By the time the three NFL standouts were finished, the crowd at PNC Arena decorated in all-things Lenovo from signs to electronic billboards was on its feet, cheering and clapping loudly.

Yet Jerry Rice didn’t add another acrobatic touchdown catch to his amazing Hall of Fame career.

Former N.C. State and NFL star Torry Holt didn’t wow the crowd by dissecting a defense for a TD catch of his own.

And powerful running back DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers hadn’t added to his reputation as a touchdown machine.

Rather, they were the cheerleaders leading what became a pep rally for more than 1,500 Lenovo employees as the company celebrated its new three-year sponsorship contract with the National Football League.

Underlying the entire show was the fact Lenovo is within a rounding error of toppling HP from the No. 1 spot in global PC sales. Several analysts have said they expect Lenovo to take the top spot in the current July-September quarter.

‘Being the Best’

“Being the best should be your goal every day,” Holt told the employees. “Set your individual goals and bring them to the team.”

One word repeated over and over by the three stars was “team.”

“You have to work together as a team,” said Rice. The NFL’s all-time leading receiver who still appears as if he could suit up and play despite a salt-and-pepper beard for the San Francisco 49ers, was asked to explain his reason for success. “It’s the result of hard work. I wanted to be the best football player I could be.” Yet he also stressed: “I give all the credit to my teammates” such as quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.

David Schmoock, president of Lenovo North America and one of Lenovo’s top executives, turned the Wednesday announcement into a team building and motivational party. All Lenovo’s 2,200 North Carolina-based employees were invited to the kick-off of the NFL deal in which Lenovo replaced IBM as the NFL’s technology sponsor.

Schmoock, a rugby player himself who is a big NFL and Jerry Rice fan, brought in the NFL trio to add some star quality to the show. Holt even showed up in workout gear to go through a series of football tests set up for Lenovo employees who wanted to try their skills at throwing and catching the football as well as running 40-yard dashes.

Tossing off his jacket to cheers from the crowd, Schmoock kicked off the show by throwing autographed footballs into the crowd.

Next, Keith Turner, senior vice president of media sales and sponsorships for the NFL, roared: “Are you ready for some football?” He and Schmoock threw out some autographed helmets – carefully, however. Turner also heaved a spiral pass upward into the PNC seats, the ball bearing the autograph of Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning.

Getting to No. 1, Staying There

One Lenovo employee asked the athletes about staying at No. 1 once achieving individual goals and then winning a title.

“Charging to the top spot takes a lot of energy. That should be your goal every single day,” said Holt. “Once you are No. 1, people will wake up every single day thinking about how they can dethrone you.”

By setting “smart company goals” and working together, Holt said Lenovo can become No. 1 – and stay there.

“Once you set your mind to doing something, there’s nothing you can’t achieve,” Holt concluded.

The crowd applauded loudly in response.

Rice noted that becoming No. 1 “starts with the organization and the coach – leadership- – and goals. You never take success for granted.”

Recalling his own career, Rice said athletes have to prepare intensely in order to be successful.

“It was serious.

“It was preparing.

“You can’t just wait and turn it on each Sunday.”

After winning a Super Bowl, he added, the 49ers “wanted to get back there. We wanted to win it again.”

Sacrifices, Defying the Odds

Natural ability isn’t enough, added Rice. Sacrifice is required, too.

“For the first 10 years of my career, I didn’t take a vacation,” he said. “I was so determined to be the best player I could be.”

The trio told Lenovo’s workers that they, too, would need to make sacrifices for the company’s greater good, whether it was working extra hours to complete a new software program or taking time away from family to finish an assignment.

If one thinks back to Lenovo’s beginnings as a small company in China to buying IBM’s largely Raleigh-based IBM operation in 2005 and swelling into a global enterprise with 22,000 employees spread across 60 countries, the company’s experience can be compared to the life experience of Williams.

“I’m 5-foot-9 and weigh 215 pounds,” said Williams. “I’m not even supposed to be here.”

Loving football, he wanted to play – desperately. Yet people kept telling him he couldn’t do this or that due to his lack of size.

His response? “No one was going to out-work me,” Williams said.

Looking at the Lenovo employees, he stressed similarities in his career and that of their company.

“I’m sure you hear it in the workplace from other companies,” Williams said. “You can’t do this. You can’t do that.”

Even as Lenovo grows, he warned: “You can’t be satisfied. Once you are on top, you have a target on your back.

“You have to block all that out.

“Stay focused and the sky is the limit.”

The Lenovo crowd agreed. The three left the stage to a standing ovation.

They had teamed up to score a game-winning touchdown as motivational speakers.

[LENOVO ARCHIVE: Check out three years of Lenovo stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]