Tony DeMeo

The Power of the Pinstripes by Tony DeMeo

This article should really be entitled the “Power of Tradition” or “The Making of a Dynasty” but being a life-long Yankee fan I went with The Power of the Pinstripes. I’ve always been fascinated with dynasties in the world of sport. Why do some organizations seem to always win or contend for championships? What are the ingredients of these super teams? Is there a magic or secret formula? The answer is yes.

When I think of great dynasties, I always think of the New York Yankees. I’m not alone. Red Auerbach in his book Let Me Tell You a Story said he wanted to make the Boston Celtics the Yankees of the NBA. The great Vince Lombardi stated that he wanted to make The Green Bay Packers the Yankees of the NFL. Ironically, they both did!

The 1949 to 1953 Yankees won five World Series – a feat no other franchise has ever accomplished. The amazing thing about this run is they did it without having any of their players lead the league in any offensive category! They had great role players, great defense, and a couple of guys like Yogi Berra & Mickey Mantle. They did this in the era before free agency so they couldn’t “buy” a team.

The Boston Celtics won their string of championships in the 50s and 60s without ever having the leading scorer in the NBA! The played great defense and spread the ball around.

The Packers under Lombardi were the only NFL franchise to win 3 straight Championships and four in six years only once had the leading rusher in the NFL.

There were other great dynasties: John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide of Alabama, and JoPa’s Penn State Lions are all dynasties in their own right. I’m sure you could name others that would fit the mold.

But what do these teams have in common? How did these teams rise to such a level of dominance? What’s the secret?

The first factor that jumps out at you is: It Takes a Great Team to Win Team Sports. Individual talent must conform to the Team Concept to win consistently. Teams win team sports not individuals. It must start with “The Stars”. If the “star” is selfish, the team is dead. Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were great team players and led the Yankees to ten World Championships between them. Willie Mays, though a great individual player, led the Giants to one. Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor were great runners and blockers and led the Packers to their dynasty whereas Jim Brown was the greatest runner in the NFL but refused to block and the Browns won only one championship with him. Magic Johnson And Larry Byrd dominated the NBA in the 80s by elevating their teams and playing team basketball.

The second factor is Trust is a Must. The team must buy into what the coach is selling; the coach must trust his team. The key to any turn around is The Players must trust the coach. The players must trust each other. When we took over the program at The University of Charleston we took all the locks off the lockers. Trust is a must. Michael Jordan trusted Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and distributed the ball and the Bulls won 6 NBA titles.

The third factor is: Average Talent Becomes Great Talent in the Right System. Great teams have a knack of taking cast offs or very average guys and making them very productive. They fill specific roles or are used for specific situations. For example Johnny Mize was at the end of his career sitting on the bench for the NY Giants when he was traded to the Yankees and hit 25 Homeruns in only 90 games to lead the Yankees to a world championship. Vince Lombardi used Chuck Mercein to lead the Packers to NFL championship after he had been cut by the last place team in the league! Bart Starr was benched in his senior year in college yet was an All Pro QB under Lombardi.

Factor number four: Great Teams hold each Member of the Team Accountable. Whether in the practice, in the locker room or off the field, the great teams policed themselves. Michael Jordan laid down the law with the Bulls. He practiced hard and expected everyone else to do the same. Bill Russell in his book Russell Rules said the Celtics held themselves to a high standard of excellence. A coach can’t be everywhere so it’s important that the players enforce a code of excellence.

The final factor is: Great Teams Play Great When Greatness is Needed. Some call it playing in the clutch or John Wooden calls it Competitive Greatness, but we all know a pressure player when we see him. In my lifetime I think of Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter to name a few. But the more I think about this the more I realize that their play did not get better in crunch time but they simply maintained their level of excellence while their opponents did not. Hustle and effort were habits formed through repetition. They never had to “turn it on” in pressure situations because IT WAS ALWAYS ON.. The reason for this is that truly great players play for the greater good: THE TEAM. Great teams have guys who only care about team goals or winning. Other teams have guys that worry about their own stats. They put their own goals ahead of the Team’s goal. This explains why some of the games greatest super stars were never part of a dynasty. Conversely, players who are considered very average in talent excel as part of a team. Like Larry Byrd said, ”Some people put up numbers and some people win Championships”.

At the University of Charleston we have tried to create “A Culture of Excellence” where players can maximize their potential while learning the power of team. We wear gold helmets and are developing “The Power of the Gold Helmets”. Whoever puts on the gold helmet and commits to team will become a better player.