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For The Love Of The Game
December 15th, 2001
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
It never ceases to amaze me how winning in any sport has ramifications that go far beyond improving won/loss records, or even winning trophies or prizes. Winning brings a great feeling, a natural high that makes you want to play more. It’s for that exact reason that starting off strong at the beginning of a season or event is key to the success later down the road. As confidence builds so does the willingness of a competitor to give that extra bit of effort, and that is how championships are won.

All teams in any sport start out equally. Sure some have better players than others on paper, but as the NFL cliché goes, anyone can win on any given day. Thus getting a good start and building that winning character within a team is ever so crucial to the long-term success of a team.

The difference between great teams and terrible teams often comes down to injuries. While no football player can play with a broken leg, there are injuries players can play with, and players will play with injuries - because after all that is there job. But the list of injuries a player is willing to play with starts off short - a twisted ankle, broken finger, a sprain here or there, nothing of real great pain. Amazingly though, this list grows as teams start to win. Players enjoy the feeling of winning so much they will sacrifice their body for it.

Look no further than Lance Schulters who is currently playing with a dislocated shoulder that requires surgery. Schulters, however, refuses to have the surgery until after the season. Could it be because the 49ers have their best record in three years? Of course there is Jeff Garcia who is playing with a sprained MCL ligament a painful injury by anyone’s book. Why would he subject himself to the onslaught of blitzing defenders? Terrell Owens is another such player - Owens is playing with a plethora of different injuries. The list goes on.

All these players taking the field weekly despite injury, because they want that winning feeling so badly. One really has to wonder if the team was down in the depths of the NFL whether these players would be suiting up on Sundays. It’s for that very reason that winning early and building that confidence level in a team is ever so important.

An injured Terrell Owens is still better than most receivers in the NFL, thus having players like that playing even when injured, really makes a difference in a season. The success doesn’t stop there though. With a winning reputation teams have an easier time landing players in the off-season, as players look to play for the best possible teams. With landing the right players in the off-season, teams have better chances the following season, it is a never ending process.

Playing for the love of the game is much easier to do when your team is winning. Putting your body in harms way to experience that feeling - any players will tell you it’s worth it. Thus the teams that start off winning early, and building that confidence level and of course experiencing that winning feeling - those are the teams that usually have players willing to play with pain and thus experience long-term success. The 49ers of the past have always been one of these teams; this season the team seems to be finding its roots.

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