Posts Tagged ‘nfl’

Locker room tolerance and sensitivity have simply changed forever with Michael Sam

Sports Psychology News – Dr. John F. Murray – February 10 2014 – A look into the locker room after Michael Sam.

NBC News, Melissa Dahl –  We now know what Michael Sam’s teammates have long known: The All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri is gay, and could very well become the first ever openly gay football player in the NFL.

Much has and will be written about the historical impact of Sam’s coming out, but a quietly remarkable aspect of Sam’s story is this: For at least an entire college football season, Sam’s teammates knew his secret, and they not only accepted it, they helped him keep it.

Sam has said that he came out to his team before the 2013 season, during a team meeting in which each player was asked to tell a secret about himself. “I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam told the New York Times. His team, and the coaches, kept their star player’s secret, even as the team faced building media attention as they competed for a national title.

But even in a generation notorious for social media oversharing and in a sport not known for its tolerance, no one let Sam’s secret slip. Not even Sam’s dad found out.

“I think it’s tremendous, in this day and age, that they could do that without anything leaking,” said Leif Smith, a clinical and sports psychologist who works with athletes at Ohio State University.

It’s also possible that his teammates didn’t think it was that big of a deal, Smith and other sports psychologists said. “I do think it’s more of a ho-hum issue for this generation,” Smith said. “It was a big issue to address it, but once they started playing football, they could care less.”

According to the day’s stereotype of a macho-bro culture like college football, an admission like Sam’s could lead to ostracization, or a Miami Dolphins-esque case of bullying. And indeed, some unnamed NFL insiders have reportedly already responded to Sam’s admission by saying things like an openly gay player would “chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

But sports psychologists who work with college athletes say that they see this generation being more tolerant when it comes to the matter of their peers’ sexual orientation. Seventy percent of millennials — defined here as those born after 1980 — said in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey that they support gay marriage, and that percentage is rapidly increasing, up from 51 percent in 2003.

Sam’s teammates said his sexuality was no big deal in the lockerroom, and many of them joined a chorus of public support that included first lady Michelle Obama.

Sam is a gifted athlete, named in his last year at Mizzou to the College Football All-America Team, which means his team has even fewer reasons to care about his personal life.

“I think the bottom line for most players is — if you have a teammate that can help you win, it doesn’t matter,” said John Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., who has worked with NFL athletes.

If Sam did explicitly ask his teammates not to share his sexual orientation, the team’s secret-sharing may even have strengthened their cohesion as a group.

“We know that when people choose to confide secrets with us, that can draw us closer together, because that disclosure signals trust and intimacy in itself,” said Clayton Critcher, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has researched the psychology of secret-keeping.

In ideal circumstances, a team may function much like a family, experts say “Teams are going to protect their own,” Murray said.

“The family will kind of circle the wagons, and protect their secret,” he said. “Because a family very well represents that concept of a unit that needs to be able to be cohesive to be able to perform well, to be able to win.”

A fascinating view into the world of sports psychology.

 

Mind Games: Making Sense of the Maryland Game

Sports Psychology Mind Games Column at Canesport.com – John F Murray – September 8, 2011 – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

September 5, 2011 – Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium – College Park, Maryland

Maryland Terrapins 32 (.508) Miami Hurricanes 24 (.475)

Hello Miami fans, football lovers, and perhaps some football haters after this first disappointing loss to Maryland to start the Golden era. I am disappointed, you are upset, and the rest of the football world is wildly celebrating UM’s stumble out of the gate feeling that Miami got just what it deserved after the NCAA violations.

Let’s not try to sugar coat this loss. It hurts a lot. But this is what sports is all about, taking the bad with the good and making it better. True winners never sulk. After a loss, they first try to deeply understand what happened, and then they suck it up, spit it out, and make positive changes and corrections based on their mistakes.

There is always another game, and with a talented group of starters returning for the Ohio State game in two weeks, there is huge opportunity for growth. Maybe even a big upset is on the horizon.

This column will help keep us focused on what is important and what we control, and that is simply the “process” and the “performance” on every single play rather than the “outcome,” whether the team won or lost, or whether Nevin Shapiro is smiling in his jail cell or some reporter is taking another shot at the Canes.

In my work with teams and athletes, I’ve found that the greatest progress often occurs right after a loss or a disappointing low period. Nothing gets an athlete’s or team’s attention more than losing. The good news is that you are never really as bad as you think you are … or as good as you think you are too, so the trick in sports is to be able to continually bring the passion and fire week in, week out to the present moment, and somehow learn to forget about results while practicing and competing. Pushing the envelope to get better in the most challenging of times pays off later in the season and also in upcoming years, too.

In this, my first post-game review using the Mental Performance Index on the Hurricanes’ team, you are introduced to a whole new way to analyze a football game with a new tool that is very effective in summarizing the truth of what actually happened – play-by-play in the physical and mental trenches of a football game.

