Holmgren's next lesson: Teaching team to sustain victories

Updated: October 22, 2003, 4:08 PM ET
ESPN

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Even success has its challenges. As the Seattle Seahawks seek to improve on the best start in franchise history, coach Mike Holmgren wants them to show they want even more.

"You have to learn how to win and learn how to sustain winning," Holmgren said. "That's as much a learning experience as battling a losing record and digging yourself out of a hole."

The Seahawks (5-1), who play Sunday at Cincinnati (2-4), have never started this well in the franchise's 27-year history. This team last won 12 games in 1984, with 12 finishes somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 in the 16 seasons since 1987.

Until now, Seattle has known mostly mediocrity.

"No team in the history of the Seahawks has ever been here," Holmgren said. "We have to learn how to win and how to sustain it, then learn how to do it on the road and how to keep pushing yourself when things seem to be pretty good."

Holmgren has been down this trail before.

When he took over the Green Bay Packers in 1992, they were decades removed from the glory days of Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr. Holmgren's teams, though, set a Packers record with six straight playoff appearances.

"Anytime you're building a program up, you go through that tough thing," he said. "Hopefully, you build it up as you get better."

Center Robbie Tobeck knows where his coach is coming from. A 10-year veteran, Tobeck started his career with the Atlanta Falcons when they were nothing special. He later played in the Super Bowl.

"I was on teams in Atlanta where guys had no idea how to win," he said. "You'd be on the sidelines sometimes waiting for something bad to happen. You could feel it with some guys. They'd been there and lost a lot of games."

Holmgren said that attitude can change, but it happens more like an eroding glacier than a lightning strike. The biggest challenge is for players to prepare emotionally every week, regardless of who the opponent is.

"It takes determination and straight-ahead focus," Tobeck said. "You have to be determined, and you have to refuse to take the losses in stride."

Over time, Holmgren said the franchise evolves into a top team in its division and a perennial playoff contender. Think of the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s or the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s.

And don't forget the Packers in the 1990s.

"When you get to the point where you are considered a playoff-caliber team every year, you've gone out every year and done it," Holmgren said. "Then, how do you maintain that and still keep your edge?

"There are all these phases of building a program up."

If the Seahawks can maintain their current focus and pace, Tobeck said they can expect a wild ride. In professional sports, the stakes tend to rise along with a team's momentum.

"It's going to get tougher every week," Tobeck said. "The longer we play, the better the record gets. The closer you get to the playoffs, the tougher it gets every week. It seems the more games you win, the more the rest of them mean."

Holmgren and Tobeck agree the Seahawks haven't reached a comfort zone. The offense hasn't been consistently effective and the defense has been vulnerable despite showing it can deliver big plays.

"We're not there yet," Tobeck said. "We've got work to do. I think we can be so much better than we are, but until we're perfect we can't relax."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index