By Lauren McMillin
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vince Lombardi once said, "Leaders aren't born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal."
Likewise, observing the examples of others and striving to follow the right path are important factors in developing leaders. Titans safety Michael Griffin knows the significance of all of these factors and has made an effort to make them his keys to success both on and off the field.
A native of Austin, Texas, Griffin grew up with parents who served more than 20 years in the military, his father in the U.S. Air Force and his mother in the U.S. Navy. Their dedication to their country and strong work ethic inspired Griffin from an early age.
"It just taught me to work hard and just know where my parents came from," he said. "One thing they always taught me is to work for everything you get. It just helped me a lot, just the way they are still to this day. They're still working, and they never ever had their hands out. They just helped me be who I am today."
Griffin took his parents' advice to heart, especially when he began focusing on football in high school. After originally planning to attend Texas A&M University, Griffin decided to play at the University of Texas, where he had the chance to play alongside his twin brother, Marcus.
"It was special," Griffin said. "The opportunity to be able to play all our lives all the way up to 21, 22 years old. All thanks to Coach [Mac] Brown, he allowed my brother to walk on at the University of Texas and allowed him to earn a scholarship."
Having his brother as a teammate is a memory that Griffin still cherishes today.
"Just being able to share those moments of being able to play with your twin brother and experience all of those great moments, whether it was a national championship, every time we had a Big 12 game, just all those different games," he said. "It was always just a blessing to be out there with your brother."
Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas has a capacity of more than 100,000 people. Spending his collegiate career in such a massive atmosphere gave Griffin a feel for playing at the professional level.
"It prepared me a lot," he said. "Playing at the University of Texas was kind of playing on center stage every game. When I came to the next level, it wasn't really much of a difference."
Griffin did not seriously consider playing in the NFL until he was a junior in college, when agents began contacting him about entering the draft. "To me, I was just playing football, but I didn't realize that I was on that level," he said.
In the same way that Griffin did not expect to play in the NFL, he did not foresee being selected by the Titans in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
"It was surprising," he said. "When they called me and asked me was I ready to be picked 19th, I remember just sitting there, and I had a lot of friends and family there at my house. It was just a blessing, a dream come true. Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me."
Despite being familiar with professional-level game environments, Griffin faced numerous changes and challenges as he transitioned from college to the NFL. By finding the right mentors, however, he was able to make that adjustment a smooth one.
"I think I did a lot of the right things," Griffin said. "When I first got here, the first thing you need to do is choose a vet that does all the right things that sustain this league for a long period of time, and just see the things that he does. You're old enough to realize what's right and what's wrong."
Some of Griffin's role models as a rookie included former Titans players Chris Hope, David Thornton and Keith Bulluck.
"I was blessed to be here with those types of guys," he said. "Any rookie advice, I would look at those types of guys and watch the things they did, whether it's managing your money, how to watch film, how to play this game, just pick their heads, ask questions, because there's a reason why they had been here for so long."
Currently in his eighth season, Griffin proves that he's followed the footsteps of the players before him. Only missing two games in his first seven seasons, Griffin credits the advice of his former teammates for allowing him to have such an extensive career.
"A former safety that played here, Chris Hope, told me that your body is a million-dollar industry," Griffin said. "You've got to take care of your body and do everything to prepare yourself and help yourself to sustain in this league. I think that might have been the best advice that I got, let alone to let me get to where I am today. I think that's one of the best things that ever happened to me, playing alongside him, let alone [having] somebody teaching me the way of being a pro."
Learning how to be a pro early in his career helped Griffin make the 2008 Pro Bowl after finishing the season tied for second in the NFL with a team-high seven interceptions.
"It was special," he said. "We had guys like Troy Polamalu, Brian Dawkins, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs…there were a lot of guys that I remember when I was in college that I looked up to. It was mind-blowing, just being out there with those guys and being able to realize that you compete on the same level that these guys compete on each and every year. It was a great experience, a dream come true and a great achievement."
Griffin returned to the Pro Bowl two years later in 2010 after leading the team with four interceptions and finishing second with a career-high 153 tackles.
With his rookie days far behind him, Griffin has become a veteran player who sets an example for his teammates, just as he looked up to the players before him. As one of the team leaders in tackles this season, Griffin notes how his game has developed over time.
"It's just different things and different roles this year," he said. "As the defensive coordinators changed, my role each and every year has changed."
Griffin has also had a high number of career interceptions, totaling 24 over the course of his first seven years.
"When opportunities present themselves, you've just got to catch the ball," he said. "Some look harder than others, and some look easier than others, but at the end of the day, I guess it's just being at the right place at the right time."
He passes on that advice, along with other lessons he has learned, to rookies and younger players in the league today.
"First things first, just realize that you turn into a grown man overnight," he said. "Not only are you playing this game for fun, but you're playing it for a job. You've got to respect the game. Just like that, overnight, you're an adult now, and things change just like that. Your life is put in the spotlight, and every move you make, it's like a movie that never stops. One thing I say is, like I told my team, is the only thing that separates you from the Titans or any team the name on your back, so respect that and realize that whatever you do, it will go for a lifetime. When you make that wrong move, those choices you make, you've got to realize that you carry a name on your back, and you're carrying your family on your back."
In the same way that he works to support the name on his back, Griffin hopes to carry the name on the front of his jersey, as well.
"Just try to keep building," he said. "Just build upon each and every year, just try to get better. I know right now the season isn't going the way we want it to be. I just have my own personal goals and play for my team. That's a goal each and every year, be a team player and just do whatever I can to help this team win ballgames."
While the team strives toward victory, Griffin understands the impact the Titans' fan base has on the team and how vital they are to its ultimate success.
"I know the last six years we haven't always lived up to the fans' standards, but one thing I will say is we're doing everything we can to turn this thing around. It's not easy. [The fans] are very important. They've been tremendous… Nashville fans are great. Win or lose, they're always there to support us. They're always there to help us out with anything we have going on. I love the fans here."
With the fans' encouragement, the examples set by former players and his focus on leadership, Griffin predicts a bright future for the Titans.
"Get this thing turned around," he said. "Start putting some W's in a row and continue to build on this year. It's not over yet, so we'll continue to build on this year and get this thing turned around and make this a franchise that everybody recognizes and continue to be reckoned with."