I developed the Mental Performance Index (MPI for short) over eight years and it has proven incredibly powerful in teasing out the keys to victory or defeat in a football game.

The Index consists of 14 new statistics summarizing relative football performance for each team that played in a game against one another. The numbers always range from .000 to 1.000, so it is like a baseball batting average, but for a football team where .500 is a roughly average performance of a team.

In some ways the MPI scores are like an index of perfection, as a perfect team would score 1.000 theoretically (100% of perfection) and a team that did nothing at all good in a game would score .000. As Herman Edwards once said, “on every play somebody screws up” and it is has proven to be the case with MPI ratings. The range of the MPI total score in a game is almost always between .400 and .600. That means that as a whole most teams perform between 40% and 60% of perfection in a game, supporting Edwards’ claim.

There are about 150 plays in a football game multiplied times 11 players per team, or 1,650 chances per game for each team to mess up.

In my new book, the best performing Super Bowl team on Super Sunday scored at.591 as a team overall, so only at 59.1 percent of perfection. This sounds horrible, but playing a game at 60% of perfection is amazing and almost guarantees victory. The .591 mark would be well over the 95th percentile in terms of team performance.

On Monday night, for example, Miami scored a .475 while Maryland came in at .508 and won the game.

With a live view of the game supplemented often by a video of the game afterwards, and a written play-by-play account of every single play to check my work, I sit with my computer and meticulously rate the performance of each team on every play of the game. It usually takes about three hours. My computer automatically converts my ratings into a .000 to 1.000 metric. When I rate a play, I do so in a way that is extremely simple, football smart, statistically balanced, and consistent over the years. It is simple for me to capture the essence of how the teams did on the play, and I adjust for many factors such as pressure situations, clear mental mistakes, or clearly superior smart play.

It is a rating of how the teams did in the moment by moment analysis of every play. By rating every meaningful play in a game, I have obtained more data than any traditional statistic, and this provides me another advantage. The huge number of observations increases my statistical power and sensitivity to discover subtle differences.

In rating the games, I essentially reinforce precisely what I teach my athletes and teams as a sports psychologist, namely to stay focused and execute in every moment. They are encouraged to focus on process and performance in every instance, and not on outcome, and I score execution and performance in every instance, and not outcome or points.

There is no wiggle room for being careless or sloppy. The MPI is an index of perfection, and players’ mental mistakes, carelessness, and great focus will influence the scoring accordingly. There are no excuses for penalties and turnovers on the MPI and that is how it should be.

But many teams and players get distracted by all the fluff in this ADD culture that many athletes find themselves in. There are so many off-field distractions that a no-nonsense, hard-nosed emphasis on process and performance goals actually reduces pressure or fear for players, leading to reduced mistakes and better execution.

Some teams win a game after being outperformed by their opponents, and this can easily lead to overconfidence or lackadaisical preparation for the upcoming game. With MPI data, players would know how they actually played despite the fortunate win, and it would keep them hungrier in their fear of a letdown. Other teams win the battle in the trenches of moment by moment performance, but might lose a heartbreaker due to one or two rare plays or poor referee calls. These teams need to stay the course and be encouraged that they were doing everything right, but that the ball did not bounce their way.

After studying thousands of games, I have found that better performance usually wins the game, and it appears to be the case about nine out of 10 times. In my study of every Super Bowl for my recent book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” only four of the 45 winning teams were outperformed on the MPI. So this supports this rough 10% estimate of anomaly.

Since we do control performance, but not outcome, I am measuring only what is controllable and only what I tell my athletes to focus on. Any good sports psychologist will tell you that placing performance over outcome is a huge key to winning.

It is ironic that, by not focusing on winning, we actually win more … but it makes sense. This makes their lives a lot easier and it makes sense to know how you actually did despite the final score which is often inaccurate. The final score is an arbitrary number, not a scientifically verified indicator of how well a team played. Sure you need it to win the game, but you need to focus on doing well in the moment to score points, not focus on scoring points which is a distraction.

The 14 main MPI statistics that I created include:

(1) MPI Total (MPI-T) for overall team performance; (2) MPI Offense (MPI-O) for offensive performance alone; (3) MPI Defense (MPI-D) for defensive performance alone; (4) MPI Special Teams (MPI-ST) for special teams performance alone; (5) MPI Total Pressure (MPI-TP) for team performance in pressure situations; (6) MPI Offense Pressure (MPI-OP) for offensive performance in pressure situations; (7) MPI Defense Pressure (MPI-DP) for defensive performance in pressure situations.

The first 7 MPI statistics are expressed in terms of how a team performed in a game on a scale of .000 to 1.000 with .500 being roughly average performance. In addition to these seven statistics that describe the performance of just one team, as much as possible a relatively pure measure of team performance, I also created MPI difference statistics by calculating the scores on these seven MPI statistics of one team minus the opponent’s corresponding MPI statistic.

