“I kind of want them to lose so they get better draft picks,” one of my friends — who is an absolute, certified, season-ticket holding NY Giants fanatic — said.
“Really?” I asked. “I don’t. I want to see them play well and to win.”
“But they are not going to the playoffs no matter what happens, so I hope they play well, but I’m just fine if they lose.”
What I think my friend was imagining is losing in a vacuum — losing which affects only the stats in a win/loss column, but has no ancillary detrimental effects. In fact, it has lots. For one, losing makes teammates question their leadership, and continued losing renders the leader’s words irrelevant. This is what is referred to as a coach having, “Lost the team.” And, with a great coach like Tom Coughlin, the last thing savvy Giants fans should want is a situation in which owners question his fitness to continue leading the team.
Coughlin is old school, and he is special. The two don’t always go together, but they do in this case. In fact, he is responsible for one of the greatest sports scenes I’ve witnessed in my life. Here are a few:
- Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run with the Dodgers
- Michael Jordan’s performance while he had the flu
- The NY Giants losing to the New England Patriots in 2007
Yes, the third reference talks about a team’s losing effort, and that in a year when they won the Super Bowl in amazing fashion against those same Patriots. Ironically, I believe it was the hard-fought loss in the final game of the season — a game in which the Giants had nothing to gain except injured players — that allowed them to beat those same Patriots a few games later for the championship.
In short, the Giants headed into that final regular season game of 2007 with their playoff slot secure and immovable — the outcome of the game mattered not a bit to anything that would come after it. The Patriots, however, were playing for the coveted “perfect season” — they were unbeaten and desperately wanted to finish the season as only one team in history had. Many expected the Giants to rest their key players and for an NFL fan base, as a result, to sadly watch the Pats roll over a prostrate Giants team towards their place in history. But it would not happen that way on Tom Coughlin’s watch — no way.
Instead, he had his team ready to fight their hearts out and leave it all on the field. They lost the game, but he (and his players) won so much more in terms of respect. They also earned the confidence to know “Hey, we can beat these guys,” which paid off in the Super Bowl. It was an amazing performance.
The next day, in what has become a famous moment in football history, Coughlin got a call from legendary NFL coach and announcer John Madden:
John Madden Voicemail Transcript
“Just called to congratulate you and your team for a great effort last night. Not good, but great. I think it’s one of the best things to happen in the NFL in the last ten years, and I don’t know if they all know it, but they should be very grateful to you and your team for what you did. I believe so firmly in this: that there is only one way to play the game, and it is a regular season game and you go out and win the darn game. I was just so proud being a part of the NFL and of what your guys did and the way you did it. You proved that it’s a game and there’s only one way to play the game and you did it. The NFL needed it. We’ve gotten too much of, “Well, they’re going to rest their players and don’t need to win, therefore they won’t win.” Well, that’s not sports and that’s not competition. I’m a little emotional about it. I’m just so proud. It’s something we all need to thank you for, and I believe the NFL needed that.”
I reflected on that incident recently when, with nothing on the line and the playoffs out of sight, Coughlin again had his team ready to play. In fact, they played well in the last two games of the season, winning both as some players really shined (Justin Tuck, etc.). Though they had lost a lot of games, the way the season ended made it feel like a success, because the team showed they still knew how to win, they still showed the pride of performance that is so hard to turn on once it has been turned off.
There is one way to operate: the right way, the best way, the hardest way, all the time. For winning solves so many more problems that it creates, even if one of those is picking later in the first round.