FIRE JOE MORGAN: Winners Win Because They're Winning Winners


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Friday, January 19, 2007


Winners Win Because They're Winning Winners

Or Alternatively: Winners Win Because of Vague Attributes We Can Arbitrarily Choose in Hindsight

A Theory by Jeffri Chadiha

The real article is at, and it's called

Trial by fire
Overcoming hardship instrumental to playoff success

Do you already see what I'm getting at? First, let's have a nonsensical, contradictory introduction:

Indianapolis Colts strong safety Bob Sanders is the inspiration behind today's column. When asked before the playoffs how Indy's defense could overcome its regular season problems, he said the unit would be better because injuries had ruined the team's continuity in the past. Now that the Colts were healthier, their execution would be sharper.

You know who Bob Sanders was talking about? Bob Sanders. Bob Sanders was saying because Bob Sanders was coming back, the Indy defense would become better. Bob Sanders might have been right about this.

It sounded like the predictable response of an athlete in obvious denial about the state of his team, but Sanders was making a valid point that has larger meaning for every team in this postseason.

Right. Bob Sanders was saying that you need your best players healthy and playing.

The key to the Colts' playoff success, you see, isn't much different than that of the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears or the New England Patriots. It comes down to chemistry and confidence.

Huh? Bob Sanders (which should be the name of a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman) was clearly talking about getting healthy. Better players on the field, better performance. If Mr. Chadiha saw Michael Jordan return from an ankle injury, he would be the kind of guy who would exult in the new confidence and chemistry exhibited by Jud Buechler and Bill Wennington.

When you look at what's happened in the postseason this decade, it's impossible to overlook that most of the Super Bowl champions had the same formula working for them.

Quality football playing?

Most weren't heavy favorites.

Nor should we expect "most" to be, unless you think that the favorite team in any given season has better than even odds to win the Super Bowl.

Rather, they were the teams that hit their stride at just the right time,

AS DEFINED BY WINNING THEIR LAST THREE OR FOUR GAMES, YES. Yes, all teams that win the Super Bowl "hit their stride at just the right time" -- that time is the motherfucking playoffs, and hitting their stride means winning games in the playoffs. You wanna show me a real trend that links, say, the last three or four regular season games with Super Bowl-winning ability? Please do. But otherwise, this sounds awful tautological to me.

usually after overcoming some prolonged stretch of adversity that hardened them.

I'm not convinced. Let me guess: your definition of adversity is going to be so absurdly broad that at least two thirds of the NFL would qualify. Prove me wrong, Chadiha.

Like this year's NFC and AFC finalists, those Super Bowl winners had a level of mental toughness that couldn't be measured on paper.

Is there a Super Bowl winner you'd say was particularly mentally weak? Howzabout a ranking of all the champs, mentally toughest to mentally wimpiest? Mental-tough-vision is pretty hindsight-riffic.

Okay. Wait. Here we go. We're gonna find out what "overcoming adversity" means.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens developed that tenacity because they went five games with an offense that couldn't score a touchdown. The '01 Patriots had it because they started 0-2, lost their starting quarterback to injury and then discovered that his backup, Tom Brady, had far more magic in him than anyone every imagined. The '04 Patriots? People forget they won their third Super Bowl in four seasons with a makeshift secondary. The '05 Steelers? They were on the brink of missing the playoffs until an eight-game winning streak landed them the Lombardi Trophy.

So we have the following adversities, all valid:

Bad offense
Starting 0-2
Losing your starting quarterback
Bad secondary
Close to missing playoffs

Remember these.

My point is that all these teams had to deal with some sort of crisis during the season that forced them to mature into a championship team.

It all seems so inevitable, doesn't it? Chadiha should really start putting serious money down on the team with the biggest sob story. It's a can't-miss proposition!

That's what we often overlook these days. We live in a time where we make instant judgments on teams without considering their growth potential. But the league is all about transition now. The days when you could look at the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers or Pittsburgh Steelers and know they were as good as they were five years ago have long since passed. Every team starts anew in this NFL when a season begins and that means they're constantly evolving as the year progresses.

That is strange, strange evidence for a "team with trauma wins it all" theory. To me, a much simpler explanation is if you accept that there's more parity in the NFL these days, it stands to reason that the nominal favorites are closer to the pack than they used to be, so they ought to lose a bit more. But I guess that doesn't teach us anything about learning life lessons or the beauty of the human spirit in overcoming obstacles.

If they've been doubted, dogged or denounced at any point of the season, they're doubly motivated to make amends in the playoffs.

