Miami Herald – Sept 20, 2002 – Greg Cote – To hear the mind games attached to the renewal of the NFL’s most psychological rivalry here Sunday, you’d think the benches on each sideline might be replaced by Naugahyde couches.
See the Dolphins and Jets staring at playcharts? Those aren’t playcharts. Those are Rorschach ink blots.
The referee should be Sigmund Freud, who, instead of throwing penalty flags, would probe erring players for meaning in their darkest dreams.
Sunday’s halftime analyst on TV? That’ll be Dr. Melfi, of course, Tony Soprano’s shrink.
Players imply Dolphins-Jets will be decided not so much between the lines as between the ears.
You have the Jets planting demon reminders, saying New York’s eight-game series win streak proves “we’re in their heads.”
And you have the Dolphins sowing their own mental seeds, reminding that Miami has won 16 consecutive home games in early-season heat, that ”nobody beats us in our house in September.” Tackle Mark Dixon all but swung a pocket watch the other day and instructed the Jets, “You are getting tired from heat and fatigue. Soooo tiiiired . . .”
But the thing is, this game is not that much different from other games, other weeks.
The mental aspect of the NFL — the coaching of minds, not just muscle — is integral. It isn’t always as apparent as this week, when voodoo words like ”curse” and ”jinx” play into the preamble, but it is always there.
”The idea is to keep the players and their minds sharp,” Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt says. “To keep ’em motivated.”
Local sports psychologist John F. Murray of Palm Beach has developed a ”Mental equipment Performance Index” he uses to grade the Dolphins.
Murray, who hosts a Wednesday show on WAXY-790, reviews every play on offense, defense and special teams and attempts to quantify ”focus reflected in execution.” He gave Miami a 62.41 overall grade (on a 1-100 scale) vs. Detroit and 56.42 vs. Indianapolis. Each game, the offense has been the only unit to exceed the overall score.
Murray awards zero to five points per play. Olindo Mare’s missed 28-yard field goal? Big zero.
”Something distracted him, whether it was a thought in his head or maybe a subtle visual image,” Murray says. “There’s nothing separate from mental and physical. The mental controls the physical.”
Murray said he would tell the Dolphins to not be obsessed with beating the Jets on Sunday.
”There’s something terribly wrong with trying too hard to win,” he said. “If you are thinking about the momentous occasion and that if we don’t do X, Y or Z we’ll lose, you are not in a good place. Just perform.”
Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas says he has learned.
”We got too caught up in [beating the Jets] last year. I know I did,” he says. “I tried to play that game here like it was the Super Bowl. I’ve got a different attitude, man. It’s not what you do now. It’s where you’re at as a team at the end of the year.”
The attitude erases the pressure of feeling you must beat the Jets.
The attitude makes sense, psychologically, and otherwise.