A Playbook for the Greatest Team Sport Ever Played
This could be the team’s breakout year. A new coach. A new system. And a couple of impact players that could take the team deep into the playoffs–even the Super Bowl. The potential is there, but will the team come together? Will they bounce back if they lose a couple of early games? Are they tough enough to play through the ...
A Playbook for the Greatest Team Sport Ever Played
This could be the team’s breakout year. A new coach. A new system. And a couple of impact players that could take the team deep into the playoffs–even the Super Bowl. The potential is there, but will the team come together? Will they bounce back if they lose a couple of early games? Are they tough enough to play through the injuries and still perform at the championship level?
Every NFL team that’s serious about winning a title has to answer those questions. And so does every husband-and-wife team that’s serious about a Super Bowl Marriage.
Super Bowl Marriage tells the stories of some of the NFL’s most dramatic games, toughest players, and creative coaches–then skillfully links their lessons to life’s greatest team sport--marriage. Test your knowledge of the Super Bowl-era and learn how Bill Walsh, John Elway, Brian Urlacher, and others can help your marriage team win the championship game.
From the honeymoon training camp through the fourth quarter final drive of growing old together, you and your spouse need to keep your game day focus. Success in marriage will depend on your ability to give it all for the team, do what the coaches say, and play through the pain. You two can hoist the trophy as winners in a life-long, loving relationship. Finally, a marriage playbook for the intense and exhilarating team sport of being husband and wife!
Marriage can be as thrilling, demanding, and complex as any high stakes football game. Its potential for unparalleled satisfaction and joy is matched only by its potential for incredible pain and disillusionment. On the gridiron of life, where the consequences for fumbling can be disastrous, marriage is risky.
You can stand on the sidelines, hoping things work out with your spouse, or rise to the challenge and know the thrill of a Super Bowl Marriage.
Terry Owens has a Master’s degree in communications from Wheaton College. He is the author of Extreme Marriage. Terry and his wife, Tarinow in the thirteenth year of their marriagehave been skydiving, caving, cycling in Tuscany, hiking in the Grand Canyon, and sea kayaking in Alaska. They teach in the marriage prep seminar at Willow Creek in the Chicago area.
A Little Different Approach One thing I learned working as an assistant
coach under Bill Walsh with the 49ers
is you don’t build championship teams
with a blueprint for a 9-7 team. –Dennis Green
It still amounts to nothing more than a total attention to detail and an appreciation for every facet of offensive football and refinement of those things that are needed to provide an environment that allows people to perform at their maximum levels of self-actualization,” the coach said of his revolutionary new offense.
Hmmmm. What ever happened to “three yards and a cloud of dust”?
It’s quite likely that this guy never saw offensive football as three yards and a cloud of dust. He’s not what you’d call a simplistic thinker. He has a master’s degree in education and has always loved to teach. Though originally a defensive coach, it was opposing offensive coaches who proved most influential in his early development.
And none more so than Sid Gillman, father of the modern passing game. As a coach with the Oakland Raiders in 1966, this man got the chance to study Gillman’s San Diego Chargers. However, the legendary Paul Brown was to be the strongest influence of all. This man worked as an offensive coach under Brown from 1968 to 1975. It was Brown’s second tour of duty in the league, this time with the expansion Cincinnati Bengals. Brown’s willingness to let his coaches coach created the perfect laboratory. And he also allowed his assistants total autonomy in building the team.
The Bengals’ need for innovation was evident from day one. Their offensive line was not overpowering. Neither was their quarterback’s arm or the defense, for that matter. It was an ideal scenario for a creative young coach eager to earn his props. The offensive coach thought the team could stay competitive against superior opponents if they could control the ball by using short, precisely timed passes to generate twenty-five first downs a game. The Bengals’ willingness to throw on any down and from anywhere on the field loudly defied the prevailing offensive strategies.
The ideas the coach had begun experimenting with in 1968 as a way to help his undermanned team stay competitive had become an effective offensive system. And in 1979 the coach was named head coach and general manager of another overmatched team, a 2-14 doormat. The team’s second straight 2-14 record in his first year had to be discouraging. But he followed that with a hopeful 6-8 second season. They improved to an NFL-best 13-3 the following year and earned a trip to the NFC championship game.
Their opponent was familiar. The two teams had taken turns embarrassing each other during their last two meetings, but the coach had to like his chances on his home field. Only one problem: the visitors were the NFC’s elite. They’d been to five of the first fifteen Super Bowls and had won it twice. They were talented, confident, and playoff tested.
The home team scored first, quieting any doubts about whether they belonged in the championship game. The visitors then answered with a field goal and a touchdown. This was the first of six lead changes in the game. The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter. The upstarts regained the lead with a touchdown in the third quarter, that period’s only score. The proper order of the NFL was restored in the fourth, as the playoff-savvy visitors scored a field goal and a touchdown to go up 27-21. That’s where things stood when the home team took over at their own 11 with 4:54 left.
Doubts about whether or not the coach and his young team belonged on the same field with their storied opponents had been answered. Doubts about whether or not his offense could stand up to playoff pressure persisted. The home team had lost three fumbles, and the quarterback had thrown three interceptions.
Time for a little offensive genius. The coach knew the defense would be playing prevent, so he called runs on three of the first five plays. The strategy worked as they advanced the ball to their own 41. A penalty and a 5-yard completion moved the ball into their opponent’s territory at the two-minute warning. Another run and two completed passes moved the ball to a first down at the 13. Time-out with 1:15 left.
“Water, gimme some water,” gasped one of the wideouts to a trainer. The receiver, a former tenth-round draft pick, had collapsed due to exhaustion and the effects of the flu he’d battled all week. He may have been sick, and tired, but he wasn’t coming out. Not now. Not with history about to be written.
“[He] had that uncanny knack of being able to find a hole in the defense” is how the quarterback, taken in the third round of the same draft, remembered the wideout. “When you were in trouble, he was always trying to come back to help you. He never stopped working.”
After an incompletion, a 7-yard run pushed the ball to the 6, where they called another time-out. Fifty-eight seconds remained. The coach and the quarterback huddled on the sideline, planning the next two plays. Brown Left Slot-Sprint Right Option was the first. It was a staple of their goal-line offense, a play they had practiced hundreds of times. They had also scored on it earlier in the game.
“Look for Freddie,” the coach reminded the quarterback. “Hold it…or throw it high for [the secondary receiver] so that if he can’t get it, it’ll be thrown away.” The dehydrated wideout was the second choice on the play. He was to screen the defender off the primary receiver, then slide across the back of the end zone, just in case.
The play started badly. Freddie slipped and couldn’t shake his man. The rush broke through and chased the quarterback out of the pocket. He headed for the sideline, buying time and hoping somebody would get open. He knew he couldn’t take the sack. Winner take all on fourth-and-long was not what they wanted. But he was nearly out of bounds with two defenders only a couple of yards away. He had to do something–and fast.
The quarterback couldn’t see the secondary receiver, much less if he was open. But after practicing this play so many times, he knew where he’d be. The QB turned his body toward the goal posts, stepped away from the rush, threw off his back foot, and got hammered to the ground. The pass flew high, just the way they’d talked about it. Touchdown or fourth down? One man would determine which.
The hard-working, flu-stricken, six-foot-four receiver jumped as high and reached as far as he could. He clawed the ball with his fingertips and juggled it briefly. His left foot landed just inside the back line, then his right, as he pulled the ball to his chest. He took two steps before celebrating with the most understated spike in the history of big-time catches. “The play has always been called The Catch, and that’s just what it was. The Catch,” insisted the quarterback, giving credit where credit was due. “It wasn’t a bad pass–I wasn’t throwing it away; Dwight said it was a perfect pass, any lower and Walls would have batted it away–but it sure wasn’t The Pass.”
Walls–the Dallas Cowboys’ Everson Walls, that is–couldn’t bat the ball away. Dwight–San Francisco’s Dwight Clark–did catch Joe Montana’s high throw in the back of the end zone. The touchdown gave the San Francisco 49ers a 28-27 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the NFC Championship, and the team’s first trip to the Super Bowl. It also proved the effectiveness of Bill Walsh’s revolutionary system, the West Coast Offense.
The Foundation for a Super Bowl Marriage Over the course of the dating and engagement process, a couple will often say, “I love you.” They will say it publicly during the wedding ceremony. Everyone will hear it and likely take it for granted, recognizing it as perfunctory “wedding speak.” What man and woman would get married and not speak of love? And what husband would not insist, “Of course I love my wife. I loved her when we got married, and I still love her!” Who doesn’t believe he or she knows what love means? How could we not? We say it often. We hear about it all the time.
Television and movies often portray love as a powerful feeling. People fall in love, but the feeling eventually dulls. People fall out of love. It’s part of a natural progression. The time comes to move on. Maybe fall in love again.
And sex is frequently part of this popular image. Sometimes as the bonding act of two people who have fallen in love. Sometimes as the catalyst for two people starting the process.
Love was not a powerful-but-temporary feeling to the apostle Paul. It was anything but status quo. It wasn’t about sex. And it certainly wasn’t a wedding cliché. He was not numb to love. It was fresh to him.
“I want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing,” Paul might say if he was talking to each of us about love. He might drape an arm across our shoulders or put a finger in our chests. “Forget what you know or think you know. Let’s start all over with the idea of love. We’re going to redefine it, and it is going to redefine us. It is going to pervade everything we do!”
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
A husband commits to love his wife. We think we know what we’re saying. After all, it’s love. But here’s a little different approach. Go through that 1 Corinthians passage and replace the word love with your name. Reads a little differently, doesn’t it? Now comes the hard part, at least for me: to live it.
