To win the Super Bowl, your team generally has to be close to perfect. Certainly there are exceptions, but generally the team that wins has someone solid at every position and usually a few superstars in the skill positions. But the timing has to be right, too.
If your future superstar quarterback is still growing, you might be a year or two away. One key player gets hurt and it can be disastrous but not always.
After the 1985 Super Bowl season, the Bears were among the best of the best, but didn’t quite get there again. Most believe is was quarterback problems. But when the Eagles lost their starting quarterback in 2017, Nick Foles surprised most everyone and took them all the way. It is not just having the right players, it is having them perform at the right time.
Hall of Fame Coach and three time NFL Championship winner Weeb Ewbank was a great team-builder. With Joe Namath on board, Ewbank took his Jets to the Super Bowl in 1968 and they beat the Baltimore Colts–the team Ewbank had won 2 NFL Championships with years earlier. Namath was not just a good quarterback, but he was an inspirational team leader. His history and background made him the perfect quarterback for that time in New York. Namath and his team beat the odds. He did not repeat.
There is a lot of talk about innovative coaches these days. Few coaches have been as innovative as Hall of Fame Coach Paul Brown. He gave his players intelligence tests–he wanted intelligent players; he was colorblind when it came to talent and he brought many African American players into the league; he liked his players to understand the “why” behind strategies and actions; and he was successful at every level of coaching–from high school to the pros. After World War II, Brown signed on to coach Cleveland Team of the All American Football Conference. His Browns were the best of the AAFC Teams and when they were absorbed in the NFL, they had a lot of doubters. But Brown would go on to win 3 NFL Championships after his 4 AAFC Championships. Brown had a great quarterback Otto Graham, like Bill Belichick has Tom Brady. When Graham’s career was coming to an end, the Browns had signed one of the best running backs in NFL history, Jim Brown. Yet, Jim Brown’s dominance running the ball could not substitute for when Brown was able to use Graham’s talents to attack opposing teams all over the field. Opposing teams focused on Jim Brown and the team suffered.
Vince Lombardi is one of the most fascinating coaches in NFL history. What I find especially interesting about Lombardi is that his values and the way he coached his team ran so counter to everything that was going on at the time. In the 1960s, when many institutions were under attack for their old fashioned ways, Lombardi created a behemoth in Green Bay that seemed to fly in the face on modern methods. Lombardi developed his values from his tough Italian American family and his Catholic/Jesuit background and education. His father who was a butcher and he always was a devout Catholic. Much of what Lombardi stressed was not based upon superstar talents or attitudes, it was all about hard work and guts. His practices drove his players to the brink of rebellion, but once they saw the team that he had built, the coach was tolerated, accepted, and ultimately loved. Much of Lombardi success on offense was attributed to the Green Bay Sweep–a play that on one level was simple and on another level had endless blocking schemes. Lombardi’s system made guard Jerry Kramer a superstar and his running backs were told to “run to daylight.” Certainly Lombardi had his share of great athletes, but I also got the idea that Lombardi had such faith in his system and practice habits that he believed he could have duplicated his results in Washington where he went after leaving Green Bay (Lombardi died from cancer shortly after he took the Washington job). For Lombardi, who had darker Italian skin tone, he had seen racism early on and like Paul Brown put everyone on notice that it would not be tolerated. But Lombardi’s success suggests that a team that is 100% committed to excellence and willing to pay the price for it can get ahead as well.
Obviously, Bill Belichick ways have worked wonders if not miracles in New England. Like Lombardi, Belichick wins with 100% commitment to winning every minute of every season by everyone involved with the team. Belichick has always been committed to seeing his coaches and his players jobs analyzed and reviewed for improvement. When a coach or a player does not fit into the Patriots scheme, they are let go. Like Lombardi, when Belichick came on board in New England, many would not have thought that his team-first unwavering approach would have worked in our superstar climate. They were wrong. But Belichick is always working on improvements to personnel. A Belichick team is a well conditioned team that undergoes scrutiny in every practice and told to focus on their jobs. At some level, they are always confident. Belichick is able to bring out their best in critical times and circumstances–exactly when they are needed.
George Halas set the standard for winning teams to be tough. His players were often men who loved the contact and loved the competition. The Monsters of the Midway may have been taken from the University of Chicago’s team, but it is a fitting name for the kind of players Halas recruited. As a player in the early days of the game, when Halas played against an opponent who was especially tough, his response was not to hate the player for beating up the Bears, it was let’s see if we can get that guy if he become available. Halas also adapted as time went on. He paid dearly for adding Red Grange to the lineup–way beyond what anyone else was paid at the time. When he felt like his strategies were getting stale, he brought in some the best college coaches for help. He was instrumental in determining how television revenue was to distributed among the teams. And he was always a good citizen–keeping the Bears in Chicago regardless of how difficult it might have been to deal with politicians. The ’85 Bears were perhaps the toughest defensive team on record and their success was a perfect fit for Halas philosophies.
The fact is that over the history of the game, teams have won the Championship in different ways, according to their personalities. However, the winning team was performing at a very high level. Success is planned, excellence is expected–conditioned, confidence is always present, and the best get better at just the right time. Who is that team this year?