For example, the MPI Total Difference score is calculated by taking the MPI Total score of a team and subtracting the opponent’s MPI Total score resulting in a statistic that shows “dominance,” or how much better one team performed that day compared with their opponent.

These additional seven MPI statistics are as follows:

(8) MPI Total Difference (MPI-TD) for dominance of one team over another overall; (9) MPI Offense Difference (MPI-OD) for offensive dominance over an opponent’s defense; (10) MPI Defense Difference (MPI-DD) for defensive dominance over an opponent’s offense; (11) MPI Special Teams Difference (MPI-STD) for special teams dominance; (12) MPI Total Pressure Difference (MPI-TPD) = Total dominance in pressure; (13) MPI Offense Pressure Difference (MPI-OPD) = Offensive dominance in pressure; (14) MPI Defense Pressure Difference (MPI-DPD) for defensive dominance in pressure.

To do a complete analysis of a game, I do not stop with the MPI. I also look at the 14 most traditional statistics (e.g., net yards, turnovers, penalties…) to see if there are any notable results using an extensive set of norms I’ve developed. I can look at any one of the 14 MPI statistics or 14 traditional statistics and see where it fits along the normal distribution known as the normal or bell curve in statistics.

In fact, I will often report the statistic in percentiles as well as in a raw score so that you will understand more clearly what the score means and how extreme it is. For instance, you will see in the upcoming post-game report that Maryland gained 499 yards against Miami. This places them roughly in the 95th percentile on this factor, a quite impressive performance. Just so you understand percentiles, if there were 100 random teams selected for net yards gained, Maryland would have performed better than 95 of these teams when they reach the 95th percentile.

Pressure Offense and Defense on the MPI means those offensive plays and defensive plays that I define as pressure situations in a game. While there are exceptions based on play meaningfulness, it typically refers to plays that have a greater amount weighing on them … good examples are third and fourth down plays that are meaningful. In these instances, it has to happen for the teams on that one play. The offense needs a first down or they are forced to give up the ball. The defense has to stop the offense or they risk giving up more field position and possibly a score. So these “pressure” situations, as I define them and as I think anyone smart in football would define them, raise the stakes considerably.

It is analogous to a poker game where a double bet is made. More is riding on the play. Psychologically that means that the teams need to be able to cope with the potential pressure by playing well in these clutch situations. And doing so is evidence of high mental performance. So I have a way to reward teams a little more when they do well in pressure, and punish them a little more on the MPI when they do poorly in these critical moments where it “has to happen or else.” I isolate out just those pressure offense plays and pressure defense plays and the scores for pressure offense and pressure defense will show just that … how the offense did in just those pressure situations and how the defense did in just those pressure situations, and I also have a total pressure score which is how the entire team did in pressure.

It will not be a simple average of offense and defense because there are usually an uneven number of plays a team might run on offense and defense. The bottom line is that part of my madness (and it is quite simple) is to make sure that I measure those pressure situations too … because the greatest teams mentally seem to find a way to do better in critical moments. Make sense?

Sometimes my analysis will match exactly what the mainstream reporters are saying, but often I’ll add a slight twist or new insight that was not revealed. I only observe what happened on the field of play, and back it up by written play by play summaries, but I have a huge advantage in having taught statistics at the college and graduate school levels, in knowing mental performance and how to incorporate that in the scoring, and in knowing football too.

How shall we analyze this Maryland vs. Miami game? You might wonder if the game was played at a high quality level or not. To start, this was a game of overall below average quality performance as the combined MPI-T scores for each team (.475 + .508 = .983) fell below the 1.0 mark (an indicator of overall average performance).

Taking a broad look at the data, Maryland outperformed Miami on 5 of the 7 main MPI scores, and they did better in all the traditional statistics except for net yards rushing in which Miami was slightly better (172 to 151). No wonder they won the game too.

We next look at total performance of the teams (Total MPI Score) and it is clear that Maryland decisively outperformed the Hurricanes by a margin of .508 to .475. While Maryland’s overall performance was only slightly above average, the .475 posted by Miami is definitely below average. It is fair to say that this was a winnable game for Miami, or stated another way, Miami also beat themselves.

How did this happen? The most extreme statistics that jump out (residing on an extreme end of the bell curve distribution in statistics) are the combined negative impact of turnovers (4) and penalties (10) for Miami. This T + P = 14, a combined value that is horrendous, falls below the 5th percentile. I use T + P as one of the factors in my book on the Super Bowl and in my MPI game ratings because it is a great indication of sloppy, careless errors. But like others I also look at turnovers and penalties separately.

