Motivation is essential for success in sports and even the highest achieving athletes rely on a certain internal drive to propel them to success. This can be amplified, however, through events that evoke strong emotions and rally a team together. An example of this is the famous Knute Rockne pre-game speech to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, where he urged them to “Win One for the Gipper”.
The Buffalo Bills were also recently given an emotional call to arms following a tragedy that occurred on their field. During a game against the New York Jets, linebacker Damar Hamlin suffered a nearly fatal injury due to an illegal hit which led to his immediate hospitalization. In response, his teammates set out to honor him by vowing "to win one for Damar".
This kind of motivation can have incredible effects on teams, as it has been seen time and time again throughout sports history. When faced with such tragedies, teams are often galvanized into action and perform with newfound passion and commitment. It's a great way of instilling positivity within teams and helps unite players under the banner of shared goals and motivations.
Offering up heartfelt words of encouragement or personal stories that pay tribute can serve as powerful sources of inspiration for players during games, as well as helping build bonds between teammates off the court/field. Not only does this create positive energy throughout an entire organization but it also serves as a reminder that there is something more important than just winning - it’s about finding strength in unity and persevering despite any obstacles you may face along the way.
As Buffalo hosted their bitter rivals, the New England Patriots, on Sunday, those emotions must have been enormous. Seemingly on script, Buffalo return specialist Nyheim Hines raced nearly 100 yards down field with the opening kickoff. It was beyond surreal.
The fact that Hines would do it again seemed to defy reality. But what didn’t defy reality was the passion with which the Bills players played on Sunday. New England had everything to lose. The Patriots are a good football team as well. Their playoff lives stood in the balance.
One might assume that New England’s level of emotion would equal or surpass that of their opponent. It didn’t. After the game, Bills players were emotionally moved following their victory. During a post-game interview, quarterback Josh Allen couldn’t fight back his tears.
“It was spiritual, it really was. Bone-chilling, like, it was special,” Allen said. “I can’t remember a play that touched me like that in my life. I was going around telling guys, ‘God is real.’ Like you can’t draw that one up, write that one up any better. I was just told … it’s been three years and three months since-” Allen said before choking up with emotion. “Since the last kickoff return so pretty cool.”
ARE YOU KIDDING, @TheNyNy7?!
📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/ZgH7YChSD8
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 8, 2023
But that’s just one game, a game that completed a successful regular season. Buffalo will have four more chances to “Win One for Damar.” If history is any judge of how the Bills will play in the 2023 NFL playoffs, the rest of the league should be worried.
There is a significant difference between Rockne's passionate halftime speech in 1928 and Damar Hamlin. Notre Dame was an underdog to the Army Black Knights. George Gipp, the former Irish halfback of which Rockne spoke, died eight years prior. He also died in a hospital bed.
Damar Hamlin nearly died in front of his teammates. No one can write stories or explain to viewers how this might affect a sports team. It’s never happened. To watch a teammate literally die and then be brought back to life is undoubtedly an earth-shattering emotional experience.
But the Buffalo Bills are also an extremely good football team. While emotions and motivation will play a role in their future success, they are as talented as any team remaining. In fact, many NFL experts think the Bills are the best team in football.
Now, each Buffalo playoff opponent must deal with an exceptionally talented football team, plus one that is driven by an immeasurable level of internal drive. The first game back on the field after Damar’s tragic injury had to be a challenge.
Buffalo has overcome that first challenge. Ahead of the Bills is a single pursuit. It’s the same objective all 14 remaining NFL teams have. Each one wants “the ring.” They’re all equally motivated toward one goal: to be crowned Super Bowl Champion.
But how much more internal fortitude will Buffalo draw from their moving experience on Monday night, January 2, 2023? There just aren’t any statistical categories or markers to gauge this type of personal drive.
Sure, if Buffalo makes it all the way to Super Bowl LVII, it will be a “feel-good” experience. But if the old Rockne plea to “Win One for the Gipper” really does work, Buffalo’s next four opponents may be facing an immeasurable force - insurmountable human emotion – “Win One for #3!”