m going to find a platform and train this body to express itself the way it does on NFL fields. You become the top in the world at a thing, at expressing yourself in a certain way. But now I’ve got to find another way to do that.
So I moved to New York City and I started studying. I got in every performance class you can imagine. Whether it was acting classes or scene study or improv or dance or voice, anything I could do, I did. I took all the energy that made me a great NFL player and I used it to express myself so I could avoid prison, and actually make a living with the expression of who I was.
So I moved to New York City. I was 27 or 28 at the time. I’d had a career. Everyone in my class was young like 18, 19 and 20 years old, studying to be actors and writers and performers. I went to everybody in my class and I said, “Who is the best stage performer right now? Who is the best stage performer of our time right now?”
This was 1990. Everybody in my class said, “Oh, that’s Al Pacino.” I said, “Cool. Al Pacino. Where is he?” Everyone in my class said, “Well, I don’t know. He’s Al Pacino. He is a movie star. He’s probably in his house or he’s probably on a movie set somewhere.”
I go, “Well, cool, because I need to talk to him.” They go well “You can’t talk to Al Pacino. He’s Al Pacino.”
I said, “No, no. If he is the best in the world at being on stage, I want to talk to him because guess what? I want his mantle. I want to be that. If he did it, if a human being did that, he became the best in the world at a thing, then I can do it, or you could do it. I just need time and I need to have a mentor. I need to be taught. I need to run the miles of whatever it equals to be the best in the world at this thing called stage performance.”
So, within 3 days I was at Al Pacino’s house. He had a room that had a pool table in it. He and I started playing pool, and he knew why I was there. I said, “Al thank you so much for talking to me about this. I want what you’ve got. I want to be the best in the world at being on stage. At being able to express myself so I don’t have to go to prison.”
He said, “Okay I’ll tell you what to do.” So, we spent 3 hours playing pool and he broke down the next 15 years for me, 15 years. He broke it all down, who I work with, what I do, all these miles that I had to run for 15 years. Well, the main part of those 15 years was guess what, I had to be on stage, my feet on a stage more than any other human being on the face of earth for the next 15 years.
He said, “If you do that, then in 12, to 13 to 14 to 15 years, you’ll be the best in the world at being on stage.” I said, “Cool, I’ll do it. I’ll work well in those kinds of timeframes.” So, I did it.
I’ll never forget 6 months ago I was on an NFL field. I was signing autographs. I was a celebrity in that world, right? Six months later I am doing a play, a play in Sacramento, California. It’s a children’s play. It’s some goofy play about the city of Elves and I am playing the Mayor of this Elf city. So, I’m the Mayor Elf, I’m the king Elf in this play. It’s a children’s play.
So, there are 100 kids, and we did the whole rehearsal. I worked my but off. I did everything Al Pacino said, this is the first play that I ever did. There are 100 kids screaming not paying attention to me in the audience. I’ve got this goofy top hat on and I am the Mayor of this Elf city.
In the audience, sitting in the back of these kids is two of my best friends, one being my brother, who was quarterback for New England Patriots for 9 years, Tony Eason, and my best friend Kenny O’Brien, who was my roommate in college. He’s a first round pick and he is starting quarterback of the New York Jets at this time.
So, I’ve got two NFL starting first round picks, starting quarterbacks. There is Kenny O’Brien, starting quarterback in the Jets. Here is Tony Eason starting quarterback of the New England Patriots sitting in a children’s theatre in Sacramento to see me perform the first play, the first time I ever got on stage in front of people. They are there to support me. They’re there to watch me with 100 kids.
Now these guys are big. So, they’re taking up like a whole row of seats and the kids are obviously very small and they’re just all around me. So, I do the play. I give it everything I got. All my training comes to bear, and after the play just like after an NFL game, I’m greeting my family and friends and fans.
I’ve got two fans at this thing, one being Kenny O’Brien and one being my brother Tony. They come up to me after the play and I still had my stupid top hat on and the goofy makeup and the mustache. They just walked up like this. “Hey Bo, hey, that’s really good. You did really good, you’re good mayor with the top hat and all.” I was like, “You guys really you think so? I’ve been working hard on this part.” This is my new career. This is where I’m starting. I’ve got to do it, I just want to be the best.”
