The dirty little secret

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are the classic example of why winning the Super Bowl shouldn't be the goal.

I've spoken for a long time about something known as the "dirty little secret." The "dirty little secret" is that the Super Bowl is not the goal, that, in fact, being a playoff contender every year and filling your stadium is the goal.

In that philosophy, a team puts salary cap health above loading up for one season. In other words, instead of mortgaging your future to win one Super Bowl, the "dirty little secret" philosophy is that you use your cap room judiciously so that your team can be a playoff and Super Bowl contender every year, instead of having to spend five years out of the playoffs to repair the salary cap that was destroyed and the roster that was gutted because of that one, loaded-up shot at the big game.

You know the question: Is it better to win a Super Bowl and spend five years out of the playoffs, or be in the playoffs every year and never win the Super Bowl? Well, let's ask that question a little differently: Is it better to be in the playoffs every season so that you might get hot one year and go all the way, or load up for one season and not win the Super Bowl anyhow?

The Steelers are the model for those who believe in the "get hot" philosophy. In that thinking, you stay playoff competitive every year, which fills your stadium, drives revenue, protects the franchise's future and allows for that one playoffs when all the stars fall into line and the team gets on a roll.

In contrast, the 1999 Jaguars took the big swing and missed and, as a result, the team spent the next five years out of the playoffs, which caused the fortunes of the franchise to sag dangerously. Clearly, as evidenced by the careful maintenance of their current salary cap, the Jaguars have changed philosophies.

It's all about getting hot at the right time. The Colts got hot at the wrong time. They were November's champions. On the final Monday night of November, they embarrassed the Steelers and there was no doubt in anyone's minds that the Colts were the best team in football.

A little more than a month later, however, it was the Steelers who were the hot team and it was the Colts who were embarrassed. Their season was over; maybe the whole Peyton Manning era is over. The Colts took their shot last season and it could be their last shot.

If you can be sure that loading up will win you a Super Bowl, go ahead and do it. There are, however, no guarantees. The road is littered with those who gambled and lost. For every Ravens team that took the risk and won, there are teams such as the Jaguars and Titans who gambled and lost. The Colts, Chiefs and Redskins would be next.

If the NFL truly is a copycat league, then everyone will follow the Steelers' example: Keep your cap healthy, focus on finding a way to get into the playoffs and do that every year with the idea that one year luck will be your star player.

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