It really seems like every team in the league plays the "no respect" card, to a point of tiresome excess. Gosh, how to pick which one was truly disrespected the most? Because again, then we'll know exactly who's going to win the whole thing.

Look at the Colts, a team that finished the regular season with the league's 32nd-ranked run defense. Their run defense has been sterling in the playoffs. The Bears lost Pro Bowl defenders Tommie Harris and Mike Brown to injury, while their quarterback, Rex Grossman, displayed an incredible capacity for both brilliant and befuddling play during the regular season. They've overcome that and are a victory away from playing in the Super Bowl. I can also promise you that few people thought New England had enough offense to advance this far, and that few even expected the Saints to make the playoffs. But the holdovers from last year's Saints team can recall every negative memory that resulted from their nomadic, post-Katrina season in 2005, and that's been a motivator in their turnaround.

More Adversities (all rights reserved)!

By my count we've now got:

Bad offense
Starting 0-2
Losing your starting quarterback
Bad secondary
Close to missing playoffs
Bad run defense
Two injured defenders
Bad quarterback
People not liking your offense
People thinking you won't make playoffs

Conversely, what did San Diego and Baltimore, two squads who rolled through the AFC, have to endure?

Baltimore fired its offensive coordinator six games into the season and lost its team MVP (Ray Lewis) for some games due to injury. San Diego had its defensive MVP suspended for cheating and had to hear about Martyball failing in the playoffs for weeks beforehand. Fine, maybe not adversity-ish enough. Let's continue.

Actually, let's not. First, let's go through all of the other playoff teams and see if they qualified for adversity status.

Jets: No one expected anything from them. First-year coach. Subpar talent. Started 2-3. Status: Adverse.

Chiefs: Starting QB injured. Started 0-2. Underdogs. Status: Adverse.

Cowboys: QB change midway through season. TO distraction all year. Started 4-4. Status: Adverse.

Giants: Started 1-2. Bad QB play. Four-game skid nearly knocked them out of the playoffs. Tiki Barber distraction. Status: Adverse.

Seahawks: Horrific injuries. Last year's MVP out. Starting QB out. Three-game losing streak near end of season. Status: Adverse.

Eagles: QB/team MVP injury during loss that dropped them to 5-5. Heartbreaking early loss on a 62-yard field goal. Status: Adverse.

So there you go. A case that every team that made the playoffs went through adversity. It's a wonder that all of them aren't going to win the Super Bowl, what with all these problems!

(Also, this list would be much more comprehensive if I had watched or followed football at all.)

It's just that regular-season dominance means very little in the NFL anymore. With the Chargers falling to New England last week, we've now seen the team with the league's best record fall short in the playoffs for the third straight season (the '04 Steelers and '05 Colts were the others).

Yep, the regular season means nothing. That's why teams with four of the top six records (three teams are tied for sixth, actually) are in the Conference finals. It's a revolution!

As any of these teams can tell you now, success in the playoffs goes beyond impressive stats and gaudy won-loss records.

A lot of it is luck. A lot. Like, say, a team fumbling three times and losing it every time while its opponent fumbles twice and recovers (the first team is San Diego, the second New England). That's five loose balls, five Patriots recoveries. (Well, okay, not all of them were loose.) Maybe they hustled a little more. Yeah, that's it. Probably from all the disrespect. The Chargers probably should've lost a few more games to build up their Adversity Points.

The postseason comes down to momentum, heart and a belief that no matter what has happened during the regular season, you've learned enough about yourselves to apply those lessons in January.

That is cute. Really fucking awesomely Hallmark cute. The NFL: Where Large Men Learn About Themselves! People don't realize this, but right before the Pats run out onto the field, Bill Belichick bellows, "Now get out there and learn about yourself, goddammit!!!"

Re: momentum. See: "hitting your stride." (Team that wins their last game sure seems to have had pretty good momentum.)

They didn't reach this point because they were the better teams.

I actually don't disagree. I bet if New England played San Diego ten times in the next ten Sundays, they'd win four or so. But they eked one out on Sunday. No big lesson here. No sweeping moral judgments or physical measurements of guys' heart sizes. I don't believe they recovered fumbles or batted down passes with "People didn't pick us to win!" in mind. I think they were well-coached and got a few bounces. Sorry, that's probably a boring article to write.

They got here because they gained the most from the struggles that today's teams have to endure in order to be called champions.

That is really pretty. Can I get that printed underneath a photograph of a soaring eagle? I'm gonna frame it. Then I'm gonna get in my car and run it over a few times.

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posted by Junior  # 2:49 AM
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