By Tim Graham
As I started to write my NFL Sunday feature about the unanimously 3-3 AFC East for today's Buffalo News, I found myself mulling Bill Parcells' famous quote about records offering no false evaluations.
His quote has been repeated in locker rooms, in postgame news conferences and on television studio sets for decades.
I wrote the first four paragraphs of my story and then stared at the blinking cursor on my monitor.
Of all the memorable quotes Bill Parcells has delivered, it's one of the most repeated:
"You are what your record says you are."
What exactly, then, is the AFC East?
The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets are 3-3, the first time since the last NFL realignment in 2002 an entire division was tied entering Week Seven or beyond.
I wasn't sure what to write next. What did identical 3-3 records mean for the entire AFC East? What did it say about the Bills? Certainly it didn't suggest the same thing about them that it did the Patriots, right?
So I went straight to the gridiron philosopher himself.
Parcells on Saturday morning was headed to the Empire Classic at Belmont Park. His horse, Saratoga Snacks, was racing for the $250,000 purse and would come in second, earning $50,000.
As Parcells passed underneath the George Washington Bridge and then headed along the Cross Bronx Expressway, he explained the origins of his famous saying and applied it to what's going on with AFC East and the Bills in particular.
"That expression," said Parcells, "really stemmed from the fact I would always hear people talk about their record and then qualify it by saying, 'Well, we've only lost three games by a total of four points.'
"You know, the two things that I came to understand at a very young age and helped me in coaching: You can only lose a game once, and after it's over the psychology of what the score was can have an effect on you, but the fact remains that it's still only one game. It doesn't count any more if you lose by 25 than if you lose by one. That can be helpful to you mentally if you can quickly win or lose and put the game in perspective.
"The psychology of the result of how you lost figures very, very importantly in football."
Parcells, a future Hall of Famer who oversaw three-quarters of the AFC East at various times, broke down the four results a team can experience in each game:
1) "You can play very well and you win. That's the fat-cat syndrome."
2) "You can play very well and you don't win. That's, 'Well, we gave it our best shot and it still wasn't good enough.' "
3) "You play poorly and you win. The psychology of that one is, 'Well, we can turn it on. We didn't even play well and we won.' "
4) "You play poorly and get beat badly. That's, 'Oh, my God. We're terrible. We don't have a chance.' "
There was a dramatic pause.
"Your team in Buffalo has undergone all of those results this year," Parcells said.
Pretty much, although not exactly. They experienced No. 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. They almost experienced No. 2, but Alex Carrington blocked a Jay Feely field goal that should have won last week's game for the Arizona Cardinals. That led to the Bills experiencing No. 3. And the Bills have endured No. 4 three times.
Parcells insisted that managing the aftermaths of each type of victory or defeat is critical to a team's focus.
"The psychology of results are important every week," Parcells said, "and the teams that can best combat them and reset for the next game are the ones that allow you to win if you have good enough players."
Parcells claimed that's why a 3-3 record for the Bills says the same thing as a 3-3 record for the Patriots, Jets or Dolphins.
"Whoever plays the best from here out, no matter how anybody feels right now, will be the ones that make the playoffs," Parcells said.