Some Clarification is in Order: The IT Factor

In my continuing, blue moon series Some Clarification is in Order, which has covered burst and steady backs, and it's update, and quarterback types, I have a new topic. Like my past posts, I'll be looking to clear up any misconceptions and misunderstanding people may have about terms or situations in football. This post has been a long time coming, it wasn't something I threw together because of recent events, but they were what motivated me to finish it. I have been want to not just understand, but better explain what the IT factor.

Both of these terms are used a lot, and are very ambiguous as well. Each person has varying definitions and views on the term that possibly have the greatest meaning to many fans of teams. I went out and looked for how those who matter and have the best idea of what these terms mean, coaches and players, view the IT Factor. Fans can say what they want, but it's those people who play and coach the game that have the real say. This isn't about a specific player or team, but it will deal with players either still playing or retired. Now since is something that people differ with, I tried to back up my research with as much research as possible, and tried to include at least one source for each point.

IT Factor:


The term "IT Factor" applies widely in our society, from sports to popular culture. It has been applied to Paris Hilton to John Elway. As a social scientist, this isn't just a football term, and it's non-football definitions are very helpful in allowing us to understand the football application.

Celebrates who lack lack high quality talent such as Hilton or the Kardashian's have something them about them that draws people to them despite no real reason for their popularity. It applies to politicians and religious leaders. Most often it applies to the outspoken, charismatic leaders, but those who met Mother Teresa, from Reagan to Pope John Paul II, said they never felt what they felt when they were around the very soft spoken women link. FDR was seen as one of presidents who showed the IT Factor despite weakened body and clam, gentle demeanor. But had people known he struggled to walk, presidential historians conclude that the he wouldn't have been given the label of "IT," see Neustadt’s Presidential Power essay.

This public factor is what has defined the IT factor in the media's eye. The label of the IT Factor given by the media and the populous is a varying and changing, given and taken away by actions, while the label given by peers isn't given lightly and usually stays despite success or failure. I want to look at both sides.

Media IT Factor:

The media will award the IT Factor label for varying reasons, here are a few examples along with the media proclamation of their IT Factor:

  • Drive to win, competitive will. Examples: Tim Tebow link John Elway
  • Background, what they've overcome, pride. Examples: Michael Oher link Ray Lewis link
  • Ability to lift teammates, make those around them better: Peyton Manning link Joe Montana link
  • Physical ability. Examples: Jay Cutler link Joe Flacco link

When it to comes to the media, these four types are the main types of abilities fans and analysts look for when giving the label. It is more commonly given to those like Manning who make their teammates better and lift their team higher. It is also sometimes given to those with the drive to win and physical ability, but these two are the mostly likely to be taken away. The rarest type I've seen is the one where it's based on their background and their pride. This type is almost never taken away, and is possibly the most respected of all the types among players and coaches link and link.

The main point and problem with the media assigning the IT factor is they are as quick to take the label away as they are to apply it.

  • Jay Cutler had it coming into the draft, and even was seen as having it early in his career. But has apparently lost id due to struggles and some parts of his personality that aren't likable. Link, link and link.
  • Brady Quinn had it during college and in the pre-draft phase. He was seen as a skilled leader who lifted his teammates to higher levels. Now no one would give him that label. Link.
  • Marc Bulger was seen as a nobody, but due to stellar play early in his St. Louis career, he was seen as their future, and proclaimed one of the best young quarterbacks, and given the IT label. It was latter taken away as his play declined and is now seen as an average back up. Link and link.
  • Ben Roethlisberger was drafted as a long term project, but due to circumstances he was thrust into the starting job. Since then he's won two Super Bowls and has been given the IT Factor. But since the allegations against him have come to light, he has had that label stripped, despite not playing any football. Since his return, he's actually got his IT Factor back due to his great play. Link, link, link and link.
  • Tom Brady was a nobody before he was given the chance to show he could succeed. Brady has three rings, and is one of the winningest quarterbacks in history. Prior to his success, he wouldn't have been given any label worth mentioning, but due to success, especially in the playoffs, Brady is seen as a shining example of the IT Factor. Link.

This changing label doesn't lend much credence to when the media gives the label to a player. This lack of regularity and stability create a very mobile and weak term that gets tossed around, and is losing it's meaning in the media. At this point, from any reliable stand point, if the media or fans give a player the label IT Factor, it should be heavily relied on. In the media and especially with the fans since we rarely have any contact with players, we look at the IT factor as confidence, big play ability, similar things listed above. But the thing with those way of looking at the IT Factor is that since it's relied on success, both personal and team, if theirs a down turn in production, for whatever reason, the label is taken away. We must find a better way to define the IT Factor, so to due that, we will move on to how players and coaches see and define the IT Factor.

