Posts Tagged ‘Football’

BEFORE UNM CAN TAKE THE NEXT STEP, IT NEEDS TO FIGURE ITSELF OUT

Albuquerque Journal – Aug 8, 2005 – Greg Archuleta – Rocky Long is not a good candidate for psychoanalysis. His University of New Mexico football program, however, just might be.

Long’s eighth season as UNM coach gets in full swing Monday as the team begins fall practice for the 2005 season.

Under Long, the one-time Lobos quarterback, the program is enjoying one of its most prosperous periods: three straight Mountain West Conference runner-up finishes, three straight bowl-game appearances for the first time in the school’s 106-year history.

Losses in each bowl game, however, have kept UNM from finishing on a positive note.

“I don’t agree with that,” Long says. “I think we’ve ended the last three seasons on a positive note. I don’t agree that losing a bowl game eliminates everything you’ve done during the season.”

No, but the fact is that UNM hasn’t felt good about itself at the end of December in 2002, ’03 or ’04.

This is supposed to be a feel-good story� namely, what can the Lobos do to feel good about themselves at the end of December 2005?

The Lobos are in full preseason-speak mode, saying the MWC title is the goal, they’ve learned from past mistakes, they’ve worked harder this offseason than they ever have. …

Yada, yada, yada. The bottom line is UNM hasn’t won a conference championship in 41 years or a bowl game in 44. Does taking the next step simply mean working harder?

Or does it go deeper? Do the Lobos have a psychological bridge to cross?

Depends on whom you ask.

The doctor is in

“I do believe there’s something there to be dealt with,” says Dr. John F. Murray, a noted sports performance and clinical psychologist based in Florida, referring to UNM’s three successive bowl losses.

“I would want to know more about the particulars about the program,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m some wheeler-dealer that can come in and fix it all. It sounds like (UNM’s) done a good job, improving the program year to year.”

The Lobos went 7-5 in 2004, marking their third straight year the program won at least seven games.

UNM enjoyed breakthrough wins each of those seasons (at Brigham Young in ’02, at Utah in ’03 and at home against Texas Tech in ’04).

Yet, the Lobos have not won a nonconference game outside New Mexico in Long’s tenure. They’re 0-14.

Opponents have outscored UNM by a combined 116-46 in the three bowls.

“It just seems like certain teams have a collective confidenceâ€? do you truly expect to win or notâ€? that carries a team over,” Murray says. “Those teams just seem to have a knack for the big game.

He says confidence is the biggest asset a team can have in playing a “big game.” The greatest source of confidence is past success.

A team without a tradition of successâ€? like UNMâ€? has to “fake it until you make it,” Murray says.

“I don’t think the psychological factor in this case is the primary influence,” Murray says. “I think the primary influence is talent. But I believe there’s something to be said for momentum. Think of how many games come down to a few critical plays. Even if the psychological factor is 10 percent or 15 percent, does that give you a little more strutâ€? not thinking but just doingâ€? and a little more focus at critical times?”

That’s just crazy

“I don’t think it’s psychological at all,” Long says. “I just don’t think we’ve played to our physical ability in any of the bowl games.”

Long says the long layoff between the regular-season finale and the bowl game hurts UNM, which has been a strong regular-season closer. The Lobos are 8-2 in November games from 2002-2004.

“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is our talent level is very comparable to the people we play,” Long says. “If you go back through the league the last six years and see who has won the most close football games, it’s the University of New Mexico.

“That’s proof that our teams have played closer to their A-game than anybody else in this league has.”

Own worst enemy

The Lobos themselves seem to side with the good doctor.

“I think the biggest thing in keeping us from taking the next step is us,” junior offensive guard Robert Turner says. “We’ve been what’s held us back every year. I think for an inexperienced team, that’s the hardest thing to do, to not hold yourself backâ€? whether it’s emotions on the field that cause stupid penalties or a lack of knowledge of the game. Not to take anything away from our opponents, but I think our biggest competitor is going to be us.”

Adds senior running back Adrian Byrd, “It’s become psychological because we don’t want to finish second anymore. We don’t want to go to a bowl game and lose anymore.”

UNM’s 2005 hopes seem to hinge on both physical and mental aspects of the program.

The Lobos transformed their offense in the offseason from a power-based to a spread formation to improve a passing attack that ranked 114th of 117 Division I-A teams in ’04.

UNM is also anxious to find out how well senior tailback DonTrell Moore has recovered from offseason surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Navy in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 30.

Long says the offense is a strong point entering the seasonâ€â€? which is a mouthful, considering UNM’s defense is one of only three Division I-A teams to finish in the top 30 in the country the past five seasons (the other two: Oklahoma and Texas).

“Going into the season, we’ve got concerns about experience at safety, linebacker and kicker,” Long says. “That’s not a lot of positions.”

