The Prevailing Trend Linked To Playoff Success? Drive!

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.

  • steeltown

    The Ray Lewis side story that “really doesnt matter”…I’m sorry I have to disagree, two people are dead and no one can change that, nothing changes that, not even a Hall of Fame career or another Lombardi Trophy. The worst part is no one ever paid for the crime. Human life matters

  • grw1960

    I have had a similar thought in a smaller way.
    I have had questions in my mind about certain Steeler players.. There is a big difference between …..wanting….. to play to win a whole 60 minute game and and having that …fire …that drive …. in your mind to actually do it.
    …Especially when you think you no longer have any thing to prove…

  • zyzak


  • Cols714

    Um no. The NFL is not a morality play where the players who want it more always win. Talent, health, and importantly, luck play a huge role.

    Can we please stop pretending that the Steelers were a team who didn’t “want” to win as much as other teams?

  • SteelerFanInMD

    Good article. The salary cap minimizes difference in talent between teams so the mental aspect becomes more significant. The Steelers had the drive and focus to maintain a winning tradition, but seem to have lost a lot it this year after long-time Steeler veterans Farrior, Ward, Smith and Hoke retired. Just look at the play of the young receivers with and without Hines Ward’s leadership. With the retirement or departure of Harrison, Foote, Taylor, Polamalu, Clark, Keisel, Hampton, Miller and Starks looming, I am concerned that the drive to win will be difficult to re-establish and maintain.

  • Tim Culligan

    sorry, but I 100% disagree. Look, these are professional athletes, and I would say 95% of them play their absolute hardest every single week. Games are won and lost in 2 ways: Preparation during the week (film study, game plans, specific plays, signals, audibles etc) and Execution of the game plan. Maybe include in game adjustments.

    If you were right, lets round up all the backups and PS players, guys who’ve been cut, all who are just praying for their chance to play and put them on the team. They can have all the drive in the world but if you cannot execute a good game plan which exploits the other teams weaknesses and minimizes the chances that they will do the same to you, they’ll lose.

    Maybe theres a small connection between drive and focus and execution, but when it comes to the playoffs, no one wants it more than you.

  • Tim Culligan

    THANK YOU. this feels like a skip bayless article.

  • Tim Culligan

    Na Ray initially lied to cover up for his friends but he did not kill the 2 men, he was in his limo when it happened. yell at him all you want, but Ray 98% did not kill those guys.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    You’re right some teams have underachieved because of not having enough drive. Underachieving teams which were paper champions in offseasons because are loaded with talent, give up when an opponent gets a lead, thats the annual Dall Cryboys etc with not enugh toughness. Soft teams give up when the going gets tough.

    But Steelers though, have only a few soft players who give up. Switching from Hines Ward to Wallace, is both ends of the range of toughness; Wallace aint gonna break a Bengal LB’s jaw. But thats not most “Steelers”. If anyone was too soft on Steelers I think it was some of our COACHES, Tomlin & offensive coaches seemed too content instead of fearing losing their jobs. Tomlin shuld have treated more positions like he did to fumbling RBs.

    Bring in Hines Ward to teach toughness. While he’s at it he can teach our WRs his tricks to get separation to get open.

  • alex

    amen to that brother, one or two under your belt and then a fat contract…

    well, um, thats us!

    nerts to anybody else not living in the land of reality…

  • Informed reader

    You are partially right. Yes, drive is important since there is not a huge difference in talent level (other than QB) from team to team these days. However, I don’t believe drive is necessarily linked to age or if you’ve already won a couple of rings. The 70’s teams were dominant for a long stretch. Even after winning 3 super bowls, they wanted it enough to win a 4th.

    It is clear though that this year’s team lacked drive and a sense of urgency at times. Injuries played a factor, but lots of teams had injuries. The defense played like crap at the beginning of the season and the offense fell apart at the end. It was somebody different every week letting the team down. I think they were just complacent. They believed their own hype and were overconfident and just assumed they could show up and win.

    I believe the best thing that could happen to the Steelers would be for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. Having to listen to the media gush over the new champs all off season and next season may be the extra incentive the Steelers need. Maybe it will light a fire under them. Maybe Woodley will put aside the dougnuts and show up at camp in shape. Maybe whatever running backs we keep will focus on holding onto the ball. Maybe the defense will rediscover how to pass rush and generate turnovers. Having to watch their arch rivals gloat all year should bring out the competitiveness in them That’s why I hope Baltimore wins.