ROD PAYNE, a South Florida native, University of Michigan all-American, and NFL Super Bowl champion, has founded a new concept in fitness.

A letter to my Teammates:

The last words to come out of Baltimore Ravens Coach Bill Billick’s mouth before we took the field for our last game of the 2000 season (the Super Bowl) were, actually, the same words he uttered at the team’s first meeting during mini-camp:

“Men,” he addressed us, “win or lose, we’ll do this as a team.”

When people ask me what it was like to play football in the NFL, what’s it like to win a Super Bowl, or the million or so other questions that come with living the life of a professional athlete, I can’t help but think of one word: team.

Is that it?

That’s it.

“What about the money?” they ask.

It wasn’t as important as the team. To my knowledge, a crisp hundred-dollar bill will never block a middle linebacker or intercept a pass. And there’s certainly not a pocket full of twenties pulling for you when you have season-ending knee surgery (like I had, twice), or you’re down by 10 and there’s a minute left in the game.

“What about the fame?”

Every NFL team’s goal is to be crowned the victor. Numero uno. Top Dog. Super Bowl champ. This, by consequence, means that 31 out of the 32 NFL teams will fail in this effort. Where’s the popularity in that?

“Surely your personal achievements are most important?”

Not really. Dan Marino, for example, passed for more yards than anyone in NFL history. Emmitt Smith, meanwhile, rushed for more yards and scored more rushing touchdowns than anyone in NFL history. When each was asked what his crowning achievements were in the game, Emmitt replied, without haste, “When we (the Dallas Cowboys) won the Super Bowl.” As for Dan, he kept silent, because the Miami Dolphins never did win the Big One when he was QB. When you’re on a team, you can be sure that no amount of personal victories can make up for a single team loss.

The Team. The Team. The Team.

Get it?

Today, when I train my clients in the South Florida area, my philosophy is the same as it was when I played in the NFL, and in college at the University of Michigan: We operate as a team. Win or lose, good or bad, happy or sad, the team will always -- always! -- be the focus of our efforts.

Why? you ask.

Everyone needs someone to bolster them. To offer them a trusting, reassuring hand. I know I do. And that’s usually why, when I’m asked about the money, fame, or personal achievements of my career, I focus on the more important times -- the ones we had as a team. Indeed, whether it was going 3-13 as a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals, or winning the Super Bowl with the Ravens, it was always my teammates and coaches who made being a pro athlete worthwhile. Period!

The team philosophy is what makes fitness special also. With good people around you, there is nothing you can’t accomplish. Stay away from trendy health-club gimmicks, which are basically memberships to dumbbell-filled social clubs, and be part of a health and fitness TEAM, one that’s dedicated to helping you achieve your fitness, nutritional, and well-being goals.

Join the team, or create one of your own. Either way, be a teammate.

Rod can be reached at rod@centeredbyamiracle.com