So if you had to isolate one factor as most responsible for this loss, it would have to be the mistakes Miami made in turnovers and penalties. Seeing this statistically and numerically at the 5th percentile or worse gives Coach Golden some real firepower in actual performance data and normative standards to encourage an improvement in protecting the ball and avoiding careless penalties before the Ohio State game.

Two turnovers for Miami resulted in Maryland scores, and these two straws broke the camel’s back, but there were a lot of other influences too as we shall see.

As previously stated, Maryland gained 499 yards in this game, and the Maryland offensive MPI score (.544) combined with Miami’s defensive MPI score (.424) illustrates this mismatch. Credit Danny O’Brien’s quarterback play and the 348 yards passing which was at the 90th percentile, but it had to hurt Miami to have so many starters on defense out of this game.

While Miami’s offense performed better than Maryland’s defense in this game (.479 to .467), it was a much smaller influence than Maryland’s offensive dominance over Miami’s defense. The mistakes on offense eliminate any need to celebrate, and since those scores were both below .500, we applaud even less. However, it does give Miami hope for the future once it learns to greatly reduce mistakes.

Interestingly, Miami’s special teams were the best unit on the field this day, and they destroyed Maryland’s special teams on the MPI .717 to .488. If this had not been the case, Maryland would have likely won this game in a much easier manner with better field position.

We should all credit Maryland for performing better in the clutch. The Terps outperformed Miami in total pressure situations .492 to .477, and their performance in offensive pressure situations (.574) shows that they earned a victory even if Miami also beat themselves with carelessness. My best guess is that inexperience was a major factor here.

In summary, Maryland clearly outperformed Miami in this game (and also won) largely due to their passing attack, especially in pressure situations, combined with Miami’s depleted defense. The most extreme and perhaps influential factor of all were the four turnovers and 10 penalties committed by Miami and the +3 Takeaway minus Giveaway statistic for Maryland, which had just one turnover.

I hope you have enjoyed this first game review after a more detailed explanation of the MPI and why it is so needed in football.

When I finished my most recent book, which is all about how I came up with the idea of the MPI, how society stigmatizes mental factors, and about how the Super Bowl teams would fare in a mythical competition pitting every one of the 90 teams against one another, a lot of top people in football stepped forward to help me with my mission.

When I ask you to drink the Kool Aid of the MPI, realize that it is mostly just hard-nosed and objective football with the benefits of science. Mental opportunities are everywhere if you open your eyes.

Eliminate those 14 huge mistakes or just reduce them to five and Miami would have won this game.

Imagine that.

Dr. John’s Maryland vs. Miami Game Lesson: “Don’t Beat Yourself”

The University of Miami had everything against them but still had a chance to win if they had just held onto the ball and reduced penalties. While Maryland earned this win, Miami fumbled the golden goose at the start of the Golden era.

Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

I hope you enjoyed this journey into the world of sports psychology.

Dimension XI: How NFL Films Helped “The Mental Performance Index”

When I wrote “The Mental Performance Index” I thought about which were the most influential media outlets covering football and the NFL. Naturally NFL Films and all their great work came to mind.

In fact, NFL Films and Steve Sabol’s show “NFL Films Present” had come to my office a year before and featured me in an episode on “Love, Hate & Grief in the NFL” that aired 7 times on the NFL Network and ESPN2 in November of 2009. As a kid, I also used to enjoy their programming when Ed Sabol was at the helm, and the show only had gotten better with Steve Sabol, his son, in charge as President of NFL Films.

Since they had been in my office not too many months before the book was to be released, I contacted Steve Sabol and he graciously agreed to provide me the following quote for the book cover:

“This is a fascinating work of remarkable scope and scholarship. Dr. Murray has devised a valid new way to measure and predict greatness in the game of football.” STEVE SABOL, PRESIDENT, NFL FILMS

I can only assume that Mr. Sabol liked the manuscript by his very nice comments, but it probably also did not hurt that he knew me from the episode I shot for NFL Films Presents. Remember, the next time you are asked to do an interview and you agree, your actions now will possibly help you in the future!

Today I proudly display the quote from NFL Films on my new book “The Mental Performance Index.” I am so excited that an award winning production company has gotten behind my efforts and supported me on this book. Thanks Steve Sabol and the entire staff at NFL Films!

I know you will enjoy reading “The Mental Performance Index.” Thanks for your interest in Sports Psychology

With smarts, grace, this female sportscaster broke down barriers

SI.com – Jeff Pearlman – Pearls of Wisdom – She covered her first NFL game in 1976, when the language on media credentials included the sentence NO WOMEN OR CHILDREN IN THE PRESS BOX. Four years later, while working the Cotton Bowl between Nebraska and Houston for The Boston Globe, she was stared down by Cougars coach Bill Yeoman in the victorious post-game locker room. “I don’t give a damn about no Equal Rights Amendment!” he screamed. “I ain’t having a woman in my locker room!” Yeoman escorted her out.

