Whoa. As a 49ers fan, let me start by saying that again: whoa. What Nick Mullens (who?) did to the Oakland Raiders and Jon Gruden last night was nothing short of spectacular to watch (unless you’re a Raiders fan, in which case, all I have to say is: you probably just secured the first overall pick in the NFL Draft.)
How did Nick Mullens, an undrafted quarterback out of Southern Miss (Brett Favre’s alma mater) carve up Gruden’s defense like a pre-Thanksgiving turkey? And, for that matter, how does anyone become that successful on a national stage in their first career start? I’ll attempt to provide some answers.
There’s a famous saying that luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Nick Mullens lived that famous saying out last night. He took that saying to bed with him and woke up looking like Scrooge McDuck, diving into a sea of gold. The man went 16-of- 22 passing with 3 touchdowns and virtually no mistakes. Admittedly, the stage was set for Mullens. Yes, the Raiders were a 1-6 team going into the game. And yes, Gruden’s defense has yet to hold an opposing offense to under 20 points this season. But give Nick Mullens his due credit – he had a near-perfect start under the lights at Levi’s Stadium.
During the telecast, I couldn’t help but pay attention to all Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were saying about Mullens. According to the broadcast tandem, Mullens practiced with his headphones on, listening to the sounds of a digital crowd so that he would be able to better focus during an actual game with actual crowd noise. This is a guy who prepared meticulously and truly made the most of his opportunity to start for the 49ers.
All the preparation and hard work paid off – a valuable lesson for anyone struggling to stand out in their own profession. Of course, that preparation from Mullens yielded some luck as well. The play of the game was probably George Kittle’s one-handed catch at the start of the 3rd quarter, which came off of an ill-advised throw that an off-balance Mullens jammed through several Raiders defenders. As Aikman said after the play, this was clearly Mullens’ night.
After one game, it would be improper and foolish to declare Mullens as the future of the 49ers franchise, but his leadership extended to inspiring a defense that only allowed one Raiders field goal all game. Nick Mullens gave an incredible performance that should make 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan pleased. As a perpetually pessimistic Niners fan, I’m encouraged. Trust me, that is a rare feeling these days.
Fellow Niners teammates could take a cue from Mullens. The secret to the success of any team, even beyond talent, is relentless work. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan achieved so much in part because they paired their talent with an intense work ethic. While on the set of Space Jam, Jordan had a basketball court built near the set so that he could practice during down time en route to those six NBA titles. Bryant’s notorious gym rat ways netted him five NBA titles of his own. The great ones always work, and work hard. If Nick Mullens continues to work hard and prepare for his future opponents, this 49ers fan is eager to see where he can lead his teammates.