The following is a blog from six years ago (12/10/07) I’ve updated. It really didn’t need much work since a topic like this is pretty much timeless - and it doesn’t only apply to football teams but any one nearing its season’s end.
Another college basketball weekend, meaning we’re on the road. This blog will return Tuesday.
As we saw in college football and we’re seeing as the NFL season winds down, some teams are on the rise (Auburn, Michigan State, Niners?) and others have gone in the tank (please no mention of the Redskins - I blogged about them yesterday). It happens every year and it’s quite an interesting dynamic - especially for people who are involved directly with the teams (it’s true in all sports).
In some cases, teams that struggle early but do well at the end of the year do so because they were young at the start but by the time season’s end rolls around, although they’re the same chronological age, they’ve aged (grown) tremendously through the experiences they encountered along the way. Yet, other young teams tail off. College frosh and rookies aren’t used to a season as long, physical and mentally demanding as the one they’re currently going through - and don’t handle the situation well. There are differences between the young teams that do this and those that don’t.
Two of those differences are how they deal with adversity and who’s guiding them. Some kids may be gifted but don’t have the courage necessary (and it takes an awful lot of it considering the pounding players take game after game and the amount of mental preparation it takes to be successful at each level). Also, some coaches and their staffs (in many cases, those who are young coaches themselves) get tense, become extra critical, push the panic button, call out the team and/or certain individuals publicly, you name it - and, naturally, it adversely affects the squad. Head coaches, earlier in their coaching lives, have dreamed about running their own program. You’d think they’d have prepared for all situations. But, come on, how many guys do you think ever planned for the scenario, “OK, what if we’re 1-9 going into the season finale? What should I do?” Most football coaches have pretty healthy egos. They’d better - the guy on the other side of the field certainly thinks he’s going to win so, while it always happens every year to some teams, no coach ever believes it would happen to his team.
Other reasons are selfish vs. unselfish players. When things start to unravel, players either bond or go their separate ways. I don’t know if studies have been done, but I can tell you from personal experience, when the player gets the “looking out for #1 (he being #1) attitude,” things usually head downhill in a hurry and, as anything going in that direction, it picks up steam in a hurry. Injuries can also play a major factor. While it’s admirable to have the feeling no one player is bigger than the team, sometimes . . . well, just think of the difference in Green Bay’s season since Aaron Rodgers went down. A team can come together, but if there’s that much of a drop-off, it just may be impossible to overcome.
The “woe is me” frame of mind contributes to many a team’s demise, too. In contrast, others (inwardly stronger) take on the belief, in spite of all the bad that’s happened, “let’s not wait for the future, let’s create it.” The former attitude leads to complaining about each other, the coaches, the referees, the weather, the balls and begin to magnify their injuries (speaker Ed Foreman used to paint the picture of a defensive back getting burned on a deep pass for a touchdown and as the receiver caught the ball, the DB would grab his hamstring and start hobbling, obviously hoping for sympathy from the fans. Ed called it “the loser’s limp”). The latter belief is the guy who brings his teammates together and says, “Enough! This season is turning around right now” and then, works harder than anyone else to show he will walk it as well as talk it.
These “dog days” come every season. When the team’s on top, everything is fun. When the record is reversed, that’s when good college players earn their scholarships and the other guys earn their pay. It’s true in life as well as the days, weeks and months go by:
“You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.”