“All the cameras shifted from the players to me,” she says. “I went to the top of the Cotton Bowl by myself, sat down and cried.”

When she started at CBS Sports in the late 1970s, network executives were perplexed about what she should wear on-air. “My first jackets were men’s sports coats that they tailored for me and attached a CBS patch near the pocket,” she says. “Ridiculous, right?”

Because she is, by all accounts, as nice as they come, she will not replay all the horror stories from the 1970s and ’80s — the graphic clubhouse gestures (when, in 1989, a New York Jets tight end named Mickey Shuler spotted her entering the locker room, he screamed, “Hey, no f—— women!” She simply waved him off and kept walking); the athletes who wouldn’t give her a second’s time; the fans who refused to take her seriously; the repeated whistles and smirks and tags: Honey. Baby. Love. Cutie.

The mounds of disrespect; of disregard; of disgust. “What kept me going through all the years?” she asks — then pauses for a moment’s reflection. “More than anything, the love of and respect for competition. That’s what it comes down to for me. That’s why I do this.”

In the transient world of televised sports, personalities come and go like failed breakfast cereals. Where in the world is Irv Cross? Joe Montana? Steve Zabriskie? Eric Dickerson? Jerry Azar? Kit Hoover? Meghan McDermott? Emmitt Smith? So much of the medium is based on looks and gimmicks; on catch phrases and ratings, that stability is little more than a meaningless nine-letter word. Today’s hot sideline reporter is tomorrow’s old news. It is what it is — a surface industry. A temporary stroll in the sun.

And then, there is Lesley Visser. The 55-year old. The survivor. She is the one who ignored the words on a credential and overcame Yeoman’s Archie Bunker rant. She’s the one who grudgingly donned the ugly blazers and dealt the taunts and slurs. Nine years ago, when ABC fired Visser as its Monday Night Football sideline reporter, replacing her with the younger, blonder, perkier, sexier Melissa Stark, most thought her career was over. It was a new age in sports television, one where — when it came to women — knowledge and experience ranked a distant second to looks.

Today, Visser is a reporter for CBS Sports, writes a regular column for CBSSports.com and hosts a morning show on WFTL in South Florida. Today, Stark is, eh, uh, somewhere.

“That I’ve lasted,” says Visser, “is one of my greatest accomplishments. Maybe my greatest.” Earlier this week, the American Sportscasters Association named Visser its No. 1 Female Sportscaster, outdistancing a field of 36 finalists that included such standouts as Andrea Kramer, Robin Roberts, Michele Tafoya and Hannah Storm. That the announcement received all the media attention of a John Oates CD release was both unfortunate and, in more than one sense, tragic.

Instead of focusing on Visser’s achievement, the national media zeroed in on the sad, unsavory saga of Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who was videotaped naked in her hotel room. Whatever one thinks of Andrews as a professional, each moment devoted to her pitiful plight (and each Google search) takes away from the strides that women like Visser and Gayle Gardner and Christine Brennan made.

Back in the day, the righteous fight was for respectability. Women weren’t objects. Or playthings. Or idiots. Every time a female reporter entered a clubhouse, or asked a thought-provoking question to a chauvinistic jock, or wrote a breathtaking lede, the slow-moving world of sports took another small step toward enlightenment. That was one of Visser’s aspirations then — not to be seen as some sort of trailblazer (which, without question, she is), but as a professional. As an equal. Now, however, thanks to this odd physical obsession over all things Erin Andrews, as well as to the ritualistic hiring of women reporters based first and foremost on looks, we are back in the dark ages. Paging Bill Yeoman. Mr. Bill Yeoman.

Once upon a time, female sports journalists weren’t celebrities to be lusted after. They were simply people who wanted to tell the stories, then step to the side and listen. The goal wasn’t to be seen, or to walk on the ESPY red carpet in a revealing outfit. There were no blogs, no look-at-me antics or low-cut dresses.

Lesley Visser’s goal was to cover sports and go unnoticed. She did it better than anyone.

Nowadays, that seems impossible.

Miami Dolphins Lift Spirits

Miami Herald – November 11, 2008 – Greg Cote -Have you found yourself awakening Mondays with a bit less dread for the work week? Have you rediscovered the lost bounce in your step or noticed that people seem to be smiling more easily lately?It isn’t just Democrats; it’s Dolphins fans. It isn’t just Dolfans; it’s local sports fans in general. And because that includes so many of us across a complete cross-section, it is South Florida at large feeling its mood and self-esteem lifted.

Sports can do that. Success is a powerful drug.

So many of us suffer and dream vicariously through the teams we love that the line between franchises and fans can get blurred.

The Dolphins are winning? It feels like we are, too.

”It’s absolutely human nature, a very real phenomena,” Palm Beach-based sports psychologist John F. Murray told us Monday.