They were so kind of disappointed in a way. They were kind of like, “Wow 6 months ago Bo, you were signing autographs on NFL fields. You were an idol to kids. You were admired by people. Just now we watched you for an hour with 100 kids who would not pay attention to you.”
In that moment I knew the importance of what I was doing. I knew that I had to start as a rookie again. I had to start at the bottom of the rung, again. I think most people make that mistake, and certainly professional athletes do this.
They make the mistake of trying to crossover from being a celebrity or being the top of your field at being an athlete and try to cross that over; try to make that bridge without doing the same training that made you the best over here.
I think us as human beings; we do that all the time. We think we’re entitled to the same greatness that we achieved over here, over here without paying our dues. Somehow I knew that I had to start in that children’s theatre in Sacramento.
Now this is what happened, 15 years passes, I put my butt and my feet on a stage just like Al Pacino said, more than anyone else, whether it was children shows, adult show, I didn’t care. I put my feet on a stage, in a classroom with mentors and teachers and other students more than anybody could in 15 years.
Now 15 years has passed, I haven’t seen Al Pacino in 15 years. My play is opening in New York City. It’s a play that I wrote, that I am the only person in. It’s a play called Runt of the Litter. I’m backstage and I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I’m about to face New York audiences. I’m about to face the New York critics, who aren’t probably going take too lightly to a football player, who has written his own one-man show and he’s the only person in it and he’s the star.
I ran out on stage, and my heart was pounding and I began the play. About 10 minutes into the play, I make eye contact with a guy and the guy is sitting out there in the 5th row and he’s right on the aisle. It’s Al Pacino and this is what Al Pacino does, he crosses his arms, nods, and smiles. That was it.
I felt like all those 15 years, all that training, all that embarrassing starting it as a rookie in that little children’s theatre, I felt like in that moment, in that nod of the head from the greatest stage performer of his time, I felt like everything fell into place. Now I had control of my own life.
I think the problem that most of us have is we’re not willing to run those miles and the people that work with me, you, we have those. That’s how we operate, we run those miles. We’re interested in being the best and we’re interested in mastery.
Now once you master one thing, like playing safety in the NFL, I mastered that for years. Now that mastery transfers over into the next occupation, and my occupation it was completely different. The discipline was different in that it was playwriting and performing. I’d never done that before.
But I attached the same muscles, the same discipline that it took me to be the best safety and I attached it to being best stage performer. Those work very well together.
But I didn’t feel entitled like I should just be the best stage performer, because I mastered something else. I began at the bottom and began to master this next thing. But it didn’t take that many years before bam it started to happen. But you have to surrender, all the people that I work with they just surrender, and surrender is really the proper word here.
You have to surrender to the miles that it takes to be great. Most people want to be the best, most people want to win. Most people want to be great. There is one problem with that, most people are not willing to prepare to be great. Everybody, everybody has the will to win, but almost nobody has the will to prepare to win.
The center of our world, my community and me and my family is about practice, is about rehearsal, is about running those miles. That is the center of our universe. It is our big game. It is the big show, practice, rehearsal, training that’s our universe. That’s yours now too. I want you to start thinking about it. I want you to start developing. I want you to start putting your feet in the place that you want to be best in the world at.
So, if that’s going to be the best stage performer of your time, then I suggest the same thing that Al Pacino told me. You better get your butt on a stage more than anyone else. If you want to be the best safety in the world, you better get your feet on a grass field and run backwards faster than anybody else for the next 10, 12 years.
I can promise you that you will be the best in the world at that thing at the end of those miles. How about that? That’s the life that I’m interested in. I hope you are too. It’s all I think about. I think every thought that you have should be that, how and where can I be the best. Let me put my foot there, let me put my ass in that seat, all right.
So, will see you next time, go visit BoEason.com if you want more information, more training with me. I’ll see you next time.