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Why Returning to Greatness Is the Toughest Job in Sports 0

Have you any idea how hard it is to win a Super Bowl? A National Championship might be even harder. Don’t even get me started with the Pennant Race. If we are measuring the difficulty by the number of teams, professional football has it the easiest. I wouldn’t say that to the face of anyone involved with professional football.

College football players and fans might find it a perfectly valid metric, as there are more teams than anyone fan can keep up with. Baseball buffs might rightfully point to the sheer number of games those athletes have to play. No one racks up the frequent flyer miles like baseball players.

But no matter how hard it is to win the biggest game (or series) of the year, it is exponentially harder to return to that same level of greatness the following year. Not only do most winners not repeat the following year, they often return as underdogs. Here are a few reasons why that is the case:

Salary Cap

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There was a time when an owner could spend as much money as he liked on recruiting and keeping the best talent. Under that system, it was easy to see how the wealthiest team could also be the winningest team. With a salary cap, all team purses are equal. No team can outspend the other for talent.

That means that if a team has maxed out their salary cap, they not only cannot buy even better talent, they can’t keep the talent they have. After a winning season, their stars want more money. And if they happen to be free agents, they will go where the offer is. That will be a team with more room in the salary cap.

Between free-agency and salary caps, it is really hard to keep a winning team together year after year.


You can call it competition. But when a team owns you one year, all you really want is revenge. A winning team had to step on a lot of other teams on the way up. The following year, all those teams you beat have got the next game they play against you circled on their calendar.

They are putting together a team to beat you. They are practicing with you in mind. They are game-planning against you. For certain rivalries, they can lose every game in the season and still consider it a good year as long as they put you in your place. That’s sports at its finest. And it is a really tough factor to overcome, especially since any team can theoretically bean any other team any given Sunday.

Psychological Letdown

One of the hardest things about putting together a winning season is the psychological preparation it takes day in, day out. You hear about mental toughness. And it is an even bigger factor than you think.

To win, one has to make a tremendous amount of sacrifice. They have to endure a tremendous amount of pain, and have to suffer much family and social hardship. To win throughout the season and well into the playoffs, it costs a player everything they have with regard to body and mind.

That is almost impossible to pull off two years in a row. It takes great talent and exceptional coaching. Athletes dive into that inferno of blood, sweat, and tears every year. And every year, it gets a little bit harder.

Between salary caps, free-agency, revenge, and psychological letdown, it is a wonder any team ever manages to come back the next year stronger than ever.



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