Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs have been repeatedly exposed to Coach Haley's mantra of having to be mentally tough to be a good team. Developing this toughness is one of the aspects that takes considerable time for a team to achieve. The reason it takes so long is that the only way it can become part of the fabric that a team is woven of is by the sheer act of getting knocked down repeatedly and asking for more.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the sport of boxing. Bill Parcells is a boxing afficianado. He loves it for many reasons, but the most important one is that by studying boxing one can learn about how to develop mental toughness. Learning about how to motivate that condition is really the essence of what a coach does.
One of the many things that make Todd Haley a Parcells disciple is his understanding of how being mentally tough influences a teams ability to win. I'll bet that Coach Parcells shared one of his epiphanies on the subject with a young Todd Haley. The story of that epiphany is next.
In 2006 during Bill Parcells last year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the coach allowed columnist Michael Lewis of the New York Times the opportunity to write a story about what a week in Parcell's life was like as the Cowboy's head coach. The entire article can be found here. It is an outstanding article if you have the time to read it.
The week that Lewis was allowed to chronicle started on the Monday after the first game of the season wherein the Cowboys had been beaten by the Jaguars. The 'Boys had started well, amassing a 10-0 lead when suddenly, the lights went out and the wheels came off. They ended up losing 24-17.
On Tuesday of that week while Parcells was viewing tape on their next opponent (Redskins) Lewis wants to know what had been keeping Parcells up at night (thus the name of the article). The answer cuts to the core of what Parcells believed was his basic responsibility as a coach. Instilling mental toughness in his team.
Even as he is trying to study his next opponent, he can’t shake what happened on Sunday. How his team, the moment the Jaguars pushed back, collapsed. How, the moment the players felt the pressure, they began to commit penalties and the sort of small but critical mental errors that only a coach watching video can perceive. In their performance he smells the sort of failure he defines himself against.
At the back of Parcells’s personal binder there are a few loose, well-thumbed sheets that defy categorization: a copy of a speech by Douglas MacArthur; a passage from a book about coaches, which argues that a coach excels by purifying his particular vision rather than emulating a type. Among the papers is an anecdote Parcells brings up often in conversation, about a boxing match that took place nearly 30 years ago between the middleweights Vito Antuofermo and Cyclone Hart. Parcells loves boxing; his idea of a perfect day in the off-season is to spend it inside some ratty boxing gym in North Jersey. "It’s a laboratory," he says. "You get a real feel for human behavior under the strongest duress — under the threat of physical harm." In this laboratory he has identified a phenomenon he calls the game quitter. Game quitters, he says, seem "as if they are trying to win, but really they’ve given up. They’ve just chosen a way out that’s not apparent to the naked eye. They are more concerned with public opinion than the end result."
Parcells didn’t see the Hart-Antuofermo fight in person but was told about it, years ago, by a friend and boxing trainer, Teddy Atlas. It stuck in his mind and now strikes him as relevant. Seated, at first, he begins to read aloud from the pages: how in this fight 29 years ago Hart was a well-known big puncher heavily favored against the unknown Vito Antuofermo, how Hart knocked Antuofermo all over the ring, how Antuofermo had no apparent physical gifts except "he bled well." "But," Parcells reads, "he had other attributes you couldn’t see." Antuofermo absorbed the punishment dealt out by his natural superior, and he did it so well that Hart became discouraged. In the fifth round, Hart began to tire, not physically but mentally. Seizing on the moment, Antuofermo attacked and delivered a series of quick blows that knocked Hart down, ending the fight.
"When the fighters went back to their makeshift locker rooms, only a thin curtain was between them. Hart’s room was quiet, but on the other side he could hear Antuofermo’s cornermen talking about who would take the fighter to the hospital. Finally he heard Antuofermo say, ‘Every time he hit me with that left hook to the body, I was sure I was going to quit. After the second round, I thought if he hit me there again, I’d quit. I thought the same thing after the fourth round. Then he didn’t hit me no more.’
"At that moment, Hart began to weep. It was really soft at first. Then harder. He was crying because for the first time he understood that Antuofermo had felt the same way he had and worse. The only thing that separated the guy talking from the guy crying was what they had done. The coward and the hero feel the same emotions. They’re both human."
When Parcells finishes, he says: "This is the story of our last game. We were Cyclone Hart."
The feeling that he (Parcells) had not been able to indelibly stamp this will to win in his men was what was keeping him up at night.
Whether or not Todd Haley knows this story is unclear. I would say that either way, Parcells was able to make that stamp on Haley based on the things that he has said about being mentally tough.
Is Haley making an impression with the Chiefs? I would have to say yes.
To this writer it would appear that the 2010 Chiefs Cyclone Hart moment occured during the fourth quarter of the Houston Texans game while they slowly watched their lead evaporate and turn into a losing effort. They were commiting those same kind of "small but critical mental errors" that would ultimately cost them a game. Do you recall Brandon Flowers tirade from the sidelines concerning his penalty call? It would seem to me that this is what is normally described as the inability to finish.
The good news? The good news is that since that game we have not seen the same kind of 'lost' effort. I don't know if I would call them "game quitters" as Parcells describes but something has certainly changed. Since that game, we have witnessed a team that won't quit. Yes we have had two losses, but in neither did it appear that anyone had given in or given up. Particularly the Denver game. It would have been very easy for that team to pack it in after the first quarter but they played on. Matt Cassel threw for 469 yards. The offense scored 29 points. They took it on the chin and asked for more.
This is what it means to be mentally tough. Haley and his staff understand it. That is what was so critical about having OC and DC and assistants that come from this background. Our Chiefs need to hear this message over and over and over. Ad infinitum until they 'get' it. I think it's working.
Great teams take big plays and long TDs against their defenses in stride. The offense straps it back on and goes out to get those points back, while the defense regroups and figues out how it happened so they can prevent it on the next series. Great teams play hard and smart until the final gun fires.
Evidence of the Chiefs turn on the road to greatness abound. The improvement of Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and our offensive line are examples. As are the concurrent improvement of a front seven that NOBODY believed could pull the wagon as far and as fast as ours has. Rookies like Kendrick Lewis, Eric Berry, Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas and even Jon Asamougha are showing that mental toughness can overcome "rookieness". These guys are the embodiement of what it took for Vito Antuofermo to take down one of the hardest known punchers in Philly at the time he was fighting. Both fighters have been quoted as saying that the other was the toughest fighter they ever faced. For you viewing pleasure, here are the last two rounds of that fight. Notice how hard Hart swings in desperation. He simply can't imagine why his opponent won't go down.
Vito Antuofermo vs Eugene Hart Part 2 (via TheGreatA)
The 2010 Chiefs know why this man won't go down. They, like Vito Antuofermo before them, have become mentally tough. Now let's see what the Donkey's got on Sunday.
Chiefs WIN. Chiefs WILL BELIEVE.