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how to win
when football is life
by michelle von euw

As your team moves forward on the cold green field in front of you, you realize you have a decision to make. You fold your gray sweatshirt-encased arms across your body, and study the situation in front of you. Tuning out the angry swell of the Buffalo crowd, tuning out the noise and chaos and the chatter that permanently encrusts your life, you face the situation at hand. Once, twice, three times your men have failed at the task in front of them, and this is what you consider -– not the broader circumstances, not the talking heads’ reaction, and not the man on the other side of the field who mirrors your every move –- when you make your decision.

Three tries. Do they get a fourth?

Forgetting what’s at stake, what’s actually on the line, you go for it. It’s your offense out there, your men, the ones who after all this time, after all these years, come closest to getting it right. And they still aren’t as good as they can be. They still don’t score on every possession, still don’t catch every pass, turn every run into a first down, keep every single last football thrown from the thieving hands of the opposing defense. They make mistakes. For the past ten weeks, they’ve overcompensated for these mistakes, kept the balance on the side of the clean, sharp game, played right, played like you’ve taught them to play, but still.

You remember the failures. You remember the pass glancing off the receiver's hands, the misplaced ball slipping out of your quarterback’s grasp, the fumble on your home turf, the crushing hit stopping your offense short before you’ve reached your goal.

And that is why you go for it. That is why you keep the kicking team on the sidelines, give your quarterback -– the kid no one wanted, the one you snatched up off the scrap heap and shoved down America’s throat when the golden boy went down, and kept him there when it mattered, even if it eventually meant keeping the first round draft pick with the giant contract on the bench during the Super Bowl –- the ball. Three plays later, he connects for the thirty-eighth time this season, and the score is now 49-10.

Winning isn’t enough –- winning is never enough. You are without a doubt the most successful coach of the past decade, one of the most successful in NFL history. You grabbed three Super Bowl rings in five years, but it’s been too long since the last one, two straight years of playoff losses on the turf of teams you knew in your soul weren’t as good as your guys, but played better. Made your team look bad. Sent you home early.

There are good teams in this league. Lots of good teams. You know this. You say this, week in and week out, as the score runs higher and higher, because you’ve seen the comebacks. You watched a comfortable lead slip away in the AFC championship game, you were steps away from Ring Four when the team the rest of the world wanted to win came back and did just that.

The good thing about never showing emotion, about keeping the same expression on your face throughout the long, cold season is that no one will ever know how much it hurts to have it all just ripped away.

It’s a game. It’s just a game. It’s a game that’s eaten up every last second of your life, every moment of the day spent pondering offense, exploiting defense, figuring the exact blend of grit and brains and heart and instinct and guts needed each week, every week, for sixteen Sundays, nineteen Sundays, and each time the blend has to be different. You can’t play the Redskins the same way you play the Colts. And that’s why you keep sending your quarterback out there, drive after drive, shattering records and spirits, scoring again and again, because you never know if this is going to be the week that someone sneaks up on you and steals it all away.

The last few games have proven it. Baltimore, Philadelphia, teams with playoff aspirations long dead look at you and see their only salvation. It’s happened before, in Miami, and there’s a good chance it’ll happen again. You can’t think Arizona and overlook all the games between now and then, all the days and hours and minutes and seconds that could keep you from obtaining your goal.

You don’t play this season to be 10-0. 12-0. 13-0. You don’t even play to be 16-0, whatever those assclowns in the studios may say, no matter how much you hope that Florida champagne stays on ice until kingdom come. But each next win is another step closer to your goals. Win this week, and you’re sewn up a playoff spot. Win next week, the week after, and you’ve snagged a first round bye. Beat the Jets, and you don’t leave the Northeast until February, if your team keeps playing the way they do now, the way they’ll play against the smart asses in black and gold, the ones guaranteeing wins, the ones who bitched and whined that your Super Bowl rings may actually belong to them. After two grueling weeks of tough matchups, the lopsided game will come back, and your QB, your receivers will take particular pleasure in marching up and down the field again, as many times as they can.

That’s the kind of season it’s been. You’ve taken this team to the cusp of perfection, but it’s not like 2001, when you led a pack of underdogs against the feel good story of the prior year, and shocked the country with a group of starters whose names no one outside New England knew, all the way to a Super Bowl victory. And it’s not like 2003, 2004, when you were expected to win, when you reeled off 17 wins straight, when no Manning could ever face you and walk away with a W.

It’s different now. Maybe it’s because you’ve shown vulnerability. Maybe it’s because you’ve now lost in the playoffs, twice, posted the first L in the AFC Championship game in franchise history. You know what it's like to be on the other side, and you know this: the other side sucks. You never want to be on that side. Ever again. Even if every other coach, every broadcaster, every fan outside your own borders hates your guts. Which they do.

True perfection is never possible, true perfection lies just beyond your grasp. You can win and win and win and win again, by 20, by 45, by 53 points, you can win 19 freakin games and hoist that silver trophy high for the fourth time and it won’t matter. It won’t ever matter. You won’t ever stop being who you are, who you were.

You won’t ever stop trying.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


one city, one day, one continent
a local race that was still, in its way, amazing
by michelle von euw
topic: sports
published: 10.9.06

winning isn't everything
but it's so much better than losing
by michelle von euw
topic: sports
published: 10.12.09


adam kraemer
12.12.07 @ 9:48a

Funny, you never mention which part of trying requires you to film the other teams' defensive signals.

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