‘There’s a certain pride of ownership that a fan feels over his or her favorite team. When things are going well, in social psychology it’s called `basking in reflected glory.’ When our team does well, we feel empowered that maybe things could go better in our lives, too. It’s like having ownership in a company when the stock is going up and up and up.”

HIGHS AND LOWS

The feeling is magnified in Dolphins fans because of the extremes that have been experienced.

This is the franchise of back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, of the 1972 Perfect Season, of Don Shula and Dan Marino. But then it became the franchise of six consecutive years out of the playoffs and last year’s depressing, embarrassing nadir.

Nobody knows what 1-15 feels like more keenly than someone who has celebrated 17-0. Unprecedented high became humiliating low.

Community self-esteem reflected in a championship parade — such as we last experienced with the Heat in the summer of 2006 — sees its opposite in the collective gloom we feel if our teams are doing poorly — or, worse, being embarrassingly bad.

Now it’s as if our deep, dark cloud is dissipating by degrees and beams of sunlight are poking through, spreading warmth. Optimism: What an elixir!

Our flagship Dolphins have their first winning record in three years and a real chance to end that six-year playoff drought — an immediate and potentially historic turnaround from last season’s embarrassment.

But it isn’t just one team, albeit our biggest.

The Heat, with Dwyane Wade back healthy and the excitement of rookie Michael Beasley, shows early signs of similarly being a playoff team after a franchise-worst 15-67 mark last season.

The Marlins far exceeded expectations and were playoff challengers until late into the season, and they have a new ballpark and bigger payrolls on the way.

The young, ascending Miami Hurricanes have won four football games in a row to become bowl eligible, and in men’s basketball UM is ranked 16th nationally, best ever, in the preseason polls.

STILL SOME PITFALLS

Don’t forget FIU football, with its new stadium and enough improvement to not yet be out of the picture for a small bowl game.

In hockey, the Panthers haven’t quite kept pace yet, but otherwise all of our biggest sports teams, pro and college, are enjoying a decided rebound from a collective recent downturn.

(The overall feel-good vibe might even include recent indications that Major League Soccer is poised to expand back into town).

Of course, the Dolphins are King Sport down here, with the biggest following and the most emotional grip, so it is this club’s seismic, sudden resurgence that buoys our collective mood most of all.

I asked Dolphins coach Tony Sparano on Monday how winning and losing affects his mood away from the job. He joked that the question would be better for his wife but admitted his mood is affected to a degree that, “I’m probably not as good a guy after we lose.”

Sparano’s livelihood depends on winning and losing. Ours doesn’t — and yet, in some ways, our quality of life does.

”Our purpose-driven nature is engaged,” Murray said. “When our teams win, it makes us feel like Miami’s on the map again. It’s a feeling of collective pride, like if your governor becomes the president. We all want to bask in success.”

In Alabama this week, a Crimson Tide fan, Michael Williams, is charged with killing two LSU fans ensuing from an argument related to those teams’ Saturday game. That obviously is the most extreme example possible of how seriously we take our sports, but anybody who has painted his face, cried with joy over a win or been cursing mad over a loss knows the power games can have over everyday lives.

A 2006 study in the journal of the Association of Psychological Science found that many fans feel similarly about their favorite teams as they do about their nationality or ethnicity — and that fans “can become so passionate about their team that it becomes a part of their identity and affects their well-being.”

It is why, all across South Florida, people are rediscovering that aqua goes with just about everything. T-shirts and jerseys kept hidden in drawers the past couple of years, perhaps subconsciously, are being pulled out again — and not so much worn as flown like flags.

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

HOLIDAY PUT ON HOLD

{Note: Congrats to Matt Hasselbeck and Seattle! Click to Go to Super Bowl Ratings … you might be surprised to read what the MPI shows this year}

The Oregonian – Nov 24, 2005 – Geoffrey C. Arnold – The NFL’s demands alter how a family with two quarterbacks celebrates Thursday, November 24, 2005

Matt Hasselbeck will see his brother, Tim, this weekend, but they will not be eating turkey or sipping eggnog to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

The exchange of greetings Sunday instead will occur across Qwest Field as the Seattle Seahawks play host to the New York Giants.

Matt is the starting quarterback for the Seahawks; Tim is a backup quarterback for the Giants.

Like many families with professional and college athletes, the on-field meeting will be about as close as the Hasselbeck clan will get to enjoying time together during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“A lot of families get together for Thanksgiving. Ours is a little different,” Matt Hasselbeck said. “We are not really going to get to hang out. It will be good to see him. I haven’t seen him in a long time so it will be fun and a little weird at the same time.”

It’s the combination of divergent schedules, travel and team obligations that prevents many athletes from gathering with their families during the holidays. However, like the Hasselbeck family (father Don Hasselbeck played nine seasons in the NFL), they know it comes with the territory.