The starting experience junior quarterback Kole McKamey gained last season is invaluable, Long says.

Obviously, UNM must avoid injury� the Lobos were 1-4 last season when either McKamey or Moore missed parts of or all of games because of injury.

The team has experience on its side, with 11 fifth-year seniors as starters. The fifth-year seniors are vying to play in their fourth consecutive bowl game, an unheard of opportunity in Lobos football lore.

“We have a lot of players at key positions that have been here for five years,” fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Mohoric says. “That’s the leadership this team needs to push through those times of adversity.”

The tools definitely seem in place for UNM to take that next stepâ€? physically, mentally … whatever.

After three years of “therapy,” the Lobos say the time is now.

“We see it coming,” senior cornerback Gabriel Fulbright says. “We’ve been so close the last three years, like we’re at the edge of the cliff, about to jump. But we ain’t caught flight yet.

“We know exactly what to do now. We’re ready.”

A TRIBUTE TO DAN MARINO – SHARP MIND OVER QUICK RELEASE!

Congrats to Dan Marino – Hall of Fame – 2005 – Aug 7, 2005 –

You might wonder why Dan Marino is the first image that appears on this website. Here is my thinking: Dan Marino was the best sports psychologist to ever throw a football in the NFL. He had the killer instinct, total focus, ultimate confidence and that swagger and bold assertiveness that meant no turning back.

Here is what many people overlook, and you can quote me:

“DAN MARINO WON EVEN MORE WITH HIS SHARP MIND THAN WITH HIS QUICK RELEASE!”

Dan would look the opponent in the eye on 4th and 12 with 30 seconds left at midfield. Most would have attempted a 12 yard pass for a safe first down. Danny would find an open receiver after avoiding a sack, and right before he was tackeled he would heave it 50 yards to win the game. He was not only fearless, his confidence actually went into 4th gear in the 4th quarter. He seemed to need that extra pressure to shine. Do you remember? I do. It was unbelieveable.

I grew up in South Florida, admiring the likes of Griese and Csonka. Marino was the link from the greatness of the 70’s to the 80s and beyond. He influenced my love of sports in the 1980s after college, and my interest in all that was the mental side of sports and performance. He helped further ignite my passion for sports. He inspired all his fans and teammates.

Later I became a sports psychologist and was fortunate to work with NFL teams and quarterbacks. I met Dan Marino in the early 1990s at one of his functions, along with many others, and almost worked with him professionally. Dan and I were going to meet to talk sport psychology for the team a couple years back, as he had been hired in a management capacity. The meeting never took place because Dan soon retired from his new position.

He was smart to get out without a full commitment, and his legacy is intact. He can return to management any time he wants. While I was disappointed not to have the chance to work more with the team under his direction, my admiration for him has only grown. He made so many in South Florida happy and accomplished so much.

As I prepare to watch Dan Marino’s induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, a flood of memories and emotions come back to me about a unique kid from Pittsburgh who had no fear, who saved the Dolphins’ claim to the only undefeated season, who extended Coach Shula’s career another 15 years, who more importantly was completely respected by his peers, fans, family and opponents. He is a true leader, a quality person, and an inspiration. Long live Dan Marino, the Miami legend with the golden arm and exceptional mind!

Dan, I’m sorry we never got to work together. It would have been terrific. Please call any time I can be of service (561-596-9898)!

NFL – KAEDING GOOD AFTER MISS

The Press-Enterprise – Aug 6, 2005 – Jim Alexander – The last look Chargers fans got of Nate Kaeding was one of dejection. Of anguish. Of utter, “how-did-that-happen” shock.

Kaeding had an excellent rookie season as San Diego’s kicker. But it ended with a memorable miss — a 40-yard field goal try in overtime that would have beaten the New York Jets in the first round of the NFL playoffs, until it sailed wide right.

Will it be a blip, a minor blemish in a successful career? Or will it be a kick that haunts his psyche every time he lines up for a crucial field goal?

“It hurt for a week or two, just like it probably did for everybody else,” Kaeding said last week. “I felt like I probably let the team down, and that’s kind of hard to get over in two weeks.

“But there comes a point in time where you’ve got to realize: ‘Hey, one kick didn’t get me here, didn’t get me to the NFL. And certainly one kick isn’t going to ruin my career.’ That’s the mentality I have.”

The Chargers rallied around their young kicker after the miss, and former Chargers kickers Rolf Benirschke and John Carney called Kaeding to offer advice and support.

Still, some concern would be natural. Kaeding, 23, an All-America selection and Lou Groza Award winner at the University of Iowa, made 20 of 25 regular-season field goals as an NFL rookie. But an entire nation of football fans watched his biggest moment turn sour.

“It’s the nature of the business,” long snapper David Binn said. “Every great kicker has had a moment like that, and it’s just unfortunate that it happened to him in his rookie year … You can go down the list. Every Hall of Fame-level kicker has missed ones like that. It just happens. I think he’ll be fine.”

