For the Philadelphia Eagles, Luck is about to Change

Michael Vick's time to put up as the Eagles first string quarterback is here.With six minutes left in a sun-splashed, week one game in Cleveland last season, Michael Vick stood behind center on his own nine yard line and had to think to himself, we need to start executing now. The Philadelphia Eagles were losing to the Browns 16-10 in an atrocious game, a game in which Vick was supposed to prove he was back from injury, capable of recalling his 2010 form. It was not the case. Vick had thrown four interceptions, matching his rookie counterpart Brandon Weeden pick-for-pick. And while Vick led the Eagles on a game winning drive, execution was not the reason for it. Instead, it was luck.

There is yin and there is yang, hot and cold, light and dark, male and female. And in the universe that is the NFL, there are co-dependent dualities such as wins and losses, offense and defense, good luck and bad luck. Although nearly impossible to quantify on the stat sheet, luck, good and bad, exists. Anecdotally at least, it’s proven. We watch the Eagles on Sunday and comment on lucky breaks here, bad breaks there, a favorable bounce, a tipped ball, a blown call, an obstructed view… all of which assuredly have an impact on the game’s outcome. And we think with confidence that bad breaks, while unfortunate, are ultimately ok, because what comes around, goes around. Right? The law of averages says that a string of bad luck must regress to the mean. I mean, it has to… right? I say not necessarily. I say luck may have something to do with the Eagles not winning a Super Bowl, ever. And I say that our luck is about to change, by sheer will, intent and mere strength of conviction.

Let’s assume for a moment that luck is a series of streaks. Some streaks are short and some are long. But each short streak of good luck is counter-balanced by short streaks of bad luck; long streaks of bad by long streaks of good. And there are overlapping streaks that blur and complicate things a bit. Within a streak of bad luck, there will be pockets of good, and within those pockets, pockets of bad, and within those, pockets within pockets. Oh, and there are varying degrees of strength. At any single point, or during any defined period of time, good luck may outweigh the bad or vice versa. Ultimately though, when summed from the beginning of time to infinity, the amount of good luck and bad luck will be equal. What we’re interested in then, is manipulating the relative short term.

Research suggests that such luck can be controlled to work in our favor. Psychologist and author Richard Wiseman conducted a ten year study on luck, examining the attitudes and behaviors of people who consider themselves lucky or unlucky. He compared these attitudes and behaviors across situations that could be attributed to luck. In one particular test, he asked participants to imagine they were in a bank during a robbery. The bank robber takes out a gun and fires a shot, striking them in the arm. Wiseman asked them, “Is this lucky or unlucky”? Unlucky people said it would be just their bad luck to be in the bank during the robbery. Lucky people, on the other hand, expressed how lucky they were to not get shot in the head. Summarized in his book, The Luck Factor, Wiseman found that people who consider themselves lucky generate their own good fortune through four basic principles: they are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, they make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

So how exactly, can these four principles be applied to the NFL? Well, there is a definition of luck attributed to many people, ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Baltimore Colts great Raymond Berry: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. It’s a great line and may actually be a derivative of Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, who wrote “The best wrestler is not he who has learned thoroughly all the tricks and twists of the art, which are seldom met with in actual wrestling, but he who has well and carefully trained himself in one or two of them, and watches keenly for an opportunity of [applying] them.” It’s a refinement on the “practice makes perfect” approach. It can be taken to mean, instead, excel at what you are already good at.

If we take this definition of luck, what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and apply it to Michael Vick’s game winning drive in Cleveland, it wasn’t lucky that Michael Vick recovered his own fumble; it wasn’t lucky that Browns linebacker L.J. Fort dropped an easy interception that would have sealed the game for the Browns. Rather, we can say that those Browns players simply hadn’t excelled at creating and taking advantage of chance opportunities. After all, it’s extremely difficult to train and practice for that exact moment, for every possible moment. Which is why excelling at what you’re already good at it is so important. Every coach in the NFL does this to some extent, putting players in a position to succeed. But based on what Chip Kelly has said to the media, several times (the offense and defense will be tailored to the personnel), “excelling at what you’re already good at” is the approach he seems to be taking.

If you consider winning a Super Bowl the ultimate display of good luck, the Philadelphia Eagles have existed in one long bad luck streak for the last fifty years. There have been pockets of good, with Super Bowl appearances, with pockets of bad and pockets of good within them. But I’m confident that Coach Kelly is smart enough to bring in players who have good instincts and intuition, those who expect positive results, are resilient, and can be taught to create and notice chance opportunities by excelling at what they are already good at. Finally, mercifully, it’s time to start a new streak. It’s time for our luck to change. From what I’ve seen so far, I think Chip Kelly has the will, intent, and conviction to make it happen.

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Jerome's Friend

Jerome's Friend is a native Philadelphian raised properly by great parents who taught him to love the Eagles and abhor the Cowboys. A new parent himself, he hopes to instill those same fundamental values in his son, who at five months-old can already spike a football. If you follow him on Twitter (@JeromesFriend), you'll also find his Eagles and Philadelphia sports blog, Philly's Inferno, where he resides as a Friend of Jerome.