It’s part of the reality of high-level sports, says Dr. John Murray, a sports psychologist who has worked with professional football athletes.

“Obviously, there are sacrifices. At the same time, there are enormous benefits to being in that line of work,” said Murray, who added that it’s important that family members and spouses understand the situation.

“It’s extremely difficult and you have to choose a partner that understands that and can deal with that.” Murray said.

Of course, watching a family member on television can help ease the pain of not having someone around on Thanksgiving.

“You have someone who is going to play on national television. In many ways, the family accommodates to that,” Murray said. “They realize what they’re dealing with and they realize it’s a short career.”

That’s what the members of the Harrington family of Portland can do today as the Detroit Lions play the Atlanta Falcons in one of the NFL’s two traditional Thanksgiving Day games. Joey Harrington, who grew up in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, plays quarterback for the Lions.

But he won’t be the only Harrington missing from the dinner table for sports-related reasons.

Another son, Michael, a quarterback at the University of Idaho, had to remain on the Moscow campus for practice during the week. He hopes to at least join his family, in spirit, by watching the Lions-Falcons game.

“Hopefully, we won’t practice when he’s playing,” Michael Harrington said.

The other NFL game today is Denver at Dallas, and the NBA has two games today: Cleveland at Indiana and Seattle at the Los Angeles Lakers. The NHL has three games today: the New York Rangers at Atlanta, Los Angeles at Nashville and San Jose at Vancouver.

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

DIVA RECEIVERS FLOURISH IN NFL

Palm Beach Post – Sep 21, 2005 – Hal Habib – Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman entered the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor on Monday night, rekindling memories of glory days for the big, blue star.

Honor and glory aren’t what you would associate with what happened five years ago, when Smith rang up Irvin, his former teammate, seeking moral support, if not to give Irvin an earful about his receiving brethren.

One day earlier, then-San Francisco receiver Terrell Owens had Smith and all of Texas Stadium aghast by dancing all over the Cowboys’ star at midfield. Certainly, we have better perspective now. We expect more ingenuity Sunday when Owens and the Eagles face Randy Moss and the Raiders in Philadelphia. But in 2000, trampling all over a star qualified as hot stuff for wide receivers.

“What about… ?” was as far as Smith got before Irvin cut him off at the pass.

“If you had a problem with what he did, why didn’t you win the game, and it would have fixed all that?” Irvin barked. “Then it would have made him look like a fool. So don’t come calling me because he stepped on your star. You should have stepped on his head after he stepped on your star. It was early in the game. You guys went on and let them beat you anyway.

“Shut up. Goodbye. Get off the phone, man.”

Today, Irvin, the former University of Miami star and current ESPN analyst, slips into a droopy, wistful tone â€â€? if you can imagine thatâ€? as he recounts Smith’s reaction:

“Yeah…. I guess you’re right.”

Didn’t Smith know whom he was calling?

“I am the original,” Irvin says. “Those are my disciples.”

The original what?

“The original diva.”

For sheer entertainment value, you have to give props to today’s wide receivers. They’ll also be happy to supply their own. Sharpies, cellphones and Pepto-Bismol have become essential accessories for the men whose ability to grab footballs is matched only by their ability to grab headlines.

With Diva Bowl I around the corner, Irvin, the former first down-signaling, fur coat-wearing “Playmaker,” figures he deserves credit and blame for what receivers have become.

“I get phone calls from receivers in the league now, the guys who we would call divas: ‘Hey, man, we’re just trying to continue this thing you started,’ ” Irvin says. “I’m saying, ‘Ooooh, don’t take it too far.’ ”

Now what would make Irvin think these wide guys would do that?

The player who once asked teammates to cut him slack in practice because he just had his nipple pierced? That would be David Boston, now of the Dolphins but then with Arizona. A receiver.

The player who quit football the night before a game, immediately was cut, but still figured he could show up for work the following Monday? Eddie Kennison. Denver. Receiver.

The player who dropped a touchdown pass, then reportedly pouted when his quarterback threw a TD pass on the next play to someone else? Moss.

At the height of Owens’ contract squabble with the Eagles this off-season, Moss, of all people, was asked if T.O. (Owens) needed a T.O. (timeout).

“Who am I to tell him anything?” Moss said. “I’m Mr. Distraction myself.”

Sheesh. A distraction, and a diva.

“Man, that’s a damn women’s term,” says former Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton.” I don’t know who came up with bull like that.”

Clayton has a point. Webster’s defines a diva as, a leading woman singer, esp. in grand opera.” How about “flamboyant”?

“They’re all competitors,” Clayton says. “Them complaining about not getting enough balls or wanting to catch ballsâ€? that makes them divas?”

Them writing books about iâ€? Keyshawn Johnson’s Just Give Me the Damn Ball!â€? that doesn’t make them divas?