Added San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer: “Of all who might find themselves in that circumstance, Nate Kaeding would be the least likely to have it become a negative. He is solid. You don’t get elected by your teammates as captain of your college football team for two consecutive years unless you have some special qualities.”

Punter Mike Scifres, who doubles as the holder for field goal and extra point attempts, said he was confident Kaeding would bounce back.

“He showed during the season that misses didn’t affect him too much,” Scifres said. “He’s a mentally strong kid.”

The Kick

The Chargers had just rallied to send the Jan. 8 playoff game into overtime, and after an exchange of punts they moved methodically down the field. They had a first-and-10 at the Jets’ 22, and used three LaDainian Tomlinson running plays — which netted no yardage — to set up Kaeding’s try from the right hash mark, on a field that had been rained on earlier in the evening.

“It was a little wet,” Binn said. “It wasn’t perfect conditions, but it usually never is. It’s not an excuse.”

After his miss, the Chargers never got another opportunity. New York drove seven plays to the San Diego 10 to set up Doug Brien’s successful 28-yarder for the victory.

The second-guessers emerged in force, maintaining that the Chargers should have tried for at least one more first down — reasoning that quarterback Drew Brees disputed.

“Usually what Marty does in those situations is ask the kicker, ‘What yard-line, and what hash (mark) do you want the ball on?’ ” Brees said.

“I’m not sure what the percentage of made field goals is in the NFL at 40 yards, but it’s pretty high. The fact that it was the playoffs and a rookie kicker seems to be what everyone was talking about. But if you ask Nate Kaeding how many field goals he’ll make from 40 yards, he’ll probably say 95 percent.”

In fact, he was 5 for 6 between 40 and 49 yards during the regular season.

After the game, Kaeding was despondent, saying, “The hardest thing for me is not being able to walk through here and look people in the eye.”

Two days later, at the Chargers practice facility, he was seen sobbing.

“Initially you worry,” Brees said of Kaeding’s ability to rebound. “But I’ve seen Nate numerous times in the off-season and talked to him. He’s kicking with a ton of confidence, and I think he has the mentality to bounce back from something like that. I’m not worried about the guy one bit.”

The Aftermath

Benirschke, now an author and motivational speaker in the San Diego area, said he’d gotten to know Kaeding during the season, since he was one of several Chargers alumni who regularly attended practices.

He talked with Kaeding about dealing with the aftermath.

“The challenge Nate obviously faces is, that was the last game of the year and he had all off-season to think about it,” Benirschke said in a phone interview. “People bring it up. They say, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ or, ‘Forget about it,’ but every time they bring it up, you think about it … It’s one of those ghosts you don’t dispel until you get through it.”

John Murray, a sports psychologist from Palm Beach, Fla., suggested that Kaeding should look at it this way: Whatever happens from here, it can’t be any worse.

“I really truly believe the key to success is dealing with failure, and then you don’t have any fear,” Murray said by phone. “Forget about the outcome. The outcome will take care of itself. That has nothing to do with the actual nanosecond you’re performing in.

“True elite athletes are the ones who love that pressure, thriving on the adversity of the challenge. They say, ‘Let me try it again.’ If he’s of that makeup, he’ll have that approach the next time it comes up.”

Kaeding said that after the hurt subsided, he couldn’t wait to kick again. That would seem to be a good sign.

“I’m real impatient,” he said. “My biggest thing was just getting back out there and working on it.

“Down the road this fall, when I have a kick to win a game, hopefully I’ll look back on how hard I worked, and I’ll be able to come through for them.”

WHO CRIES AT WORK?

Aug 3, 2005 – Cox News Service – (note: this story has been published in the Palm Beach Post, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Orange County Register, Monterey County Herald, Indianapolis Star, Winston Salem Journal, The Day, Contra Costa Times, and Charlotte Observer) – By Tim O’Meilia – There is no crying in football. Not if you’re 21 years old, 6-feet-6 and weight 329 pounds. Not in a profession ruled by machismo, intimidation and stoicism. Not even if your coach hollers loudly and at length when you neglect to bring your helmet to the practice field, as Miami Dolphin head coach Nick Saban did to rookie defensive lineman Manny Wright last week.

Wright bawled, tears running down his cheeks, and left the field. Wright has been immortalized on ESPN SportsCenter. Again and again and again. To his credit, he returned to the practice later.

There’s no crying in the boardroom either. Or up in accounting. No blubbering out on the loading docks. Or in the vegetable fields. Not in professions ruled by machismo, intimidation and stoicism. In other words, every job.

“Crying in the workplace is taboo,” said Wallace Johnston, better known as workplace columnist Dr. Wally. “It’s seen as a sign of weakness.”

“Crybaby” is a tattoo that can’t be scraped off. “No one wants to feel out of control and that’s what that represents,” said West Palm Beach psychologist John F. Murray, who specializes in sports.

Women cry four times as often as men do. And when men cry, it’s more like their eyes well with tears rather than unmanly, lip-curling boo-hooing, according to a study by University of Minnesota medical school professor William H. Frey II, who wrote Crying: The Mystery of Tears.

It’s a cultural thing, of course.

“For boys, there’s no crying after Little League,” said Dr. Wally. Boys learn to keep it inside. Frustration is channeled to anger, an acceptable outlet, rather than crying.

Little girls, on the other hand, are comforted more often when they cry and are picked up more often when they are infants, said Dr. Susan Murphy, a California management consultant and co-author of In the Company of Women.

“God forbid if you’re a man. A woman can get away with it a little more,” said Dana Lightman, a Pennsylvania psychotherapist and author of Power Optimism. And the conventional wisdom that Americans can be more in touch with their feelings is merely lip service in the working world.

Serial weepers stunt their own careers. They’re viewed as unable to control their emotions. Managers and colleagues tend not to give them honest feedback on their performance, for fear of a crying jag, Murphy said.

Crying on the job can be a symptom of a deeper problem, such as depression, that needs treatment, Murray said. But for most stressed-out, mildly neurotic Americans, crying is a result of criticism or pressure and criers can learn to manage it.

“If my boss criticized me, I would think, ‘Omigod, I’m a terrible worker. Omigod, I’m going to get fired. Omigod, he doesn’t like me,’ ” said Lightman, who admits she was Miss Waterworks in her early career.

She had to learn to take 24 hours to consider the criticism and to tell herself she doesn’t have to be perfect.

Other tricks for criers: Take a breath, realize that criticism doesn’t mean you’re worthless, even warn others that you’re prone to tears and it means nothing.

There are times when a few strategically placed tears are appropriate: if a co-worker dies, but not if your dog does; you win the Nobel Prize, but not if you’re employee-of-the-month; your retirement party, but not when you go on vacation.

“But it’s rare,” Murphy said. “You’re better off taking the advice of the Four Seasons: Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

SUCCESS IS MUCH MORE THAN TALENT

Cincinnati Enquirer – Jan 29, 2005 – John Eckberg – THE BENGAL SYSTEM Sport psychologist John F. Murray figures that nobody likes discipline less than a player in the National Football League.

And Murray, who has consulted for NFL teams – that he refuses to name – says Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a bead on performance that should pay off.

Lewis gives players three strikes before they are out. The first strike is a breakdown that leads to a meeting with the head coach. And the meeting itself is the second strike. So if you’ve screwed up one time, you’ve really screwed up twice.

The third strike is when the same thing happens again.

“I like Marvin Lewis’s disciplinary approach,” Murray said. “NFL players respond to that. They want direction. They want to feel like somebody is in charge of the ship. The problem with a lot of coaches is that they try to please everybody.

“There has to be a little fear, consequences that are real. There has to be a bite – otherwise you’re just barking.”

Today’s Super Bowl XXXIX brings local sports fans one final evening of professional football from a 2004-2005 season that was disappointing for avid Cincinnati Bengals fans but fairly entertaining for everybody else.

Performance expert and sport psychologist John F. Murray of West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Super Bowl is an annual event that gives everybody a chance to look for lessons into achieving peak performance.

This year Murray picks the Philadelphia Eagles.

He arrived at this conclusion by extrapolating from the play-by-play behavior of players and teams’ mental make-up during the intense pressure of post-season playoffs.

He calls his gauge the Mental Performance Index and used it last year to correctly predict that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would upset the Oakland Raiders by at least two touchdowns.

The Bucs won 48-21, a margin of about four touchdowns.

“When you think about it, performance enhancement is far more important in business than in sports,” said the sport psychologist who is known as the “Football Shrink.”

“In business, money is on the line. And like professional football it’s extremely competitive.”

Keys for success

Murray has worked with NFL teams and has testimonials from many sports figures: Dave Wannstedt and Jimmy Johnson, former head coaches for the Miami Dolphins, plenty of college tennis coaches and tennis pro Lindsay Davenport.

Though Murray, 43, can talk for hours on the topic of performance under pressure, he says his strategy has eight broad, mental keys for success:

Discipline and hard work.

Passion and having fun.

Resilience or bounce-back.

Confidence and expectations of success.

Intense focus on the task at hand.

Setting and achieving goals.

Controlling emotion and energy levels.

Visualization and imagery.

Dealing with pressure

But nothing separates peak performers from the almost-as-good as the crucible of pressure.

“When lights are shining and the moment is there, super performance can emerge more easily,” said Murray, the author of “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” (Jossey-Bass).

Companies that want to encourage peak performance should order up ground-zero evaluations of individuals and then treat people as individuals, not as a group, since the best approaches spurn one-size-fits-all.

