The 3 answers

People have asked me about the “3 answers” poster mentioned in Paul Kimmage’s (excellently) written article.

Here’s the background story.

Many years ago in the U.S. I was given a book as a gift by a coach I was pestering for information. I was a little more than 19 at the time. Many of the details in the book made little sense to me. It was about a sport knew nothing about—college football (life goes at you fast!).

Amazingly, the manner in which the stories were told and the skill of the writer were so enthralling the fact it was about a game I had never seen never mattered—the sign of a great writer.

The book, written by John Feinstein, is A Civil War: Army Vs. Navy a Year Inside College Football’s Purest Rivalry.

In it, he tells many stories, but one of which is the tale of Ryan Bucchianeri, a first year place kicker who takes a kick in dead time at the end of game. Feinstein tells the story of … well why not just let Feinstein tell the story!

“The time out ended. Bucchianeri lined up. The snap was perfect, the hold was good. Bucchianeri swung his leg through the ball and it sailed over the arms of the flailing Cadets. But as soon as it came off his foot, he knew something was wrong. The ball didn’t hook as much as he had thought it would and it sailed 18 inches to the right of the near goal post.
Wide right.Those two words seemed to follow him off the field, up the tunnel, through the locker room and onto the team bus. Those two words would become his legacy, a larger-than-life one, because, when he was called on to explain them during a press conference that lasted less than five minutes, he unwittingly made himself into a hero.As a plebe, a midshipman is allowed three answers when addressing an upperclassman:

“Yes, sir.”

“No, sir.”

“No excuse, sir.”

The last is a critical part of training at the academy. If someone else spatters mud on your boots, you do not explain that to an upperclassman when he demands to know why they’re muddy. You simply say — you must say, “No excuse, sir.” No one else is responsible for your failures. And so, when the media offered Bucchianeri excuses: the wet field, the angle, the pressure, perhaps even the hold or the snap, he kept shaking his head and saying—in essence, “No excuse, sir.”

“I missed the kick,” he said repeatedly. “I did my best. I tried. I missed the kick.”

In an era when athletes blame everyone and everything for their failures, Bucchianeri’s simple “No excuse, sir” became national news.” 

[Here’s a link to a longer piece]

The lesson is simple—no one else is to blame. In life, if you want to be a Game Changer, you get it done or you do not.

You can have all the excuses you like, but in reality, none of those matter.

You can blame someone else, you can b*tch, moan and look for sympathy.

Be certain of this—you’ll be approached by weak-minded people who will want to give misery company.

They can come in the form of so-called friends, bandwagon jumpers, lazy journalists, hypocritical former coaches, or Twitter fans—all people who haven’t done anything themselves and more importantly whose own success is not on the line.

Most of all—know this truth—nothing they can say can change those 3 answers.

If you want to get anything done, you need to avoid and protect yourself from those kinds of people. They don’t matter. Ignore them.

Get the win.

The truth hurts, but get over it.


Donncha O’Callaghan is an Irish International and former Munster rugby player who is still playing at 52 years of age now with Worcester Warriors in England. Most people only know him for his practical jokes and constant grin, but working with him in Munster over 2 years, he is one of the people I’ve a special respect for, and learned a huge amount from.

He told me of a time when he was dropped from the Munster team and a player came to him to suggest he was being harshly and unfairly treated by a coach. Donncha had one response to the teammate: “Get away from me” he growled through gritted teeth.

Donncha wasn’t interested in sympathy or misery from anyone. He wasn’t blaming anyone. He knew that was weakness. He was getting busy working harder at fixing what the coach told him he wasn’t getting right.

The mindset that makes Ryan, Donncha and other Game Changers has only 3 answers:

“Yes, sir.”

“No, sir.”

“No excuse, sir.”

Be ruthless. Get after it.

No excuses.

P.S. Donncha is really only 38 years young!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply