Joe Schmidt, a ten-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All Pro linebacker for the Lions from 1953-1965 recently said the Lions have to learn how to win again.
"I think they are starting to get the good players, but you have to experience [winning] one time in order to get that flavor and then you understand what you’re going after," Schmidt told the team’s website. "Until you experience that and get that in your blood and everybody understands what we have to do in order to get there . . . they’re just climbing up the hill, so to speak. They are almost to the top, but the last 50 yards or 100 yards is very difficult."
Schmidt's comments struck uncomfortably close to home, because Schmidt could just as easily have been talking about the Cowboys. The Cowboys have not had a winning season for three straight years. And if we discount the numerous 9-7 seasons (technically winning seasons, but one bad bounce here or there and those could have been 8-8 seasons or worse) and look only at 10+ win seasons, the Cowboys have only had three 10+ win seasons in the last 13 years.
Have the Cowboys forgotten how to win?
Marcus Allen Krause of our SB Nation Oakland Raiders Blog, Silver & Black Pride, penned a very interesting article about losing cultures in the NFL last year. He argues that the difference between winning and losing cultures is that winning cultures have a year or two here and there with a losing record, but for teams with a losing culture it's the opposite: They win a year or two here and there, only to regress back to losing. Does that sound familiar?
Krause goes on to detail how a losing culture can permeate every aspect of an organization:
Whether it is something obvious or something subtle it is still there. The losing culture shows up in many different ways.
- A seemingly endless amount of wasted draft picks even when you choose the supposedly safest choice.
- The failures of free agent acquisitions even when they are the seemingly top free agent available.
- Internal player discipline issues such as Rolando McClain in Oakland or Titus Young in Detroit.
- Subtle failures that allow games to slip away even after a win seemed within grasp.
- Injuries to key players that seem to happen more frequently than to other teams.
Krause is obviously writing about the Raiders, but again, just like Schmidt's comments, these bullet points could just as well be about the Cowboys. Cowboys fans may look down on the Raiders, because the Raiders haven't had a winning season for ten straight years, but there are more similarities between the two franchises than we probably like to admit. And there's also the fact that in the Raiders' last winning season in 2002, they made the Super Bowl, something the Cowboys last did in 1995.
Teaching the Cowboys how to win again is Jason Garrett's single biggest challenge. Under Garrett's tenure, the Cowboys seem to have gathered all the pieces to the puzzle. A handpicked coaching staff, a succession of strong drafts that has yielded exciting future franchise players, key veterans who can lead this team, and an organizatonal mantra modeled in art on the successful 90's teams. But will all the individual pieces of the puzzle fit into a whole that's greater than the sum of its individual parts? That's for you and me to find out this year.