In the world of sports, as in many important things that occur in our everyday lives, we are often reminded that the “mental” aspect of a task is as important as the physical qualities needed to complete the task successfully. The question becomes, which is more important: a professional athlete’s physical ability or his or her mental attitude and toughness?

The Raiders’ dismal performance Sunday night against the Washington Redskins left no doubt that, at least for this one night, it was the mind that played the starring role. It is what many call the “it factor”; the almost indescribable ability to succeed by applying one’s mind to the task at hand.

When we say “mind,” we mean all qualities not associated with a player’s natural athletic ability. That would encompass the capacity to memorize plays and schemes, as well as the expertise to communicate with teammates. However, the mind is much more. Attitude is created in the mind, and it was evident on the second play of the game that the Redskins were bringing “it”.

In post-game interviews with Washington players, it was evident that they had heard the hype surrounding the Silver and Black. They had seen the NBC promos that barely mentioned their team, and they had read the comments from pundits everywhere who picked the Raiders to win the game.

Sometimes all it takes is a little disrespect to turn an average team into a bloodthirsty legion playing with reckless abandon and willing to do whatever it takes to secure a victory. You do not poke the bear. The Redskins players were on a mission. Yes, they were coached well, but plays have to be executed. Players have to make plays. Washington’s players played with confidence. Moreover, the Raiders looked completely stunned by the end of the first quarter. They had lost the mental edge and therefore, the game.

No one can argue that the Raiders’ team, man for man, unit vs. unit, didn’t match up well against the Redskins. On paper, the Raiders were a lock. That is just the thing, though; the game is not played in the film or the weight room. It is played on a field where grown men have to dig deep into their psyche to find whatever it is that we call a “winning attitude.” The Redskins found theirs and the Raiders’ “minds” were obviously somewhere else.

It’s part of the reason we love football. We know that the adage, “on any given Sunday….” is accurate. So last Sunday, that cold, hard truth was rubbed into the face of every Raiders player, coach, and fan. Let’s hope we can find “it” next week against Denver. If we do not find “it,” there’s a long season ahead.


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