Column: Winning Football Is Mind Over Matter

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Believe It or Not, Winning Football Is Mind Over Matter

Frank J. Bunker -

Great NFL players and successful teams are in on a big secret: It’s called "Belief." This stands to reason: Those who believe in themselves enjoy a greater chance of winning. Those who don’t have much self-confidence tend later to moan in Marlon Brando tones: "I coulda been a contenda."

Religious leaders throughout history also have understood this "confidence" about belief. Buddha said: You become what you think. Jesus said: Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. Muhammad said: Reason was at the root of his Faith. No matter how it’s interpreted and revealed, the wise say when belief becomes something real and tangible, no matter how microscopic, people can do just about anything.

Today, some may describe and dismiss belief as simply a case of "mind over matter." On closer examination, belief is much more complex, wrote Claude M. Bristol, author of "The Magic of Believing."

Bristol says a person who believes a certain reality can come to pass must first confidently focus his or her mind on the desired outcome. More than just holding the right perspective and attitude, this self-confident assurance defines the goal and somehow sets the course of events in motion to make the reality possible. Also remember, once the intended result is clear, Bristol says let go of the thought; it frees the mind and body to work out how best to accomplish the desired goal.

The most important rule to remember: Bristol said the "magic of believing" works only when applied toward noble and worthy goals that bring good to oneself, others, and the world. So, gamblers and criminals are, as usual, out of luck.

Bristol must have been on to something. Evidence of his theory’s validity is the long shelf-life of his book, first published in 1948 and still in print. Proof is in the number of successful people who believe in themselves. Judging from their performance so far, these ranks of believers need to include the 2001 Detroit Lions.

Can You Believe This?

Not many people seem to believe much in the Lions’ chances in their home opener against the St. Louis Rams. Zooming into town with a warp-speed offense billed as "The Greatest Show on Earth," the Rams — on the road! — are almost two touchdown favorites against the potentially mighty Lions.

The 3-0 Rams are the definition of modern pro football: Fast and Furious. The 0-2 Lions, on the other hand, are charitably described as underachievers. Some scalawag at ESPN holds the Detroit Lions are the slowest team in the NFL. That's a new one. Anything else?

Well, anyone who’s followed the Lions for more than two losses knows when it comes to the team, things can always be worse. Making matters worse may be the team’s reported attitude. For this report, let’s call it the Lions’ system of belief.

Who hasn’t heard the lament from the locker room and the stands? "No one respects us."

Oh, come on! It’s a simple formula: You win, you get respect. You lose, you get dumped on. Judging from what occurred in Green Bay and in Cleveland, there’s no getting around that reality, no matter what you believe.

No Doubt About It

So few outside the ‘dome give the Lions much of a chance. That’s OK. When it comes to belief, the ones that matter most are the Lions themselves. The reason: It doesn’t matter who respects you or not — when you believe in yourself.

It’s really quite interesting, in a melancholy Lions way. The mind fills with bromides like: There’s so much parity in the NFL that there’s only a hair’s breadth of difference in the talent between teams; Any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday; Willpower spells the difference between winning and losing. And you know what? They’re all true. The hard part is in getting the Lions to believe them so.

Thus, to perform their jobs, Lions GM Matt Millen and Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg must become Master Manipulators. And when it comes to going up against the talented Rams, they are going to need more than a plan. They must put into practice what’s I’ve attempted to described about belief.

Mornhinweg needs the opposition to see a serious, focused Lions team. Their plan must negate the Rams’ speed. Perhaps the Lions coach will ask his players to use their until-now secret weapon: their toughness and smarts.

The idea is that in so doing, Mornhinweg’s plan and the team’s execution of it will get the Rams worried. Once they’re scared, the Rams will start doubting their own abilities. And that’s exactly where we want them.

Needed: True Believers

How best to counter the Fast and Furious Rams on Monday night at the Pontiac Silverdome? The answer is through toughness and smart play — a Lions team effective in all phases of the game.

It’s up to Mornhinweg and his staff to get the team to believe they can play at the highest level. The team needs to believe in the concepts of "toughness," "smarts," "strength," "quickness," and "character." If they do take these words to heart, then the Lions will shock the NFL. A ’dome full of raucous fans will help get the message across.

Imagine and then watch what happens to the speedy running back after Sean Rogers and Stephen Boyd get done popping him a few times. See the lightning fast receivers lose a step after Ron Rice and Barrett Green tattoo them a time or two. And when Robert Porcher and Chris Claiborne have their way, Warner will be looking forward to retirement day.

On the other side of the ball, Lions Fans should observe James Stewart and the revamped Offensive Line move the opposing line off the ball and start carrying more than their fair share of the team’s load. Besides Johnnie Morton, the other receivers should also make like true believers and start shouldering their own responsibilities.

When it comes to believing they can carry the burden of belief, the most important player on the field in need of its possession is the quarterback. Mornhinweg wants his team’s passers to possess and produce the right pocket presence. Expect to see quick, correct reads and instantly and accurately launched balls — the vast majority heading to the intended receiver. That, too, takes belief to make into a reality.

Will Mornhinweg get the team to see the magic of belief? I, for one, think they can. Let’s see what the Lions believe.

If the Lions don’t believe they can win, they are already beaten. But, if they believe that they are tough enough and they play smart enough they can beat the Rams.

And if the Lions can beat them, they can beat anybody. Believe it or not.

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