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Brian Griese: From Michigan quarterback to servant leader

Griese never planned to become a professional football player, but he always planned to help others


Brian Griese
ESPN college football analyst, founder of Judi’s House

Hometown: Miami

Current city: Denver

School: Bachelor’s degree in political science, University of Michigan, 1998

Sport: Football

Fun fact: “I grew up in Miami and went to a high school with a student body that was probably 80 percent Cuban-Americans. I fell in love with the Cuban culture and look forward to visiting Cuba someday.”

For Brian Griese, the ultimate measure of success isn’t what you’ve got, but what you can give back.

Griese was born with football in his blood — his father is Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Bob Griese, who played with the Miami Dolphins for 14 years. Growing up in Miami, Brian and his two older brothers participated in whatever sport was in season.

“A lot of my upbringing revolved around sports,” he said. “We played football in the fall, went straight into basketball in the winter and on to baseball in the spring. Then we’d do it all over again.”

Griese says he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I’m a big proponent of young people not specializing in any one sport or craft but being well-rounded and having to adapt to different environments,” he explained. “As you go from one activity to another, you encounter a whole new set of people that you have to get to know, work with and respect. There’s so much value in that.”

Even with his sports background, Griese’s career aspirations took him in an entirely different direction.

“I was not planning to be a football player, I can tell you that,” he said. “I wanted to work in international development, especially in developing countries where clean water is an issue.”

Griese set his sights on the University of Michigan, walked on to the football team and worked his way into the starting quarterback position. He helped lead the Wolverines to an undefeated season, a national championship and a Rose Bowl win in 1998 – a game in which Griese was named MVP.

“Still, I never anticipated that my future career was going to be predicated on sports, so my studies were very important to me,” he said. “Balancing academics and athletics wasn’t a struggle; it was a priority.”

Griese looks back fondly on his overall student-athlete experience.

“It was a great opportunity,” he recalled. “One thing that really shaped who I am, and who I hope I will continue to become, was coming to understand the platform that being a student-athlete gives you to affect other people in a positive way. It’s important to take that as seriously as you do the opportunity to go out and play. That was instilled in me early on at Michigan, and I’ve worked hard to pass it on.”

Griese had planned to earn a master’s in public policy from George Washington University, but the NFL came calling.

The Denver Broncos selected Griese in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft, and he also played for the  Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his 11-season professional career. Griese was part of the Super Bowl XXXIII-winning Broncos team following the 1998 regular season, and he and his dad remain the only father/son quarterback combination in history both to hold Super Bowl titles.

These days, Griese is a college football analyst for ESPN and devotes his time and attention to a number of philanthropies. The one closest to his heart is Judi’s House, a children’s grief support organization in Denver he founded in 2002 in honor of his mother, who succumbed to breast cancer when he was 12.

Since its founding, Judi’s House has supported thousands of youth, ages 3 to 25, along with their families and caregivers.

“I really wanted to honor my mom and her story by helping other families who were going through tragedies like I went through,” Griese said. “By having somewhere to meet other kids who were going through the same thing I was, I could have avoided a lot of negative outcomes and risk factors that I know a lot of grieving children experience. Together with my wife, Brook, who is the real all-star in this equation, I decided to use the platform of being in the NFL to create a program to support these families and children.”

Griese urges today’s class of college student-athletes to reach out to others as well, and says it’s never too early to start looking for ways to give back.

“Take advantage of the opportunities that you have — on the field, to get a degree, because certainly those things are important,” he said. “But I would push you one step further to realize your true potential to affect positive change for other people. If more people would embrace the opportunity for servant leadership, we’d all be in a better place.”

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