When you play to win


From the Sidelines
By Mike Stegall


I am writing this on Monday, Nov. 8, after all the football games on Sunday. I know there is still the Monday Night game, the Chicago Bears versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, but after yesterday’s bizarre happenings, I wanted to comment on something that a famous player and coach once said. On Oct. 30, 2002, Herm Edwards, former defensive back and then coach of the New York Jets, gave one of the great speeches in a press conference ever!

The Jets were 2 and 5 at the time and Judy Battista of the New York Times asked the now famous question: “Do you have to talk to your team about not giving up on the season?” In the coach’s defense, that is kind of a dumb question to ask a coach if his team is giving up! No better way to get fired than have a team quit on you, right coaches? Anyway, Herm started out by saying that is the great thing about sports. Nothing matters but playing to win. He looked at Judy and said “HELLO! YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!” That became one of the great lines in all of sport. Look up the entire rant on YouTube, it is great! (P.S.- The Jets finished 9-7, won their division, and beat the Colts in the wild card round, and lost to the Oakland Raiders in the divisional frame.)

Why I bring that up is because yesterday in the NFL, the Los Angeles Rams, Las Vegas Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Buffalo Bills, all leading in their divisions, got smoked by inferior teams. As I watched those games (yes, all of them, I subscribe to RED ZONE!), it was obvious that those teams expected to win, and really didn’t give their best efforts. The underdogs came out and played their best games against them, and as the games wore on, they played harder. The favorites, in about the third quarter, decided to try and get going, but it was too late. The favored teams had let a lesser team hang around too long, and got beat, badly. The Bills score was 9-6 with the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars the winner, being the closest. In all honesty, this was the worst loss of the bunch. The Bills have what I think is the best young quarterback in the league in Josh Allen. He was awful yesterday, as was the whole team and it just looked like they just expected to roll over the Jaguars. The Jaguars “played the game to win.” So did the Browns against the Bengals, the Titans against the Rams, and the Giants against the Raiders. They played like their careers counted on it… and for some it did. The favorites, believing their own superiority, learned a hard lesson. Actually, the Bengals have learned this lesson two weeks in a row, losing last week to Herm Edwards’ old team, the Jets, who had only one win. Playing to win in any sport is what makes for entertainment for fans. Playing to win for athletes is just fundamental. That is why they keep score. If it wasn’t important, they wouldn’t keep score, everyone would get a trophy and an ice cream cone and go home!

I think yesterday was a real teaching moment for young athletes. If you commit yourself to a sport, any sport, you must play, and practice, to win. If you are just there for the exercise and to tell everybody you’re on a team, you are shorting yourself and your teammates! Being an athlete takes hard work, drive, devotion, and courage to even try out for and make a team, or to compete in individual sports like golf and tennis. You have to practice to win too! The best prepared, best organized teams play every play like it is their last. They “play to win the game” and it shows. So, all you young athletes out there, practice hard, devote yourself to being the best you can be, and always play to win the game. If you don’t you will fail miserably, and be embarrassed by someone of lesser talent but with more drive and determination than you have, and people will know you just “phoned it in.” I can’t think of many things worse than having people think you didn’t care enough to help your team, or yourself, to win. That’s the way I see it, from the sidelines.

Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27-year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner.

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