For sports champions, once is never enough

By , Senior sports columnist of The Christian ScienceMonitor

There's a funny thing about winning: It's never enough.

Never do you hear a winner say after victory, "Well, enough of this." Never does a winner say, "It's only a game." That's a loser's whine.

And this is what the Denver Broncos are up against as they prepare to play the Atlanta Falcons here Sunday in the 33rd Super Bowl game. How quickly the landscape changes.

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When Denver went to last year's title game against Green Bay, there was dread among followers that the Broncos would lose again. Four times they had been thrashed in this championship, three of them with John Elway at quarterback, and another misfire likely would mean Elway would end his exquisite career without a championship.

Not fair. He deserved it. Whither justice? All anyone wanted was just one win for John. Please, just one Super Bowl win for John and we'll never want or ask for anything else. We'll give half of all our future income to helping unfortunate children around the world. We'll be kinder, gentler people. We'll visit old people and be patient about it. We'll never roll through a stop sign again. We'll....

The Broncos won.

But, suddenly, it's not enough. It's not nearly enough. It's a bit like eating one M&M or one kernel of popcorn. There's not much satisfaction, as anyone who has ever tried to eat just one French fry will attest.

For those who think winning once is hard, consider the task of winning twice. If the Broncos whip the Falcons, they'll become only the sixth team in NFL history to do it, following Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, Green Bay and, twice, Pittsburgh.

The further problem with one win is it can be considered a fluke. For example, Villanova was the collegiate basketball champ in 1985 and no one with clarity of thought believed it, the 25-10 record being strong and contrary evidence.

Repeating definitely has cachet. Archie Griffin, for example, won the Heisman Trophy as college football's best player twice when he was at Ohio State.

Why hasn't Griffin's achievement ever been matched? It's because winning, like first love, is such a towering experience that it's inordinately difficult to duplicate. Repeat winning often is far more mental than physical.

More typical is San Francisco, which won the Super Bowl in 1982, then finished 11th in its conference at 3-6 the next year (in a strike-shortened season), and the Giants, who won in '87 and flopped to last in their conference the next season.

Plenty of teams have ruled college football, among them Oklahoma, Alabama, and Miami. Whatever became of them? Research indicates each dropped football and took up backgammon and needlepoint. Repetitious winning is a steep hill.

But with the Broncos, winning the Super Bowl again Sunday is a foregone conclusion. The poor Falcons need not show up, other than it would be bad form not to. So Bronco lovers are skipping much talk about repeating, since it will be such an easy task. All chatter has fast-forwarded to the chances Denver will become a dynasty.

Huh? It is hard to fathom such nonsense, although it helps to remember a time when millions seemed greatly to enjoy "Francis, the Talking Mule" on film and "My Mother, the Car" on television.

Talk about nonsense.

Becoming a dynasty is the ultimate in winning. What constitutes a dynasty is not definite. Perhaps three championships in a row is the minimum for at least a lightweight dynasty. No NFL team ever has been champ three times running. So Denver is only two short of record-dynasty level at this moment.

Typically, however, dynasties that glitter require substantially more winning.

Among certified and verified dynasties: UCLA's basketball team under coach John Wooden won seven NCAA titles in a row; the New York Yankees have won 24 World Series, including a dynasty-documenting five in a row between 1949-53 and four straight from 1936-39; the Boston Celtics had a run of eight straight NBA titles; hockey's Montreal Canadians won five straight Stanley Cups; and the women's soccer team at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) won nine straight national crowns.

The Broncos, with one straight win, seem pitiful by comparison. Still, every dynasty must start with the number 1. But if you truly want to talk dynasty, focus on the Mings, who ruled in China for 276 years. At this point in history, Denver fans seem to feel their Broncos can surpass the Mings. Only 275 wins to go.

Which, of course, won't be enough.

*Please send your comments to looneyd@csps.com

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