Long before I became interested in the world of private investigations, I was a sports nut. When I finally realized that I didn’t have the athletic prowess to become a professional athlete, I focused on becoming the general manager of the New York Mets.

When that turned out to be a bit of a pipe dream, I focused on getting a job in sports, and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to get a degree in Sport Management. It was really a business degree, with a focus on the legal, business and marketing aspects of sports.

In early July 1999, I got a call from one of my professors, Lyle Henry, who told me that an intern position had opened up for the New York Giants in the communications department. It was a bit of a last-minute thing—the intern who was supposed to take the job had just backed out.

I quickly went down to Giants Stadium, was interviewed by UMass Amherst alumni Peter John-Baptiste, and within a few days, they had offered me the position.

The following week I started.

Do Great Work, the Rest Will Follow

When I got a call from Lyle Henry about the open position, he said I was one of the first people he thought of, in part because of my proximity to the Meadowlands, but also because I stood out from the crowd.

I was one of the top students in the Sport Management program at UMass. I was a bit older and more mature than most students; I knew what I wanted and was on a mission to get my degree and get a job in the sports industry. I was cum laude, participated in extracurricular activities and took a genuine interest in learning from the professors, meeting with them outside of the classroom. I wasn’t trying to butter up the professors; I was doing it because I wanted to learn.

Some people might say I was lucky; but I don’t believe much in luck. (The Giants went to the Super Bowl the year after I was there.) I was certainly in the right place at the right time, but I believe that if you put yourself in the right situation, do good work and stand out from the rest of the crowd, it will eventually be noticed.

Excuses Are Tools for the Incompetent

One of the intern’s responsibilities during training camp was to deliver newspapers to the coaches and ownership, especially Coach Jim Fassel. Three different newspapers had to be in Coach Fassel’s office at 5:30 a.m. sharp, no excuses.

One morning, the stack of newspapers that was supposed to be delivered was not there. “Oh well,” I said, “I guess there are no papers today.” Jeff, special assistant for Giants training camp, thought differently. We drove at an excessive speed to three different gas stations and bought every last newspaper we could find and delivered them to Coach Fassel’s office and the rest of the staff in the nick of time. Coach Fassel didn’t have a clue what we’d done.

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans are thrown for a loop. People don’t want excuses or stories; they want results. It doesn’t matter how you got from point A to point B—it just matters that you got there.

Tone at the Top

Before heading to the training facility in Albany, I spent one week at the Meadowlands. The first day, I met the entire staff, including Coach Jim Fassel, general manager Ernie Accorsi, owner Wellington Mara and (his son) John Mara. I didn’t expect that. I was an intern; they were some of the most powerful people in sports.

Football is known as a pretty rough sport, but I couldn’t help thinking what a classy organization they had.

Through training camp and the rest of the up-and-down season, the Maras were a steady rock, never wavering. They didn’t comment to the media after big losses or big wins, they didn’t interfere with everyone’s job and they didn’t change their tone throughout the season. They were a constant with the team, but they let the team and the players do their jobs without interfering.

My boss, Pat Hanlon, vice president of communications, was charismatic, smart and hard-working. He was the first one in the office and one of the last ones to leave. He would give me a boost of confidence when the season started wearing on me and gently chide me when I would show up 15 minutes late for work.

The tone of your team, sports or otherwise, begins at the top. If you have a fiery, no-holds-barred attitude, so will the rest of your team. But if you are calm, steady and unwavering, so will be the people who look up to you.

Small, Seemingly Meaningless Things Don’t Go Unnoticed

One of my jobs during training camps was to produce the daily clips. One by one, I went through all of the New York newspapers, clipped out the news about the Giants that day, made hundreds of copies for the whole staff and delivered them to the coaches, front office personnel, staff and players. It was tedious, mind-numbing work. I remember thinking to myself, they get the newspapers anyway, why do they need the daily clips?

One day, the copier didn’t work. I didn’t get the clips out. Saying to myself, “Nobody ever reads the darn things anyway,” I let it go and didn’t think much about.

Boy was I wrong. I got an earful from Pat Hanlon. From then on, I made it my mission to get the clips to the whole team by 10 a.m., no excuses.

Even the small, somewhat meaningless things are critical to an organization, from the top of the food chain down to the intern. My job, which I perceived to be small and meaningless, was important, and I quickly realized that everybody’s role in an organization, no matter how small or tedious, is important.

Small Acts of Kindness Go a Long Way

On one of the last days of training camp, I was about to get into my car near the dormitories, when I saw Joe Montgomery. Montgomery was a rookie, drafted in the second round out of Ohio State. Training camp was closing up and he realized that he had left a bag with his wallet back at the training facility. He got in my car and we headed back to the locker room before everything was packed up.

As he got back in the car with his bag, he was enormously thankful. We talked about what I was going to do on my few days off before starting the season. I said I would probably just spend some time with my girlfriend (who is now my wife) and probably go out to eat.

As he got out of the car, Montgomery whipped out a wad of cash, thankful for the ride, and handed me a hundred dollars. “Dinner is on me,” he said. As he exited the car, he put another hundred dollars on my front seat, and said, “Take her somewhere nice.”

I’ll never forget it.

Unexpected small acts of kindness go a long way. They don’t need to be monetary, but they do need to be out of the ordinary. Beyond expectations. People tend to forget things that you do every day; but small, unexpected acts are remembered forever.

In the End …

The Giants season was up and down. After starting the season with five wins and three losses, they lost six out of the last eight games, and were out of the playoffs. The season may have been a disappointment for the team, but it was a great life experience for me.

In January, I returned to school, with a great experience and a new mind-set … one that I have taken with me ever since and will never forget.

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6 replies
  1. Jason Frasca
    Jason Frasca says:


    What a tremendous experience.

    Yes, leadership style does trickle down and influence the entire organization.

    Sports teams are some of the few we get to view and analyze publically. Your post gives us further insight into what we have always known, the Giants are unwavering at the top.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Thanks Jason. It was an awesome experience, much of which I have taken along with me.

  2. Jarris Fuller
    Jarris Fuller says:

    Brian, what a great post.

    Extremely well written and your observations are spot-on – not just for someone in the PI industry, but for anyone in business, or even just on a personal level.

    Great stuff.

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