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Playing to Win, Playing Not to Lose

Everyone saw the rewards of the onside kickoff by the Saints at the beginning of Q3 of the Super Bowl.

It is rare for the situation to be so obvious and so big in such a huge game with stakes as high as those, but nonetheless it was there for all of us to see.  The difference between playing to win and playing not to lose could not have been more stark.  Sean Payton lacked tempo, something we do not talk about enough on this site (perhaps sometime soon in the doldrums of our football winter), so he took a calculated risk.  Call it a gamble, call it whatever you want.

I call it playing to win.

The opposite of playing not to lose.

How good is your memory of Super Bowl XXI?  Remember how dominating that ’86 team was?  Some of you may or may not remember that XXI has a lot more in common with XLIV than you think.  Sean Payton was behind going into Q3 and used a trick play to grab the lead.  Bill Parcells did almost precisely the same exact thing.  Down 10-9 in Q3, the Giants drive to begin Q3 was 3 and out.  On 4th down, Rutledge performed a fake punt and got the 1st down.  4 plays later the Giants scored a TD to go ahead 16-10 and the rest is history.  That is called playing to win. 

As the stakes get higher, be it the playoffs in team sports or the Olympics, you are going to find the competition is too high and too strong to allow you to simply execute and for that to be enough.  For those of you who have been watching, the Olympics have been littered with examples of those athletes and teams that are playing to win who win, and those who go the more conservative route and come up short. 

The quote by Bode Miller this weekend on the run that won him gold:

“I had to just get fully fired up to take maximum risk.”

Bode Miller is not necessarily the best example of Olympic achievement, but in a few short days he turned it around quickly.  HE TOOK HIS SHOT.

No risk, no reward.  You can only lose ONCE.  So we can look back and scold the riverboat gambler head coaches in football who take risks that do not work out, but you show me one who does and at least I know he’s aggressive.  He’s looking to grab what is (or isn’t necessarily) his and get the win.