When asked to choose one aspect that companies should focus on, he did not hesitate:

“Taking care of the customer is No.1,” Murray said. “Do you give them what they need? Do you find out what they need and provide quality service that is focused and passionate?”

Forget about talent, creativity, goals, vision and leadership.

I would not agree to “forget about” those other factors, but assert that customer service is indeed top priority!

“Finding out what a customer needs and then filling that need is by far the most important action that companies can take to achieve peak performance,” he said. “Talent is not everything. It’s the intangibles that are sometimes ignored that are important.” Dr. Murray’s Bio

NFL PLAYOFFS – PSYCHED OUT

Baltimore Sun – Jan 25, 2005 – Ken Murray – NFL teams trying to get over the hump in big games carry psychological baggage only Freud could appreciate.

At the height of his frustration in the mid-1990s, then-Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf let out a howl of exasperation that could be heard all the way to Dallas.

“They could put seven helmets and four players out there and we’d find a way to fall over a helmet,” Wolf said of the Cowboys.

Wolf was worn down by an eight-game losing streak in a lopsided series. Three of the losses came in the postseason, the worst being the NFC championship game in January 1995. It wasn’t until the season after the Packers won the January 1997 Super Bowl that they finally exorcised their Dallas demon and ended the streak.

Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl quarterback, knows how Wolf felt. McNabb has lived through the agony of losing three consecutive NFC championship games, two of them at home.

He can only hope the Atlanta Falcons roll out their black helmets and play four-man defense today at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, where he will try one more time to reach the Super Bowl.

By going 0-for-3 in the championship game, McNabb also has stepped into elite, if somewhat infamous, company in the NFL. Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls and Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings was winless in three. The Cleveland Browns’ Bernie Kosar lost three times in the AFC championship game.

And John Elway of the Denver Broncos didn’t win his first Super Bowl, either, until he had lost three of them.

This is no place for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. It is where history is made, reputations are forged and dreams are smashed.

Unlike the Packers of the 1990s, the Eagles have no single nemesis to confront. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers the past three years at the threshold of the Super Bowl.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to us the last three years, but it’s just a different feeling this year,” McNabb said during a news conference last week. “We’ve had a special season; things have really been moving in a positive direction.”

Getting teams or individual players over the big-game hump is a job that often falls under the purview of sports psychologists.

Harry Edwards, a sports sociologist, retired Cal-Berkeley professor and longtime consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, watched as coach Bill Walsh crafted a dynasty after one of the most traumatic defeats in team history.

The defeat came in the 1987 playoffs, when the 49ers, with a 13-2 regular-season record, were upset at home by the Vikings in a conference semifinal, 36-24. San Francisco already had won two Super Bowls under Walsh, but the Minnesota loss was particularly devastating.

The 49ers came back the next year to beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game and the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, the last of Walsh’s three NFL titles.

“The key to it was how the leadership of the organization handled that crushing disappointment,” Edwards said. “I remember before the Super Bowl against the Bengals, Bill said there were going to be ebbs and flows in the game. That took out the idea that if something bad happens [as in 1987], ‘Here we go again.’

“If the Eagles go out on the field thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ they’ll lose.”

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Eagles should embrace the potential for losing to relieve the pressure of winning.

“I would let them go to the possibility they might lose again,” he said. “That’s outcome. In sports psychology, you focus on performance, not outcome. Outcome can never be controlled, just as you can never control when a tsunami hits your house.

“We choke if we blow up the magnitude of the situation. It comes down to what’s going on inside each person’s head.”

Losing big games regularly plays havoc with the head, Gil Brandt said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it gets into your mind,” said Brandt, the Cowboys’ personnel chief through their formative years into the Super Bowl era.

Brandt watched the phenomenon weave its damage in the 1960s, when the Cowboys were Next Year’s Champions, the title of a book that chronicled their early failures in big games. The Cowboys lost consecutive NFL championship games to the Packers at the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1966 and 1967, then lost to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs the next two seasons.

Dallas didn’t get to the Super Bowl until the 1970 season, and didn’t win the Super Bowl until the 1971 season. How did the Cowboys get over the hump?

By trading for tight end Mike Ditka, flanker Lance Alworth and cornerback Herb Adderley, who brought mental toughness to the team.

“Those three veteran players had a dramatic influence on our team,” Brandt said. “You can add a descending veteran player and it gives the team the thought, ‘They’re trying to help us win.’ The Eagles went out and got [Jevon] Kearse and [Terrell] Owens, and the players said the team tried to do everything it could to win.”

Three decades later, the Packers endured their six-year losing streak against the Cowboys. They lost to Dallas in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 1993 and 1994 seasons, and the NFC championship game the next year. All but one of the eight losses came in Dallas.

“We couldn’t get them [to play] in Green Bay,” Wolf said. “It was like a nightmare. It got to the point they played a [quarterback] named Jason Garrett and beat us. Obviously, it’s a psychological thing when you put out a guy like that and win.

“It’s like seeing Indianapolis and New England now. Indianapolis can’t go to New England and win the game.”

The Packers won the Super Bowl in the 1996 season after losing a regular-season game in Dallas, but didn’t have to face the Cowboys in the postseason. In 1997, they finally got the Cowboys in Green Bay and punished them, 45-17. End of streak.

Some teams never make it over the hump, though. The Browns of Kosar and tight end Ozzie Newsome endured three championship losses in four years, all against the Broncos, and never reached the Super Bowl.

The first loss in the 1986 season was highlighted by Elway’s 98-yard touchdown drive to force overtime, where the Broncos won, 23-20. The second, a year later, was punctuated by Earnest Byner’s fumble inside the 5-yard line as he was about to score the tying touchdown. The Browns lost, 38-33.

Two years later, they were blown out by the Broncos, 37-21.

Even though Newsome, as a front office executive, helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl four years ago, it didn’t take away the sting of those three defeats.

“In that I had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl, it has been softened,” the Ravens’ general manager said. “Not being able to go and play in it, it is some of the emptiness that I have.”

There was some satisfaction in going to the championship game three times, he said.

“It was a great accomplishment, but not as big as the Bills going to four straight Super Bowls. That was a lot tougher to do, and a lot tougher to deal with,” Newsome said.

Even while the Bills were losing four straight Super Bowls from 1991 through 1994, coach Marv Levy was never concerned about a psychological minefield.

“No, I really wasn’t,” Levy said, “because I made up mind, it wasn’t going to prey on me. I knew I couldn’t change the previous outcomes.”

Levy, of course, can feel empathy for the Eagles’ plight today.

“I admire their resilience,” he said. “They’re going to battle back. They didn’t fall apart because they suffered a tremendous disappointment.

“I don’t know if their story is going to parallel ours, but if they win, I will feel good for them.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

OTHER EARLY RETIREES UNDERSTAND WILLIAMS’ EXIT

Newark Star Ledger – Aug 12, 2004 – Pete Iorizzo – To the fans, teammates, former players (yes, even you, Barry Sanders) and media members who have been haranguing Ricky Williams, Robert Smith has a message:

Back off. Smith, who abruptly walked away from the Minnesota Vikings after the 2000 season, said he understands why Williams quit the Miami Dolphins last week, less than a week before the start of training camp. He said Williams, a running back like Smith, made the right decision — even if Williams was in his playing prime and the peak earning years.

“For his mental and physical health, it was best,” Smith said. “Playing football is not something you can do 80 percent mentally. It didn’t make sense to keep going.”

Williams became the latest in a string of athletes who caught their sport, their team, their fans by surprise. They are rebels and nonconformists willing to walk away from adulation and millions of dollars to do something else — or nothing else.

Slugger Ken Harrelson left major league baseball in 1971 to take a shot at the PGA Tour. He failed. Superstar Michael Jordan walked away from the NBA to try to play baseball. He struck out. Safety Pat Tillman shunned a multimillion-dollar contract from the Arizona Cardinals to join the special forces. He died in an Afghanistan firefight. Defensive tackle Mike Reid left the Bengals in 1974 at 26 to play the piano. He has since written 10 No. 1 country music hits and has two Grammy Awards.

Smith quit an NFL career and has been laying low since.

Some share a different world view than most, one that clashes with America’s sports-crazed culture. Others simply burn out. But fans, who live vicariously through their sports heroes, feel betrayed.

Smith said his perspective changed when he was a freshman at Ohio State. Before a game against the University of Michigan, Bill Miles, then the OSU offensive line coach, caught him looking nervous. He pulled him aside and said, “Robert, this game is important. But there are a billion people in China who don’t even know this game is going on.”

Said Smith: “That changed things. If you just turn on your TV and listen, there are lots of important things happening in the world. Don’t always put on SportsCenter.”

As a running back with the Vikings, Smith, on Tuesdays, visited children suffering from cancer. He heard their stories, met with their parents and followed their struggles. Then, on Wednesdays, he would answer questions about the upcoming game’s importance. The contrast disturbed him, he said.

When Smith retired, he faced much of the same criticism as Williams. Although Smith had talked about nobler pursuits throughout his career, few suspected he would quit at age 29 after rushing for 1,521 yards in 2000, his best season.

“For someone like me or Ricky, there are just more important things in life,” Smith said. “Everyone was talking to me like, ‘This is a do-or-die game this week.’ Well, I had just spent the day before with a 6-year-old dying of cancer. It just didn’t jive.”

