Danielle McLaughlin: On Sumner, Spain, Sport, and Life

Steve Sumner in action against Brazil at the 1982 World Cup finals, in Spain. Sumner died this week after a battle with ...
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Steve Sumner in action against Brazil at the 1982 World Cup finals, in Spain. Sumner died this week after a battle with cancer.

OPINION: Natural ability will only get you so far, hard work is what sets individuals apart. 

News this week that Steve Sumner died returned Kiwis all over the world to the incredible winter of 1982, when the All Whites made it to the football World Cup finals in Spain.

It was, of course, Espana'82.  My home town, Gisborne, was buzzing – the Gisborne City A.F.C sent five players to the World Cup to play for New Zealand. Kevin Fallon, dad to two kids at my primary school, went as the assistant coach. These men, with their floppy hair, Adidas V-necks and moustaches were our heroes. We had watched them play for the Sky Blues at the Childers Road Reserve for years. Sitting on cold concrete. Munching on meat pies.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates his team's come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons at ...
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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates his team's come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons at this week's Superbowl.

Sumner was remembered this week not only for scoring New Zealand's first ever World Cup Finals goal, but for his "precocious talent", strength of character, his positivity, and for giving it everything he had – on the field, during his long association with New Zealand soccer, and during the illness that ultimately took his life.

This week in Houston, America witnessed its own sporting miracle. 

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The New England Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit half way through the third quarter of the Super Bowl to win the game in overtime, 34-28. Tom Brady, husband to supermodel Giselle Bundchen, picked up his fourth Super Bowl ring out of six championship appearances.

Despite being down on their luck, the Patriots were brutally methodical as they came back, advancing down the field and converting that territory into points on the board.  The Patriots earned 31 points while holding the Atlanta Falcons at 28. My husband and I, with a sleeping two-year-old, watched in anxious amazement and then celebrated, quietly but enthusiastically. 

Our deep roots in Boston made the victory in a game on the knife edge incredibly sweet.

Sumner and Brady, both talented athletes, achieved greatness through hard work.

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Brady was an average player coming out of college, and was the 199th player chosen during the annual NFL draft.  Known for his incredible work ethic, his focus on health and nutrition, and his devotion to teamwork and his teammates, he will now be remembered as the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. 

Sumner was remembered this week as a "bit of a handful" for coaches in his early years. But he channelled that strong will effectively, becoming known as a player who wanted perfection – out of himself, and his teammates.  That's what took him to Spain.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick once said, "Talent sets the floor, character sets the ceiling". 

It's true. In sport, and in life.

Follow Danielle on Twitter: @MsDMcLaughlin

 - Sunday Star Times

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