When you hear the now famous quote “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, you probably think of Vince Lombardi and you probably think of football.
While it seems the quote is most widely attributed to Lombardi, various sources suggest that it was UCLA football coach Red Sanders who first uttered the phrase in 1950, 9 years before Lombardi made it famous. So if you thought of it as a football saying you were right. If you thought of it though as a “Lombardi-ism” you were wrong.
Interestingly enough 50+ years of football history seem to suggest that when Sanders said it to his UCLA football team, given the razor thin margin for error afforded in college football, he was right; but when Lombardi spoke those same words to his 1959 Packers he was basically wrong.
As the Ravens prepare for the Super Bowl in New Orleans, an opportunity so rare and special that it currently makes the Ravens and 49ers and their respective fan bases the envy of the pro football world, there are many Ravens fans likely wondering how this magical (so far) season managed to unfold around them and how they took so little time to appreciate and enjoy it as it did.
There are literally decades worth of evidence to suggest that being the best regular season team has little or nothing to do with Super Bowl success, yet somehow football fans allow themselves, each and every year, to forget all of that history and instead hold their teams to some unrealistic ideal suggesting that championship teams are supposed to look like champions at every turn of the schedule.
When it comes to NFL football, winning isn’t everything, the only thing or at times even the most important thing to establishing a championship foundation.
Obviously teams have to win enough regular season games to earn a spot in the post season, and the more wins they can manage the more favorable they can make their post season circumstances by earning byes and/or home field advantages. Still, when the playoffs come around, and push comes to shove, home games and even bye weeks take a back seat to the experiences that teams have collected along their 16 game journey.
The 16 game season is about a lot of things, and there’s no true “magical” formula for playoff success, but history has proven that collecting experiences is at least as important as collecting wins; building confidence in the face of adversity is perhaps more important than building a resume that might help you avoid it. The Ravens stand as living proof of that, as do the Giants before them and Packers before them.
Throughout the season few teams consistently handled their business as well as the Falcons and Texans. Along the way to piling up those wins, they seemingly failed to realize that teams could handle them at their best. Now they prepare to watch as neither is in play for the championship game. The Denver Broncos piled up 11 consecutive wins to finish out the season but along the way seemingly forgot how to respond when faced with the potential of losing.
When you get to the playoffs, adversity is the expectation, the ability to steal wins away when the chips are down is the requirement; and it seems that the teams best prepared to deal with those circumstances are the ones who lived with them and thrived under them regularly during the regular season. The Ravens have been one of those teams.
We could see it as a lesson learned, but it’s one that most will forget again when next October rolls around and the national media is touting the dominance of the current powerhouse of the season’s first 6 or 8 games. And it’s likely a lesson we’ll have to learn and forget all over again the following season, and the one after that and the one after that.
When it comes to NFL football, winning is neither everything nor the only thing, it’s just a thing. It’s just one of many experiences that teams will have to amass and learn from if they hope to be successful in the post season. And losing by default isn’t always so bad either as long as it doesn’t happen too often. It’s easier to learn from failures than from successes and as we’re seeing again this year, those lessons can have real benefits when the playoffs come around, and when winning really does become the only thing.