Measuring The Immeasurable: What Is "It"?

Steve Sabol, the Head Honcho at NFL Films, last year wrote a Monday Morning Quarterback column for the vacationing Peter King and dropped this little nugget in his article:

I think emotion is an overused word and overrated factor in the NFL. Everyone in football is charged up, but emotion is a commodity with a notoriously short shelf-life. You can't replace preparation and execution with emotion and hope to make it. There was a lot of passion at the Alamo, and they all died.

Steve Sabol is not some hack, he knows what he's talking about. Yet isn't it strange that the exact same guy who's been in charge of emotionalizing the NFL product through the idolization, hero-worshiping and unbridled adulation via NFL Films thinks emotion is overrated in the NFL?

NFL games are won and lost based on strategy, execution and timely adjustments to either. Each play is precisely scripted on both offense and defense. From a strategical and tactical point of view, there is always a reason why a particular play was successful (or not), just as there are always clear strategical and tactical reasons why a given team won and another lost.

After a win, when we're all huddled around the water cooler, it's always easy to say the winning team won because they wanted "it" more, or because they were out to get some payback,  or because the players "jelled" during the recent players-only practices. And what we're often basing those comments on is the public chest-pounding, rah-rah speeches, muscle-flexing, and trash-talking that is so prevalent in the game and in the media today.

But what is "it?"

Danny White, former Cowboys Pro Bowl quarterback quotes coach Landry: "Coach (Tom) Landry used to say there were guys who had 'it'. If you asked him what 'it' means, he'd say 'I don't know. Just "it."’

I believe "it" is that focused, inner-intensity called will or confidence. You don’t wear it on your shirt sleeve for your opponents to see. They see it in your eyes and they know immediately that it's going to be a loooong day.

Problem is, fans and media alike can't see that. So we cue in on what we see, or don't see. If we don't see a quarterback getting hysterical on the sidelines, we talk about lack of leadership. If we see a player celebrating something we do not deem worthy of a celebration, we accuse him of lack of poise, composure and sometimes even character. If we see a guy smile on the field, we take it as lack of commitment. After all, it was Tom Landry who said, "Gentlemen, nothing funny ever happens on the football field."

Contrary to popular belief, what you see is not what you get, at least not on he football field.

The 90's Cowboys had 'it' for sure. That confidence bred out of endless repetition in practice and the mental fortitude necessary to win games. A while back, BTBs Carl Shelton used the word "Swagger" to explain what he thought the 90's Cowboys' were all about:

I liked it when the Cowboys were the "Bad Boys" of the NFL. That unit operated with a level of confidence that bordered on the edge of arrogance. The players on those 90's Cowboys teams didn't care how good you were, or what historic stadium you played in. They were going to walk right into your house, track mud through your living room, raid your fridge, drink your last beer, leave with your girlfriend and dare you to say something about it.

They were fearless, and at times overconfident which came back to bite them a time or two. Still, those teams were too mentally strong to let the effects of a loss linger. Those teams were resilient, and there was no more frightening place to be on earth than on the opposite sideline from a Cowboys team coming off of a loss.

Jason Garrett certainly knows all about the 90's Cowboys, and two years in a Hard Knocks episode he articulated what he wanted from the team:

"Play with a swagger. What's a swagger mean? Romo's got swagger. Witten's got swagger. Owens has got swagger. Play with a swagger. That's what we're looking for. You know what it is? Confidence."

"You don't have that, find the door."

Will the 2011 Cowboys have 'it?' Do Garrett's Right Kind of Guys have 'it'?

Who knows. Garrett will clearly try to bring 'it' back to Dallas, Rob Ryan is bringing along an XXXL-sized swagger and most of the other new coaches appear to be made of some pretty strong stuff, and they will coach their players. Hard. A little more swagger, a little more 'it' would certainly do the team a world of good. But at the end of the day, it'll still come down to strategy and execution.

If that swagger or mental fortitude helps the Cowboys go and play their first snap harder than their opponents, then that's good. If they can keep it up for the next play, even better, and the next play, and the next ...

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