Player/Coach IT Factor:

While there is some overlap between the media and peer definitions, they are different in some key areas. Here are some key points:

  • It's not just about flashy play, it's about consistency, doing it week in and week out. A player who give it their all is seen much higher by his peers and coaches then the player who makes one or two big plays a game. Link.
  • I found players are actually just as likely to say a defensive player has the IT Factor as an offensive player, something that isn't true for the media. And it isn't about stats or physical ability, it's about intensity. Andra Davis makes a nice point:
The thing is that look in the eye that a man brings to the game. Ray Lewis and 'Dawk' both have it. And you need it. That's what takes your defense to the next level. Link
  • Taking pride in your work, playing with confidence, and earning respect are keys to having the IT Factor from a players and coaches view. To players, you earn the IT, you don't "just have it" you don't earn it, lose it, earn it, lose it, that's not IT. When a player earns IT, they don't stop playing well, and a struggles that they experienced are ways of proving their IT. You don't have the IT till you've overcome a rough patch, your ability to overcome that rough spot is rewarded with the IT. Link. Brian Dawkins calls these players "warriors" those who've earned their strips. Link. Ray Lewis says it's about seizing what you are given.

Guess what? We are back in it again for another opportunity to go back and all you can ask for is an opportunity, and that what we want, just an opportunity. Bottom line is if you can get that opportunity, grab the moment man, don’t let everybody push you away with ‘There’s so much pressure. What if this, what if that?’ Forget about the what ifs and just go have fun and play football and that’s what we’re focusing on and wherever we end up, that’s where we end up. Link

  • Age and experience is a big part, Lewis looks at players like Dawkins or Mike Brown, who are playing top football. That consistency and wisdom adds to the IT Factor that has already been proven.

I’ve been watching and studying football, the people who are having the most success are the ones that have been in the league a long time and have been very consistent. Link

  • Players don't care about college success, they know there's a difference between the NFL and college, there's a reason they haze rookies, to let them know they don't care about their past, they want proof, either in practice or in games. Young players who deal with rookie problems while remaining confident but humble, that's the first big step according to Mike Holmgren. He says what he saw from Colt McCoy, a guy he didn't want to use any time soon, was exactly what he wanted, a guy who experienced unprecedented college success, came in very humble to camp, studied very hard, Delhomme say he hadn't seen a rookie study that hard. McCoy remained humble, and when he saw his time had come, ran into the huddle, and took command. His teammates wouldn't give him the IT Factor, but they acknowledge he's getting there. Holmgren, one of the best quarterback minds in the NFL, said he's never met a rookie with the IT Factor, but he's seen the potential. Link, link, link and link.
  • Players and coaches expect a player who has the IT Factor to not bring their personal life into the game and locker room, but seem to not care about personal issues as long as they maintain what has been talked about before, such as hard work, inner fire, excellence in field, and experience. If it doesn't affect their game, teammates don't seem to mind. Link and link.
  • The media and fan version of the IT Factor is more of wunderkind, more often given to young players who haven't played very long then to players who have earned it. John Harbaugh believes he's seen more defensive players have the IT Factor then rookie quarterbacks, but the media and fans never give them the label. Link and link.
  • But like Holmgren said, younger players can have that potential. In Arizona running back Jason White said about his rookie, but 25 year old, quarterback:

There are certain people, when they walk into a room, they could be the newest person there, but when they speak, they speak in a certain way and they come across with a certain air, and you are going to listen, even if they are the brand-new guy. Link

Steve Breaston said it's how you feel like you could, if he proves it, follow him anywhere.

  • To players and coaches, a large number of players have this potential, from Tim Tebow to Travis Johnson. It's a rare few who actually reach that potential.
  • Some players don't even believe in the IT Factor. They believe players can play better then others, but they don't believe that players are naturally better because of the IT Factor. They feel a player earns respect, and they follow those they respect, it has nothing to do with anything besides how a player works and plays. Tom Brady said he's played with people who the media said had the media had the IT Factor, and he didn't see them play any better then those whom the media didn't give the label to. He pretty much referred to it as superstar treatment. Link.
  • Covered in the links above, here are a few of the players who are viewed having the IT Factor by their peers and coaches that are currently playing:
    - Peyton Manning
    - Ray Lewis
    - Brian Dawkins
    - Haloti Nagata
    - Tom Brady
    - Mike Brown
    - Michael Oher
    - Brett Favre
    There aren't that many players who have been labeled by their fellow players as having the IT Factor.


There is a huge difference between how coaches and players view the IT factor versus how the media and fans view the IT Factor. Media gives it to the hot player at the time, and will take it away for various reasons. Players and coaches give it to those who've earned it over years of play, who have a fire. This difference is huge. At any time, the media may have dozens or more of IT Factor players in the league at a time, to the actual men on the field, there aren't that many.

After doing this research, I have lost respect for anyone other then those who share a locker room with the player. Retired players who aren't on the field, either practice or in game, while having a better understanding, still lack the key factor needed to know whether a player has the IT Factor, playing with or against them. Because of the changing criteria and how often it's used and taken away by the media, I'm not going to personally listen to the media's view of the IT Factor.

This leads me to believe the IT Factor isn't confidence, being an outspoken player, it isn't just being a great player, it isn't just about desire. It's earned, by the quite and strong, by the dependable player, the one who is respected, and by those who've overcome trial and emerged stronger.

Since I've been studying this, I've also discovered a lot about what it means to be Clutch, and that will be the focus of my next piece.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR.