The Super Bowl is one of professional sports’ biggest stages, and Sunday offered the chance for a performance of a lifetime. Sure, there were many noteworthy moments, especially the routines of the Denver defense. As the game went on, though, I became more focused on the human element on display.

Peyton Manning captured the most interest, of course, with the primary questions of Will he? or won’t he? retire. Clearly, winning the sport’s biggest game was a high moment for Peyton, and he handled himself with his usual gracious humility. He also wisely said he would wait for a less emotional time to make such an important decision, which is a foundational principle for recovery. Peyton definitely had his post-game priorities straight – to kiss his wife and hug his kids – yet even these good rewards waited until his initial obligatory interviews.

And then there is Cam Newton, with his “Superman” persona that turned into an “Incredible Sulk” slouch, according to the brilliant phrase of sports commentator Eric Adelson writing for Yahoo Sports. (It’s a great read that calls Newton into accountability for his leadership and maturity without throwing him under the team bus permanently.)

The big stages of life are just that – big, potentially defining moments for better or for worse. They are the platform for long-term consequences, including boosting or harming a reputation. Yes, they are important and rightfully carry the weight of a potential “bravo!” or “boo!” for one’s performance.

But the smaller stages are the ones I believe are actually more significant. They are the practice field for the spotlight. The bigger stages simply illuminate what happens in the less public venues.

Our principles are honed in our ordinary movements. We practice maturity, integrity, graciousness and humility in the moment. Character is developed when we’re alone, interacting with coworkers and friends, cut off by an inconsiderate driver, pressured to extend ourselves at an inconvenient time, faced with the hard choice to do the right thing, and on and on. We are revealed more by our ongoing patterns than by extraordinary events.

And if some unusual circumstance overrides our normal behavior – like losing some Super Bowl of life – our practice field informs a healthier response. For example, it would have been authentic if Cam Newton, hoodie slouch and all, had said, “Wow, folks, this is not where I expected to be tonight. It’s really hard to lose and I’m sad and angry, mostly at myself. I’m too emotional to figure out what went wrong, but as a team, we will and hopefully we’ll be back for another big game. I thank our coach for getting us this far, I appreciate my teammates and their hard work all season, and I congratulate Denver. That’s all I can say for now – I need some space to get myself into the right frame of mind before I can sit for a productive interview. Thanks for your patience.”

Then back to the private, small stage of coming to terms with a hard loss. Sounds like a great game plan to me.

Marnie C. Ferree