Williams and Smith spoke in June while working together at a camp. Smith talked to Williams about his upcoming book, “The Rest of the Iceberg,” which will articulate Smith’s position on sports in American society and the life of a professional athlete. During their conversation, Williams — painfully shy and suffering from social anxiety disorder, hinted he was considering retirement.

Smith said Williams had mulled the decision for months. He told the Dolphins a couple of days before camp opened because that’s when he arrived at his decision, Smith said. But with their offense built around Williams, a powerful runner, the Dolphins were left with few options for replacing him.

“There’s no question he could have picked a better time,” Smith said. “But it wasn’t like this was an overnight decision, and he decided a week before training camp just to (hurt) them.”

Williams left reportedly facing a drug suspension, and he told the Miami Herald his desire to continue smoking marijuana contributed to his decision to quit. He also may owe the Dolphins $8 million because of his early exit.

All that aside, Smith said if teammates and fans stop and consider Williams’ decision, they will understand it.

“For the fans, look, he has real issues more important than entertaining you,” Smith said. “He doesn’t live to entertain you and make your ticket worthwhile.”

Williams and Smith are not the only NFL running backs to have bailed in the prime of their careers. In 1965, Jim Brown left the Cleveland Browns to pursue an acting career. And in 1999, with Walter Payton’s rushing record within reach, Sanders walked away from the Detroit Lions. But Sanders said he had trouble making sense of Williams’ decision.

“I’m as surprised as anyone,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “Even for me, it seems very strange.”

John Riggins, a running back who turned a holdout into a short retirement, refused to criticize Williams, too.

“He was satisfied with what he got out of it,” Riggins told the Miami Herald. “He’s walking away from the game, running away from the game, which a lot of us can’t do because we played longer than we were supposed to. I’m not overly religious, but the Bible says, ‘To thine own self be true.'”

Williams’ decision was less surprising to psychologists. Athletes burn out, they say, when they feel like they have lost control. Certain personality types, particularly free spirits like Williams, are more prone.

“Burnout often results from feeling trapped in a position,” said Dr. David Feigley, a sports psychologist at Rutgers University. “Sometimes we think of it as overwork. But if it’s overwork and you still feel in control, you’re less likely to burn out.

“Why do you go to practice? If the answer is, ‘I have to,’ as oppose to, ‘I chose to,’ you’re more prone. Burnout tends to happen when you’re working in area you once enjoyed, but now there are all these external constraints.”

That seems to apply to Williams, who said he felt “free” after announcing his retirement.

“My heart tells me, ‘Don’t be controlled,'” Williams told the Miami Herald. “Everyone wants freedom. Humans aren’t supposed to be controlled and told what to do. They’re supposed to be given direction and a path. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Please.”

Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in West Palm Beach, Fla., said teams need to be more proactive in tapping into with players’ psyches. Having a full-time sport psychologist as part of the coaching staff would be a good start, he said.

Murray said he worked with two high-profile athletes on the verge of quitting. One, he said, went on to win the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. The other was tennis player Vince Spadea, who wanted to quit after enduring a 21-match ATP losing streak.

“There are many ways to keep people fresh and keep their desire to play sports alive,” Murray said. “We have maxed out on physical training, but we haven’t come close to realizing our potential when it comes to dealing with the mental side.

“It’s time for coaches to wake up and realize you can’t address these issues in old-fashioned, antiquated ways. It’s time to wake up and get real and help these athletes.”

In some cases, psychologists say, a break will help an athlete recover and prod him toward returning, as was the case with Jordan.

Smith admitted to missing football. But he believes there are more important things.

“Just because you can do something,” Smith said, “doesn’t mean you should.”

LEAVING SO SOON?

A look at pro athletes who retired early for reasons other than injury or illness:

Bjorn Borg: He won 11 majors, including five consecutive Wimbledons and four straight French Opens before quitting in 1981 at age 25. His comeback at 34 was short-lived.

Jim Brown: Considered the greatest running back in NFL history, he left the game at 30 to become an action-film star and civil rights leader.

Jennifer Capriati: Burnout and drug issues led her to quit at age 17 in 1993. She returned to win three Grand Slam titles, and she became the top-ranked player in the world for parts of 2001 and ’02. Now 28, she is still a top-10 player.

Dave Cowens: At 28, he quit after his friend Paul Silas was traded after the Celtics’ 1976 championship season. Cowens returned after 30 games, retired again after the 1980 season, returned in 1982, then quit again. He has coached Boston, Charlotte and Golden State.

Ken Harrelson: After hitting 65 home runs in his two previous seasons, Harrelson left the game at 30 to try to make the PGA Tour. He fell short but built a career as a baseball analyst.

Michael Jordan: He retired three times, once to play baseball. He returned to lead the Bulls to their second three-peat from 1996-98. He finished his career with two so-so seasons on the Wizards and is now looking for an NBA franchise to own.

Rocky Marciano: After going 49-0 as a pro, the heavyweight champion retired in 1956 at age 31. Unlike other champs, he never returned, and died at 45 in a plane crash.

John Riggins: He was 31 when he turned a holdout into a one-year retirement. He returned in 1981 and was the Super Bowl XVII MVP before retiring in 1986.

Barry Sanders: The Lions’ running back was within 1,500 yards of breaking Walter Payton’s career rushing record when he suddenly retired before training camp in 1999.

Robert Smith: The former Vikings running back led the NFC with 1,521 yards rushing in 2000 and walked away from a potential $40 million free-agent contract.

Pat Tillman: Driven by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Cardinals safety turned down a $3.6 million contract to retire before the 2002 season and join the Army Rangers at age 25. He was killed in a fire-fight in Afghanistan on April 22.

WHO’S THE BEST COACH FOR YOU?

Miami Herald – Jan 31, 2005 – Cindy Krischer Goodman – There can be valuable lessons learned from pro football as coaches strive to balance players’ lives and work.

As we head into Super Bowl Sunday this much is clear: Bill Belichick is the NFL coach players most admire. Yet in a recent survey, only 10 percent of NFL players said they would want to be on his New England Patriots team.

Belichick recruits players who are passionate about football and teamwork. He doesn’t sleep much and doesn’t expect his players too, either.

Instead of Belichick, most of the NFL players surveyed said they would like to play for Tony Dungy, who is successful with the Indianapolis Colts but who also believes there’s a wide world out there beyond the stadium.

Survey South Florida’s workforce and you just might find the same reaction. Some people thrive in an intensively competitive environment where 12-hour days are the norm. Others work to earn a living and wouldn’t or can’t put aside outside responsibilities or interests. The goal is to find the right environment for you.

”It’s important for employees when looking for a job to take the corporate culture into consideration,” says James Lavin, author of Management Secrets of the New England Patriots. “They should look at themselves to see what they value in life. People want to be the best employees they can and should work for an organization that makes them feel better about themselves.”

Here in South Florida, Stephen McGill runs his credit union much like an NFL coach. He holds daily huddles and communicates the play of the day.

”We talk about the wins and the losses of the day before and the opportunities for improvement,” say McGill, chief executive of Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union in Miramar. ‘We have a very distinct culture. We exist to improve our members’ financial well being. We are laser focused on that and everyone here knows what we are trying to accomplish.”

McGill doesn’t tolerate egos. His 600 employees are rewarded for teamwork, communicating with colleagues, and giving outstanding service. That may mean opening the doors early or staying 10 minutes past closing. McGill expects employees to give work their all, then go home to their outside lives.

The wide range of leadership styles prove there are many ways to bring a team to victory or a business to success. Clearly, Belichick’s style works in New England. He’s won two Super Bowls in the last three seasons and twice eliminated Dungy’s highly touted teams from the playoffs. Most of us want to be on a winning team, but finding the right workplace to fit your values can be difficult.

Miami Heat president Pat Riley says the most important criteria for anyone is to work for someone they trust.

”We live in society where people are highly ambitious,” Riley says. “People put in a lot of work hours. People who give a lot expect a lot. People who are successful want to be in organizations that are respected and admired. They have to feel they can trust the leader.”

A coach or leader’s job, Riley says, is to create an environment where everyone flourishes.

”Giving people a sense of balance is important,” he says. “But never at the expense of what you have to do to be successful as a team.”

West Palm Beach sport psychologist John Murray gets called in when an athlete needs improvement working with teammates.

”Whether it’s a team sport or a corporation, you have to have everyone on same page,” Murray says. “That is stressful for some personalities. Everyone must work hard and be team oriented or the team is going to not do as well. It’s a subtle art, the tweaking of individuals.”

H. Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Miami Dolphins and the man who built several large public companies knows that the best coaches put their best players in the best positions to win. That means admitting when someone is in the wrong position.

”That’s the toughest thing to do . . . to say it didn’t work out,” Huizenga told the fledging Leaders of Tomorrow group in Fort Lauderdale last week. “You tell them you’ve got two choices: We can move you over here to another spot in the company where your strengths are, or you can go find something else. Sometimes they stay, sometimes they leave.

“The worst mistake you can make is keep a person in a spot because he’s been loyal. You’re not being fair to that person. I think he’s better off going somewhere else and rising to the occasion in an area where he’s more comfortable.”

Lavin, who culled his insights from what has been said by and about the Patriots, says Belichick’s genius is in his recruiting.

”Most players don’t want to train 365 days. Belichick finds guys that do,” Lavin says.

“When he is recruiting he will intentionally downplay the glitz and the salary issue. He’ll sit them down and say here’s why we brought you here, how we’re going to use you and why you can help us win games. He ends up with players who expect a lot of themselves and want to be around other perfectionists.”

Herald business writer Patrick Danner contributed to this report.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.