How do we really define winners and losers?

On February 3, 2013, the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl.  Whether you are a football fan or not, Super Bowl Sunday dominates our collective consciousness for at least one day.  Unlike other professional sports that have a championship series, several games played together to crown a winner.  The Super Bowl is a single game championship.  One single game determines the fate of players, cities, coaches and careers.  Besides going to Disneyland, the Super Bowl champions are lauded with attention, endorsements and mega contracts.  Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Raven’s Super Bowl winning quarterback, signed a 121 million dollar contract.  The Super Bowl and its winner attract so much attention that companies pay millions for commercials during the game.  Football fans can rattle off the past fifteen years of Super Bowl champions.  A few particularly rabid fans can even recall the most valuable players in those games.  Even the commercials garner critical acclaim.

Any ambitious study of success is likely to study coaches, players and franchises of the winning teams.  Why not?  If you want to win, it makes sense to study those who won.  There is no question that studying winners helps us understand winning, but the lesson is incomplete without studying the losers.  The Super Bowl losers and considered just that, losers.  However, there might be a little more to it.  As the losers of a single Super Bowl Championship game, the Buffalo Bills lost to the New York Giants 1991.  That year, they lost by a heart breaking single point.  A missed field goal was the only difference between them and the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.  How many success books use the 1991 Buffalo Bills as a measure of greatness?  They weren’t done there.  In 1992, they lost to the Washington Redskins.  Although they bounced back from that loss, they were dominated by the Dallas Cowboys in consecutive Super Bowls.

The Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row.  Only one contest was close.  Like most of you reading this article, I considered them losers too.  That is, until I thought about it a little more.  If you look at the regular season record for the Buffalo Bills, you get the picture of an entirely different team.  In 1990, they were 13-3.  In 1991, they were 13-3.  In 1992, they were 11-5, In 1993, they were 12-4.  These are not the records of losers.  In the playoffs, they were 9-4.  That gives them a record of 45 wins and 19 losses for that four year period.  That is a winning percentage of 70%.This team sent several of its players to the hall of fame.  James Lofton, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly all achieved football hall of fame greatness.  Their coach, Marv Levy also was inducted into the football hall of fame.  During the stretch from 1990-1993 they could be considered the most dominant team in football.

There is no question that the Buffalo Bills had difficulty with winning the Super Bowl.  They obviously could improve their ability to win in that singular defining success moment.  If our analysis stops there, our understanding of success pursuit will be incomplete.  If we only focus on those success moments, we will miss the opportunity to learn.  If we only look at the winning moments, we will misinterpret the secrets of success.  If we discard the entire body of work because of the last chapter, we will miss the greatness of the entire manuscript.  We are so willing to coronate the winners.  The New York Giants, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys are cemented for eternity as the real winners from those years.  I beg to differ.  I believe the real winners were the Buffalo Bills.

It is a feat to have a great season, but it is much harder to rebound from a devastating loss to win again.  No team in NFL history has played in four consecutive Super Bowls and it may never happen ever again.  The greatness of these “losers” lies in their ability to achieve what no other team has ever achieved.  They were able to fall three different times and rise up again to succeed.  For most of us, our success will not come in one great unforgettable season.  If we are waiting for that magical season, we will limit our success.  If we measure our success by that singular success moment, we will miss out on our greatest accomplishments.  If we only value the last chapter, we will ignore the rest of our success manuscript.  Success is not singular.  It does not distill down to one defining moment.  It is a long haul.  It is a painting that is never really complete.  It is getting up and succeeding after falling and failing.  If you have the misfortune of losing your next Super Bowl, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, wipe the tear from your eye and prepare to succeed.

doc mu

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3 Responses to How do we really define winners and losers?

  1. Pauline Tomlinson says:

    Well said. There are many success stories of those who have persevered and accomplished despite losing that big game. The day to day successes must be acknowledged.

  2. Raymond Conyette says:

    Moo this one is a challenge in my opinion…The teams in the NFL all prepare for the Super Bowl…That’s the ultimate prize…We know the bi-products…Endorsements…Fame etc. etc. How ever If you get to the border of promise land and cannot cross over after four attempts, I cannot call you a winner…you’re the first loser…All the training, pre-season games, practice…it’s all to win the super bowl…

  3. doc mu says:


    That’s a great comment. What complicates the win or bust mentality of our society is the fact that the Buffalo Bills accomplished what has never been replicated. They had persistent superior performance for four years. Many of the up and down Champions over those four years could not sustain their performance. Yes they did win, but then those champions burned out. The Bills were the best performing team in those four years. Does a missed field goal by a foot change that. The Superbowl represents one game, but the body of work occurs over the log haul. For us non-athletes, if our winner/loser assessment is based on just our Superbowls, we will devalue our performance. A banner income of $1,000,000 for one year is not necessarily as good as a lifetime income of $10,000,000.

    Just for comparison to the four straight Superbowls. After beating the bills, the Giants went 8-8 and didn’t make the playoffs. The following year the Redskins went 9-7 and lost in the conference semis and so on. Neither of these teams had the same success over the long haul that the bills had. Yes, their peaks were higher, but their valleys were much lower. If we think of success a little differently we will avoid the flashes in the pan and the one hit wonders. Rebounding from those four failures might prove more successful than having one isolated and/or luck year.

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