It’s a question coaches and fans have been asking since the first recorded sporting event took place on the Mayan peninsula some 3000 years ago.
That was a soccer contest. The object: be the first team to kick a ball through an elevated ring. The winners lived like princes, the losers had their hearts cut out with a stone knife in sacrifice to the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl.
Even Moctezuma must’ve asked himself this question as he watched the spectacle and sipped on his fermented pulque: is it talent or chemistry that wins sporting events?
And so too, today, the question’s debated by fans and GMs as a each new season looms.
The notion that title-teams need a healthy dose of talent isn’t tough to swallow. You’d be hard-pressed to think of many that didn’t have All-Stars holding down most key positions.
The Miracle Braves of 1914 are one exception that come to mind.
Though led by future HOFers Rabbit Maranville and Johnny Evers, pre-season prospects were tame. But by seasons end, these Bostonians had captured the Pennant and then gave Connie Mack’s mighty Athletics a lesson in humility, sweeping the World Series in four.
While those Braves may stand as a beacon of hope for fans whose teams seem…well, hopeless, there’s no disputing that ample talent is a prerequisite to a championship.
Okay, so talent is crucial, but does a team also need chemistry to be a champion?
Those who pan chemistry will cite troubled-teams like the Billy Martin Yankees (1977) or the Swingin’ As (1972-75) as proof that players need not mesh to win championships.
Yet, for all the media claims of locker-room fisticuffs and bar-room brouhahas, none of it carried-over to the playing field. On the diamond, both squads had a professionalism and chemistry Walter White would admire.
And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, of all the Super Bowl winners in the past decade, nearly half are defined more by their cohesive play (Giants / Steelers / Saints) than by a superior skill set (Patriots / Colts / Ravens).
Before signing Terrell Owens, Bengals’ executives and coaches must have put in many a long night at Paul Brown Stadium debating the talent v. chemistry conundrum. The fact that they added a second ‘drama duke’ suggests the Queen City brain-trust believe it’s big talent that wins titles. Owens may be getting long-in-the-tooth but no one doubts he still possesses top wide-receiver skills.
They might also believe that having one more male diva alongside Chad Ochocino couldn’t hurt a team that had little chemistry anyway, as shown by their early 2010 playoff exit.
It’s possible, though, that Cincinnati came at the signing from a whole different angle.
While the Bengals stumbled in the playoffs their regular-season was impressive (6-0 division). Mike Brown may feel that his team’s harmony is sound and that T.O. fits in nicely as a counter-weight, balancing-out a line-up already heavy on personalities.
And never forget the NFL is first and foremost a business. Like Tiger and Ochocinco, T.O. possesses that massive celebrity that Bengal bankers and ESPN interns just crave.
My initial reaction to Owens’ signing was disapproving. His early years (49ers / Eagles) were often tumultuous and he appeared to have a poor grasp of the team concept.
But with age can come wisdom and the realization that your star-power is slowly but surely fading. Terrell’s time in both Dallas and Buffalo proved largely positive. The gradual decline in his production is off-set by a steady, albeit slight, up-tick in maturity.
If the Bengals and their dynamic divas can pass the chemistry test they’ll go to the top of the class. If they don’t, their 2010 season could quickly turn into an experiment gone bad.
Keys to Sport
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.