Nothing to play for? Don't tell that to Tom Coughlin and his silver linings playbook

Tom Coughlin looks on during the second quarter

Tom Coughlin looks on during the second quarter while playing the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. (Dec. 22, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

A lot of things go into a championship coach's mind-set, and one of the most important is how he reacts to losing.

Enter Tom Coughlin, the Giants' two-time Super Bowl championship coach, whose team has been out of the playoff race the last two weeks. There is one more game against the Redskins, with neither team playing for much of anything except pride. Yet it goes much deeper than that for Coughlin, who is deeply passionate about what to do in a circumstance like this.

It's why his team showed up in Detroit and beat the Lions, who were very much in the playoff race. The Giants' 23-20 overtime win Sunday looked ugly at times, but it ultimately turned into another example of the resourcefulness Coughlin's teams have shown in the last decade.

Coughlin again demonstrated that he's a coach who can find meaning where others see hopelessness, even when that sense of desperation is created by self-inflicted mistakes like the ones that doomed the Giants during their 0-6 start.

So if you suggest to Coughlin that there is nothing to play for against Washington (3-12), a team with much bigger problems than the Giants, he will tell you just the opposite. He will tell you there is everything to play for.

He will appeal to something that he hopes is inside of a player. If it is not, he will know that player is not right for his team.

"It's a matter of who you represent," he said. "It's a matter of your teammates depending on you. It's a matter of your character and who you are, whether you're a fighter and a competitor. A competitor of greatness is something we talk about, and it starts from deep within. Men are lured to the most difficult of challenges, and that's the game of football completely."

Those words should resonate not only with his players but with people at every level of society, doing tasks that may seem inconsequential to others but are important to the people performing them. Office workers. Landscapers. Business executives. Day laborers. You have a job to do, you have a family to support, so do it to the best of your ability, regardless of the circumstances.

Coughlin knows that getting his message to resonate has become harder, especially in a society that has become increasingly given to producing instant reactions to the world around us. A society in which Twitter and Facebook and other social media have taken hold on almost all of us and so little is left to the imagination, one in which distractions have never been more constant.

Somehow, the coach plows through that invisible wall of information overload and finds his way into the hearts and minds of his players.

"In this day and age, the way in which the media and the video worlds and the way in which you can have information so quickly, a man is who he is and it's for all time to be recorded," Coughlin said. "That's an important thing. Your family is involved. Your family name is involved and how you stand as a man."

He has taken the lessons imparted to him by the two greatest influences on his coaching -- former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and former Packers coach Vince Lombardi -- and still manages to translate them to the modern-day athlete. Time doesn't really change the message, even if the world is a different place today than when Wooden and Lombardi were in the sports arena.

What was important to both men -- and what is important to Coughlin -- never really changes. That's why his message still resonates today, even at a time when his players prepare for one last game that will do nothing to change the standings but can do wonders inside the players' souls if they approach it the right way.

"I think everybody has those situations in life, where it doesn't always go the easy way," Coughlin said. "John Wooden said it's all about effort. The effort never changes. The competitiveness is with yourself, trying to be the best you can be."

Words to live by.

For all of us.

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