By Christopher DiMarino
The primary concern that I\’ve had for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past few years appears to be a key theme in this NFL Playoffs. You see, I believe that the mental component of football is much more important than many lead on. Having the drive to win is vital and can separate otherwise equivalent teams. The Steelers proved a lot in the last decade and the drive to win might not be as high as other teams. Now certainly a sane mind would remind me that there are 50 something players on a roster, and with the cap and contract age we live in, winning teams disperse quickly. I hate to admit it, but often, the winning or losing team succeeds or fails based on the performance of a few key players, so their drive ends of driving the team.
Though this is an elementary type of idea, I believe it is a new trend. We are used to the power house contenders of the early 2000\’s. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger led teams seemed to always be in a position to win a title. However, the Baltimore Ravens in particular have proved that seasoned veterans who have been there and done that can be unseated. Joe Flacco has had a chip on his shoulder ever since his wild claim that he was an elite value quarterback. To compare, what does Tom Brady have to prove at this point? Not much. On the other side of the coin, perennial monsters like Green Bay and Atlanta fell short to a hot new team from the bay area. Does a young gun like Colin Kaepernick really have anything to prove? He isn\’t a five-year starter who hasn\’t been able to pull the trigger in the playoffs, which has lead to offseason speculation of replacement. No, but he has been a part of one of the biggest risk/reward moves in benching the sure and steady Alex Smith for the explosive and indefensible player like himself.
While risks yielding rewards is a prevalent lesson from this season, it isn\’t the point I\’m trying to make. This idea of desire and drive to succeed started just over two years ago when the Steelers squared off against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. I had this whisper in my mind that planted a seed of doubt and worry about the Steelers chances. The new and young Packers seemed to posses something that the Steelers, who had won the Super Bowl just two years earlier, just didn\’t have. Injuries and mistakes aside, this was an even matchup and many considered that the Steelers had a slight edge because of their playoff experience. The result speaks for itself. I\’ve said it before, the NFL is in the midst of a heavy transition. This league will chew up and spit out lofty franchises who think their experience is enough. This ever changing NFL favors the up and coming over the old champ. While I\’m not implying a new team will go from rags to riches every year, the cycle to turn a low level team into a Super Bowl contender has shifted from a 5-10 year process to a 2-4 year process.
To elaborate slightly further, I think the most hungry players are your late twenties, early thirties type of guys. When young players enter the NFL, they have other concerns like: making the roster, earning the coaches respect and getting that big contract. This brings them to the other side of their twenties where they can either stick to a team they believe may be a few years away from winning or look to get to such a team via trade or free agency. Either way, there is a few more “acceptable” years to wait before becoming befuddled and angry. At this point, these players have earned veteran status and are having a midlife crisis of sorts as they are now nurturing new draftees on the roster. That\’s when it kicks in that they thought they were still THAT young guy. But reality explains to them now, that the last accomplishment on the bucket list is winning that title. It becomes their football life, and nothing means anything if not to win a Super Bowl. You might argue that older players like Tony Gonzalez also have a strong desire to win, but the problem is, as age continues to count off, skills dwindle, maybe not as much in Tony\’s case, and settling for not winning it all becomes slowly acceptable based on repeated futility.
So, now that I\’m done rambling, I hope you leave with the idea that the drive to win a Super Bowl is becoming a force of reckoning in the NFL. So many players who have won, especially multiple times, show a diminished sense of urgency, while other prime aged players desire nothing more than to put a ring on it. That is why a seasoned Steelers fan who has programmed himself to hate the Ravens and particularly dislikes the Harbaugh brothers can get excited for the Super Bowl. No matter who wins, both teams have shown aptitude lately, and both had a lot to prove. While their philosophies might differ, and many will cloud their minds with this Ray Lewis side story that really doesn\’t matter, there are a great deal of players who have had awesome careers so far, and deserve the chance to win the Super Bowl. I can tell you that based on their performance in the playoffs so far, they definitely have the drive to do so.