Oct 20, 2007 – Exhibit A: the Colorado Rockies, winners of a historic 21 of 22 games.
Exhibit B: the Denver Broncos, losers of three straight.
“It’s kind of a fuzzy subject because, when you have it, you have it, and when you don’t, you don’t,” Broncos safety John Lynch said as the team prepared for Sunday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. “But the only way to get it is by doing the little things – and having a belief. That’s the thing when watching the Rockies. Everybody was saying, ‘Same old Rockies’ and all that, but in the locker room, they believed they were going to be a good baseball team. And now you see it.
“They go against Cy Young winners, it doesn’t matter who, they’re going to find a way to win. That’s what momentum is to me.”
And, on the other hand, when the vibe begins heading the other way, it’s among the hardest feelings to shake.
That’s the chore the Broncos (2-3) have Sunday, or face the prospect of their season potentially unraveling completely.
In the past three weeks, the Broncos:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Endured their most lopsided home loss in 41 years.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Got wind their top running back could be on the verge of a yearlong suspension.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Suffered a season-ending injury to the rock of their offensive line.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Also might have lost their top receiver for the season.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Heard one of their signature free-agent signees say publicly he regrets joining the team.
“We thought we were a pretty good team, and with a 41-3 loss, that gives you doubts,” quarterback Jay Cutler said, referring to the Broncos’ previous game before the bye week – a rout by San Diego. “But when you go back to the film, I think we did a lot of good things offensively and defensively. The break came at a good time. Now we have Pittsburgh. The team is focused and knows what this game means to us.”
Sometimes, it takes just one big takeaway or long touchdown to reverse course.
That was the case in the second game of 2005. The Broncos had been manhandled in Miami in the opener and were booed by their home crowd, trailing San Diego 14-3 at halftime in Week 2.
On the first play of the third quarter, cornerback Champ Bailey intercepted a pass for a touchdown, sparking a victory. The Broncos went on to win nine of 10 on their way to the AFC Championship Game.
John F. Murray, a Florida- based sports-performance and clinical psychologist, maintained the key to creating momentum is erasing the potential outcome – winning or losing – from the equation. In his view, big-picture thinking “seriously sabotages our ability to perform optimally in a moment.”
“The idea is, if we can pay attention to the moment, you’re not thinking about losing five games in a row,” Murray said. “It’s idealistic, but it’s also what you have to shoot for – paying attention to your particular assignment, or that inning or making that putt.”
The tendency, when things are going awry, is to try harder or overthink instead of having fun while taking care of business.
Negativity breeds overreaction and leads to going outside one’s own responsibilities to try to change overall fortunes.
“And the whole thing gets messed up,” Murray said. “You pull at strings, and the whole unity of the team gets disturbed. I believe that happens in streaks oftentimes.”
Broncos tight end Daniel Graham recalled when he was winning two championships with the New England Patriots as having experienced the feeling that no matter what happened, nothing could go wrong.
He sees the same qualities exhibited by the Rockies in their blistering run to the World Series.
Two years ago, the Steelers were on the brink of missing the playoffs after 12 games, but they went on a four-game streak to end the season and became the first sixth seed to win three straight road games and become Super Bowl champions.
“I think momentum can be overrated,” said Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith, a member of the Steelers’ 2005 team. “But I do think you can start believing you’re better than you are, and sometimes people can start playing better than you are. And if you’re having a bad year and something goes wrong in a game, you start getting that mind-set of ‘How soon are we going to self-destruct?’ or ‘How soon is something bad going to happen?’ ”
Lynch acknowledged there are times when things don’t go well when a lack of energy becomes apparent or failures to produce by individuals from whom peak performance is needed is elusive.
It’s those times – right now for the Broncos – when, as the sports psychologist surmised, focus on one’s own tasks becomes paramount.
“Momentum starts with production,” Bailey said. “You’ve got to play well, period.”
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.