As I write–early Tuesday morning after staying up to watch the Monday Night Football game between our beloved New Orleans Saints and their division rival the Carolina Panthers–I’m still thinking about the lessons of last night’s football game. As always in a close fought duel, and this was that, there are many lessons. But for me personally, there is one big lesson.
How badly you want this game has little to do with anything.
The air waves were filled yesterday with reports of Carolina players carrying grudges over how they felt the Saints players treated and mistreated them following last year’s battles. Since the teams are in the NFC South division–along with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers–they have to play each other twice each season. (This year, the Saints lost the opener to Tampa and won the second game from them last week. The Saints swept Atlanta both games. And last night was the first of two games with Carolina. They’ll play in New Orleans in two weeks, the final game of the year for both.)
Last year, a couple of Saints players sent little mementos, we’re told, to key Carolina players. One was a broom. No message, just a broom. But it communicated very well: “We swept you.” That is, our team won both games against you.
The Carolina players did not take that very well. They interpreted it correctly as the winners rubbing salt in their wounds.
Coaches urge their players not to do that, not to give opponents any reason to hate them any more, to motivate them highly to win next time.
But apparently it had worked. Cam Newton, quarterback of the Panthers, carried an image of a broken broom on his shoes. “Not this time,” it seemed to communicate.
One of the announcers for the game said, “I played in this division. These teams all hate each other.”
Not what we would call “biblical hate,” I would hasten to say. In fact, at the conclusion of a game you’ll often see them chatting with each other on the field. When a Saints guy was knocked down last night, more than once I saw a Panther player lend him a hand to get back up.
Okay. As the game was about to begin, I told some of this to my wife. She asked, “Does a grudge help them play better?” I said, “We’ll see.”
But I knew it doesn’t. Sometimes a deep animosity can interfere with a player’s concentration and force him to make mistakes some of which will get his team penalized.