“I don’t know anything about the diva thing,” Dolphins receiver Marty Booker says. “To play receiver in this league, sometimes you have to be demanding and selfish.”

Across the room, Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers is asked about all those times he wanted to pull a Sharpie out of his sock to autograph a touchdown ball, like Owens.

“Never,” Chambers says. “Never, never, never, never. I wouldn’t even think to do anything like that. I wouldn’t even want that much attention. It’s unnecessary and sometimes it can backfire on you. I just feel like being a professional.”

Chris Chambers: good receiver, lousy diva. Right?

“You know what’s so crazy about it?” Chambers says. “In high school, I played basketball and I was a trash-talker. Basketball is such a one-on-one sport and if I know I’ve got the ability to beat the guy, I can talk trash.”

Chambers says he doesn’t lack confidence in football, just opportunities like Owens and the Bengals’ Chad Johnson, who see enough passes to stack up 1,000-yard seasons.

“I think once I’m at that level, I don’t know how I’ll be acting,” Chambers says.

Johnson also is the guy who sent cornerbacks Pepto-Bismol to cure the nausea he planned to inflict on them.

“My mom loves Chad Johnson,” Chambers says.

Chris Chambers: diva-in-training?

“I haven’t heard that term, but it’s definitely the position to be,” Chambers says of receiving, not diva-ing. “You go back to when you’re growing up, man. Everybody wanted to be a receiver. Everybody wanted to score touchdowns.”

John Murray, a Palm Beach sports psychologist, says Chambers has latched onto something.

“He’s the big playmaker,” Murray says of a star receiver. “He’s the guy who has to make it happen, and he’s got to get the attention of the quarterback. He’s got to be fearless because people are trying to take his head off going over the middle. They have to be agile yet durable and certainly expressive in a very showmanlike way.”

Irvin, whose 12-year career was shortened by a neck injury, knows about risks and rewards. If a lineman misses a block, Irvin says, it could go unnoticed.

“If you drop that ball out there, everybody knows: ‘Man, Michael blew the game,’ ” Irvin says. “Jackie Smith. Tight end. Dropped the ball. That’s the only thing I know of him, because he had it right here in his hands. Now, you make the play… The Catch. Everybody remembers it.”

It’s what separates Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith, who dropped a touchdown pass in a loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIII but otherwise had a Hall of Fame career, and 49ers receiver Dwight Clark, whose last-minute TD beat Dallas in the 1982 NFC championship game.

Clayton caught 79 touchdown passes from Dan Marino, yet says he never felt more pressure than when Marino threw one encore ball to him to end his Hall of Fame induction speech last month. Still, Clayton celebrated that catch with a few simple high-fives.

“These cats now, these are a different breed of receiver than we were,” Clayton says. “They’re way more flamboyant … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”

Jets coach Herm Edwards, a former defensive back, wonders if perception has changed more than receivers.

“You go back to the days I played in the late ’70s and early ’80s, you had guys like that, but the TV coverage wasn’t so immense,” Edwards says.

Perception plays a role. Joe Horn’s image was as the showboat who pulled a hidden cellphone from a goalpost, but that might be changing as he poignantly speaks of the Saints trying to give fans “some kind of hope” after Hurricane Katrina.

Even Owens has a flip side. He’s auctioning his NFC championship ring from last season on eBay to raise money for Katrina victims.

Isn’t this what divas do, keep you guessing? Maybe it just takes a diva to know a diva.

“Everybody’s got a little bit of diva deep down inside,” diva Kristen Bentley says. “We all want to be that star.”

Bentley is president of Chrome Divas Inc., a 1,000-member group of motorcycle-riding women (although by day she’s a 32-year-old court reporter in Tallahassee).

Bentley says Owens chalks up diva points for the Sharpie, but what clinches his position as leader of the pack is the “Chocolate Room,” his chocolate-colored VIP lounge that requires an electronic pass code for entry.

The Chocolate Room is in his house in Atlanta. Owens is single.

“I wonder what kind of chocolate he has in there,” Bentley says. “If he has Godiva chocolate, now, he’s a diva.”

If it’s Russell Stover?

“You don’t need an entry code for that,” Bentley says.

Former All-Pro receiver Cris Collinsworth welcomes women into this equation. Collinsworth cringes at the soap opera between Owens and his quarterback, Donovan McNabb.

“Probably more than anything else, he needs a wife, honestly,” Collinsworth said last week on HBO’s Costas Now. “If he had a wife, the minute he takes after Donovan McNabb, his wife would have said, ‘What are you doing? Pick up the telephone and call him and apologize. You’re so out of line.’ ”

To which fellow panelist Tim Russert said, “Of course, if he had a wife he would say, ‘Honey, you’re lucky to have me.’ ”

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

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.