“Serve one another in love,” says Galatians 5:13–another wedding cliché, unless you stop to think about what it should mean to each of us. Again, Paul might pull us aside and say, “Now that we’re on the same page about love, let’s talk about serving. Let’s talk about putting your wife’s well-being ahead of your own. Not just a single act or for only a day, a month, or even a year. How about as a way of life?”
What if I’m tired and just don’t feel like giving to the relationship? Persevere in your marriage, the way Christ would.
What if my wife is stuck in her own issues? Be patient in your marriage, the way Jesus would.
What if I meet someone and begin to wonder if I made the right choice? Protect your marriage, the way Christ would.
What happens when I start to wonder, “What’s in this whole ‘Serve one another in love’ thing for me?” Trust in the system, the way Jesus would.
What if we have an argument and she says things that hurt or embarrass me? Talk about it but keep no records of wrong, the way Jesus would.
It’s only over time that a husband can begin to realize what a challenge 1 Corinthians 13 is. Life is challenging. But serving someone in love for a lifetime? Way challenging. And if we start measuring what we think we’re putting into our marriages against what we think we’re getting out of them, we may not have bought into love the way we think we have. And if we don’t challenge ourselves every day to that standard of excellence, we’re holding out on our teammates.
It’s also only over time that we experience the rewards of having a marriage that is lived in this way. But we have to have faith in this system of love. We may not see the results we’d like for a while.
Paul defined faith as being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Coach Walsh had faith. He was sure of what he hoped for. Certain of what he could not see? Maybe. At least he was certain of what he believed he could see.
Every coach knows he has to get the buy-in from the players. Whether they verbalize it or not, what the players want to know, what they need to know, is “What’s in it for me? If I do what you’re asking me to do, will I get what’s most important to me?” Man or woman, young or old, the thing that is most important to all people is strong, intimate connection. It’s companionship on a whole different level. It’s love, and we were made with a need to both give and receive it. To know another and be known by another. To know we are deeply cared about and to deeply care about someone else. It happens on great teams, and it happens on great marriage teams.
It was not good that man was alone (see Genesis 2:18). Christ promised us that we could have that kind of connection, but we have to do it His way, the 1 Corinthians 13 way.
Accepting Walsh’s unproven West Coast Offense in 1979 was an act of faith. But really, what did a 2-14 team have to lose? Sticking with it a second season, after another 2-14 record, might have been a truer test of faith. But accepting it in 1989, after three Super Bowls? A person would have been crazy not to. It was obvious. At least it was obvious to George Seifert, the man who succeeded Walsh and became the only first-year head coach to lead a defending Super Bowl champion to a repeat. And to prove he wasn’t just riding the coattails of Walsh and Joe Montana, Seifert won it all again five years later with Steve Young as his quarterback.
First Corinthians 13 is an overarching relationship philosophy. It’s a framework strong enough to withstand the shocks of life. But it’s also flexible enough to adapt to change. It’s comprehensive enough to inspire a big-picture perspective. And it’s specific enough to apply to every aspect of life. It’s so challenging that it can never be fully achieved. Yet the successes we do experience are so rewarding that we never should stop trying.
“When I think of Bill Walsh and the ‘West Coast Offense,’ I think less of the actual X’s and O’s than I do of the comprehensive approach Coach Walsh took to creating a structure,” says the Baltimore Ravens’ Brian Billick, once an assistant under Walsh. A different approach.
First Corinthians 13 love was a different approach in Paul’s day. And it’s a different approach now. It creates an environment that allows and encourages you and your wife to become all that God made each of you to be. The marriage partners you can be. The parenting partners you can be. The marketplace people you can be.
A Super Bowl marriage will take time. It will take commitment. And it will take trust in the system. You may be just starting your marriage with hopes of first making the playoffs. After that, the Super Bowl. Or you may be wondering if you can turn around a twenty-year relationship that is 2-14. The great teams have confidence. But before that, they have faith. If you don’t act on faith in the love and servanthood way explained by 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:13, you won’t develop the confidence necessary to achieve a Super Bowl marriage.
The Extra Point
Bill Walsh, the man with the full head of white hair, enters the room for his first talk to his new team. He moves to the front of the room and scans the team, nodding approvingly. “Gentlemen, I believe in you,” he begins. “And I believe in this offensive system. With you men in this system, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. You probably don’t believe that, but it’s true. But I need your hearts. I need your commitment. This system will work, but you have to make it work. And it’s going to take time to see the results. Our goal is not improvement. We all will improve. But improvement is just steps along the way. Our goal is winning the Super Bowl.”
What does this guy know? you wonder. The Packers dominated the sixties by running the ball down people’s throats. The Steelers dominated the seventies by Bradshaw’s throwing deep to Swann and Stallworth, and Bleier and Harris pounding the ball. I don’t know if this can work. “I can’t make you believe. You have three choices,” continues the white-haired man. “You can pack up and get out now. You can go through the motions till we find somebody who will believe and pay the price to win. Or you can be that person who believes, pays the price, and enjoys the fruits of our successes. You decide.”