The Chicago White Sox, whose highest paid player earns only $100,000 more than the average salary of the highest paid team in baseball, won the ultimate prize – the World Series. The highest paid team did not even make it past the division series and has not won a World Series since 2000, despite paying their players almost twice as much as even the closest team in total payroll.
The difference is that the White Sox came together for a common goal, whereas the New York Yankees could not team up, despite having many talented players. The Yankees send nine individual players onto the field, whereas the White Sox are on the field as one.
Baseball is not the only sport in which the championship has gone to a team without superstars. In the last Stanley Cup series, before the National Hockey League took a year’s hiatus, the two teams contending for the championship, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Calgary Flames, were both in the bottom half of the NHL in total payroll. Both of these teams knew how to use the talent that they had to win games.
Take the recent New England Patriots football dynasty. Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, they have won three of the last four Super Bowls, the first coming in the 2001 season, where they had the second lowest payroll in the league to the Minnesota Vikings.
Of the 32 teams in 2004, their 24th-ranked payroll beat the second-ranked payroll of the Philadelphia Eagles for the world championship. The Patriots did not win because of talent alone – they won because they came together to produce a win over a team with players like Terrell Owens.
What do these examples go to show? Money isn’t buying championships anymore. It’s no longer the A-Rod’s, Sergei Federovs and Michael Vicks bringing home the rings. Instead, the teams are working together, like the White Sox, Lightning and Patriots, who bring home the trophies.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that good players can’t work together. The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a perfect example of the opposite situation. The team that won Super Bowl XXXVII included big stars like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott and Keyshawn Johnson. These playmakers, along with lesser-known players, worked together to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Tampa for the first time in history. In fact, the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player Dexter Jackson, was not one of the typical superstars – he was simply one of the guys trying to help the team win the game.
Despite the good teamwork displayed by the Bucs in the 2002 season, the Super Bowl win went to their heads. Players like Johnson and Keenan McCardell suddenly had it in their minds that they were the stars and began demanding more buck for their bang. Johnson created dissension in the clubhouse, and when he left to play for the Dallas Cowboys, McCardell insisted on more money and attention – he believed he was the star in Johnson’s absence.
The combination of their egos and the egos of other players on the team led to two consecutive under .500 seasons for the Bucs. Presently, the Buccaneers have rid themselves of such players and are back on their feet with a strong start to the season at 5-2.
Stars are not winning games and championships on their own. The teams bringing home victories each time they play – and most importantly when a championship is on the line – are the ones who play as a cohesive unit. It is not the performance of one player, but the performance of the team as a whole.
It is the team that capitalizes on good luck and turns around bad luck. It is the team that takes injuries in stride and does not let a reputation or a big name intimidate them. So who will win next seasons’ championship? The Pittsburgh Penguins? The Cincinnati Bengals? The Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Only time will tell.
Winn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.