Team Chemistry

:: Team Chemistry is a past article written by Pat Archibald that appeared in our print edition.

The term chemistry has been often used to explain the success or failure of many sport teams. Some dismiss it and suggest that winning takes care of chemistry. That it is an overblown term that doesn’t really apply to today’s million dollar athletes. Others suggest that it is a living dynamic that can affect a team’s performance in a multitude of ways. I fall into the latter group.

I start off believing that the talent level amongst NFL teams is not as disparate as many think. For the most part, the athletes are world class in their sport and, given the right situation, most can excel. In the simplest of terms chemistry is just that. Athletes performing well due to a series of conditions that allow them to succeed. Chemistry seems relatively easy to spot in hindsight. The Patriots had it in their run last year, Pittsburgh Steelers have used it to propel them to several surprise seasons, the Baseball Yankees ooze it as do the Detroit Red Wings in hockey. Players on these teams seem to care for each other. But can it be spotted as it is taking place, rather than after the fact as we digest the season?

For me, this trait is first exhibited by a squad’s team leaders. In a sport like football, that demands “we rather than me”, strong leadership is crucial. If coaches do not send the right signals, fractures can occur. Bill Belichick’s handling of Terry Glenn last year was pivotal. A star player with a demonstrable “me first” attitude was dismissed. A risky bold move, but one that signaled a team first attitude. Using this as an example, I can look at this young season for similar bold team building efforts. How will San Francisco’s Mariucci handle Terrell Owens? It was suggested that they patched things up in the off season, but I don’t buy it yet. I could be wrong, but I thought he was pouting in the Giant tilt and took himself out of the game mentally. If that is true then he will drag this team below expectations. Denver is another interesting situation. Brian Griese is on a short leash from Mike Shanahan. A couple of series away from being pulled and replaced by Beuerlein. Now this is a bold move designed to let the team know that he demands solid play from all of them. This could make or break Griese and the Broncos but Shanahan will not be doing it with kid gloves. And you can bet it is calculated. This could well backfire on him, but team building is a risky venture.

Certain situations make team chemistry an elusive target. The weight of crushing expectations can wear a group down. The Rams may fight this all year. They believe their season is a failure if the Super Bowl is not theirs. And Warner seems to have a differing personal philosophy from his head coach. One is humble and devout; the other is arrogant and secular. There are veiled reports of riffs between the two. I smell trouble. On the other hand, years of failure can make it almost impossible to gather positive chemistry. Cincinnati should improve but can’t get over several hurdles. They can’t find a QB, have difficulty signing draft picks etc., etc. This is a team I keep waiting to turn the long corner. But losing and leadership doubts make it tough. Just ask Arizona.

As silly as it may seem, I watch for chemistry signs during televised games. I saw Bettis hanging a lip when he was kept out during a portion of the Monday nighter. I love the way Herm Edwards handles the Jets and that Vinny is completely in control, win or lose. I’m tiring of Gruden’s way of having the media focus on him. I see the panic in Dave Campo’s eyes as he faces the guillotine that is awaiting him in Dallas. The joy that the Redskins are showing is a palpable sign that this squad is building the right stuff. And while it may seem seems trite, Oakland’s giving the first game ball to their new, and oft-criticized, coach was a trust building deal. Certainly these are not necessarily accurate signs this early in the season. But by Week 6 the chemistry issues will become clearer. Let’s talk more about this then.

See you next week.