Blog Entry

Does Zen Exist in the NFL?

Posted on: January 27, 2011 10:20 am

NEW YORK – The strength of the pack is the wolf. This is a very old military term that explains how the strength of a unit, depends upon the strength of each individual within the unit. The military and the NFL have many similarities to them and are often compared in analogies. Teams of men go to war on the field of battle and all of that. The other side of that coin concerns results and what derives from those results. Does the act of winning release endorphins in the brain that elevate the man to an omnipotent experience with the universe? I’m not sure because I’ve never played football at the professional level but this topic certainly deserves further investigation.

What brings a player to a personal state of Zen? Does it occur during the NFL Draft when they hear their name called? Perhaps, when a player arrives at minicamp or training camp and they see their name on a locker or jersey? Is it that first preseason game or regular season game when the ball is snapped? Is it the development process or working out and practicing? Is it getting voted into the Pro Bowl? Or does it simply and only come from winning a Super Bowl? 

I have just mentioned a bunch of tremendous “moments” in a players career but I’m not sure if any of them pinpoint the exact moment when Zen is reached. The only one that makes sense would be winning the Super Bowl but even then, is it that moment when the stage in on the fifty yard line and the trophy is hoisted up or is at the moment when the last second ticks off the clock? It could even be further down the road when a player finally receives his Super Bowl ring. Who knows?

It’s hard to separate the money players make from their achievements on the field because one dictates the other. The famous basketball coach Phil Jackson introduced Zen to his players and they seemed to turn out alright. He created a culture that was less about money and more about state of mind and won championships. Perhaps, it is more of a constant state of Zen, then any actual moment that occurs and then leaves. I’m not sure about that theory though. I do not see how a football player can be in a constant state of Zen when their very job is to cause violence. It would seem more likely to me that they reach that euphoric state from reflecting on winning and what they have accomplished on the field of battle. I don’t know how someone can feel at perfect peace and bliss with the world, when a 265 pound man is trying to rip your head off. I guess the only people on earth who truly know the answer to these questions are the players themselves. How many of them have separated ego from true happiness can be debated but I’m hopeful at least one player has taken their mind and game to the ultimate level.

What are your thoughts about this topic and do you think a state of Zen can be reached through playing NFL football?


Since: Apr 14, 2007
Posted on: February 2, 2011 3:11 pm

Does Zen Exist in the NFL?

The quote is actually;

"For the strength of the pack is the wolf , and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
From a poem by Rudyard Kipling, not the military.

It does suit an NFL team though.

Since: Dec 1, 2008
Posted on: February 1, 2011 5:28 pm

Does Zen Exist in the NFL? it does in other athletic endeavors. when all is right, in slow mo, things seem effortless and you are not thinking about what is happening just doing.   It is what I believe is called 'being in the zone', I agree, in that, as you say 'it is just doing what you want.........', but I do not believe it is as you note in items 1 thru 6, these are the byproducts of 'being in the zone' more often than others and being able to get there when you need to and and doing it consistently. So to answer the question, yes, Zen does exist in the NFL......see Phil Sims and his Super Bowl completion percentage against the Broncos. Totally synchronized with his team and the defensive team....effortless energy. 

Since: May 26, 2009
Posted on: January 31, 2011 4:38 pm

Does Zen Exist in the NFL?

Good article and a pretty good point made by the first poster. My guess is that football can be a continuous kind of zen experience. Despite the cliches about "team first" that you hear about in the media today NFL football has never been more of an individual sport. Like the poster before me so carefully outlined a football player must get drafted on his own, make the team on his own, become an impact player on his own, gain peer recognition via a Pro Bowl selection on his own, and ultimately make the hall of fame on his own merit.

It's true that teams win championships together, and that they grow and develop together. But it doesn't take away from the fact that players become great based on individual disciplines: diet and exercise, training and conditioning, studying the playbook, memorizing schemes, perfecting techniques, and avoiding distractions.

Zen probably isn't a single moment in football. I like to think of a guy like Jerry Rice when it comes individual development. Rice can always be quoted as saying that the motivation to be great comes from deep within. Despite being surrounded by legends like Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Steve Young Rice never allowed himself to be comfortable with his own level of production. Instead he was always looking to get better. So for him the moment of "zen" probably never came in a single moment. It was continuous throughout his career as he graduated from a pretty good young wideout (circa 1986), to a record-setting freak (22 touchdowns in 15 games during the 1987 season), to the best receiver in the history of the league (1,848 yards receiving in 1995). Ideally every player's career would pattern Rice's because they would never be satisfied with themselves.

There are a handful of players who never won Super Bowls that, in my opinion, experienced "NFL zen". Barry Sanders walked away from the game at 30 years of age. Can anyone say that Sanders wasn't happy with his personal accomplishments? He was the most dominant running back in the league for most of his career. I'd definitely call that "zen". It wasn't his fault that, after the 91 season, Detroit never made noise in the playoffs again. He was probably the greatest running back of all time despite the fact that his resume lacks the ultimate "team" accomplishment of winning a championship. He made it happen on his own.

Since: Jan 28, 2008
Posted on: January 28, 2011 11:43 am

Does Zen Exist in the NFL?

Excellent points but doesn't each individual point deserve to be a Zen moment.
1. Drafted to the Pros - Zen moment to finish career
2. Not seeing your name on the Cut list
3. Walking onto the field for your first real game
4. Elected to the Pro Bowl
5. Participating in a Super Bowl
6. Winning a Super Bowl
Finally and for those select few The Hall of Fame.
Why are you limiting it  to one moment in time. I'm guessing it would be too hard to choose from one of those on the list if you accomplish more than one.
As far as violence and Zen, is it not Zen when you perform to excellence beyond expectations and are recognized for those performances. Some may say you do not have to have achieved any of these goals to have Zen. Maybe it is just doing what you want that should give you the Zen. You have accomplished more than millions before you that have tried.

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