Passing Judgment – Dream Teams are made of these

In all the major sports, the term “Dream Team” has been used as a moniker for a handful of teams.  The term originated in the sports vernacular with the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team which was comprised of legends such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and a litany of other superstars.  Only in a dream could a team of this caliber be assembled.  Other teams could only dream of competing against them.  That team went on to achieve unprecedented success and is one of only eight teams enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame.

Prior to the 2010/2011 NBA season, the Miami Heat acquired free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh to complement superstar Dwyane Wade.  This assemblage of talent caused the NBA universe and basketball experts to deem the Heat as “the Dream Team” of the current NBA.  They were all but handed the championship before the season’s opening tipoff.  While it took several weeks for Miami to gel as a team, they did go on to have a tremendous season and find themselves in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.  What was thought to be an inevitable championship turned into an indictment of LeBron’s character and a celebration of a true team victory led by Dirk Nowitzki.  It is still very likely that Miami will eventually win a championship during LeBron’s tenure.  But players on a so-called Dream Team still must go out and perform against other professionals who are even more motivated to turn those dreams into nightmares.

Continuing the trend of acquiring big name free agents, the Boston Red Sox made the biggest splashes of the 2010/2011 MLB offseason when they acquired both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  These two superstars were added to an already potent lineup that included Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz.  They also had an impressive starting rotation with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey.  Given their deep and talented lineup and solid pitching, the Red Sox were heavy favorites to represent the American League in the World Series.  They were even touted as the best Red Sox team…ever.  Unbelievably. they started the season 0-6 and then 2-10.  But eventually they clicked on all cylinders and were the best team in baseball outside of Philadelphia for most of the summer.  This, despite an awful inaugual season in Boston for Crawford and injuries taking a toll on the pitching staff.  On September 1, 2011, the Red Sox found themselves 31 games over .500 and with a nine game lead over the next wild card team.  But then began arguably the most epic collapse in baseball history as Boston went 7-20 in September and allowed Tampa Bay to overtake them and win the AL wild card.  The “best team ever” was clearly a misnomer.  The dream team-like lineup and pitching staff they had fell apart.  Injuries and lack of production in key spots led to the Red Sox downfall as they failed to meet the hype that they had embraced and embodied.

In the wake of the NFL lockout, the Philadelphia Eagles were unquestionably the busiest team in the offseason in terms of signing high profile free agents and making changes to their roster.  They released long-time kicker David Akers and decided to go with rookie Alex Henery.  They signed former 1st round pick Vince Young to become their backup quarterback and replace Kevin Kolb, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals for defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second round pick.  They signed defensive end Jason Babin and running back Ronnie Brown.  They stole possession receiver Steve Smith from their archrivals, the New York Giants.  They placed the franchise tag on superstar quarterback Michael Vick, and then proceeded to agree to a new six-year contract with him.  And, seemingly out of nowhere, the Eagles signed one of the best cornerback in the league, Nnamdi Asomugha, to solidify their secondary.  These acquisitions were made to complement an already talented roster that included LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek.  On paper, the Eagles looked like one of the best teams in the league and a possible Super Bowl contender.

Through four weeks of the 2011 NFL season, the Eagles find themselves 1-3 and in last place in the NFC East.  That is not to say that the Eagles won’t come back and have a successful season.  They should not be counted out by any stretch of the imagination.  But the point is that after a quarter of the season, the vaunted “Dream Team” has been anything but dreamy.  They have lost three games in a row, all games they could have and should have won.  The last two defeats were at home against the Giants and 49ers respectively.  These two crushing defeats represent the extra motivation and inspiration that opponents will have against them.  The Giants didn’t necessarily need any extra motivation given the embarassing defeats the Eagles have laid on them over the past few years.  But you saw a defensive effort against Michael Vick that was clearly intended on sending a message.  The Giants went on to outplay the Eagles and punish Vick with sacks, hits and pressures.  Second year receiver Victor Cruz had the game of his life replacing the injured Mario Manningham and caught a spectacular touchdown against Asomugha.  Eli Manning was almost perfect as he threw four touchdowns and picked apart Philadelphia’s secondary.

This past week, the Eagles hosted the offensively-challenged 49ers in a game that was not expected to be competitive.  After the first half, it did not look like it was going to be.  Philadelphia built a 23-3 lead in the 3rd quarter and seemed like they would cruise to the victory.  But all of sudden, the much maligned Alex Smith began picking apart that same secondary.  Frank Gore got healthy real quick and found holes in the Eagles’ defensive line.  The 49ers defense suddenly stiffened up and didn’t allow anything else.  Somehow, San Francisco came all the way back and took the lead 24-23.  In the irony of all ironies, Alex Henery, the kicked that the Eagles drafted to replace David Akers, missed two field goals.  Akers, signed as a free agent with San Francisco after he was released, also missed two field goals.  But he did connect on the extra point that would prove to be the winner after Gore scored a touchdown with three minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. 

The point of this is that teams deemed to be a “Dream Team” have extremely high expectations placed on them.  The original Dream Team was truly a team comprised of the greatest players in the entire league.  They were all legends (except Christian Laettner) and had the ability to play as a cohesive unit.  They set their egos aside (to a degree) and dominated the world in men’s basketball.  The Miami Heat and Philadelphia Eagles are two examples of how teams perceived to be dreamy need a lot more than just big names and paper championships to truly reach their destiny. 

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