Such is the overwhelming pressure of the Super Bowl that players have been known to lose their minds as it approaches. One year an Atlanta Falcons safety was arrested trying to pick up an undercover police officer working as a prostitute the night before the game only hours after receiving a Christian Athlete of the Year award. He was beaten for two touchdowns the next evening
A Cincinnati Bengals full-back whose importance in the game plan was paramount was found on the bathroom floor of his room the night before the game, overwhelmed by the pressure. He did not play. When a game can do that to you, NFL coaches have to try to balance preparation for an opponent against the pressure that surrounds the event. That is why the hardest part of the Super Bowl is getting ready for it.
The event is the most widely covered sporting event in the United States, watched by nearly half the country's population and talked about by media contingents 100 times larger than those covering issues such as the national debt or health coverage. It is a circus, which is why the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts did their preparations for Sunday's big game last week. Game plans were devised and fully installed. There were hard practice sessions on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Even the daunting personal preparations such as working out which uncle gets the good tickets, which cousin is in the end zone seats or how many rooms have to be procured for best buddies and extended family were attended to. By the time the Colts and Saints arrived in Miami on Monday evening the only thing left was to meet an endless horde of media, walk through four days of light workouts and wait for what seems like forever for Sunday's kick-off.
"We tried to get our guys prepared as quickly as we possibly could," said the Colts' coach, Jim Caldwell. "That was our intent. We prepared last week as if we were playing last Sunday, not this Sunday." The Saints' coach, Sean Payton, tried to do the same but it was a bit more complicated in New Orleans, a town whose team had never reached the Super Bowl in their 43-year history. Mardi Gras came early on Bourbon Street, but while the city partied Payton and his players worked, drawing up the game plan on Monday and Tuesday of last week, as he normally would, and installing it later in the week with the same practice schedule the Saints maintained all season.
"We're ready to play," said , Drew Brees, the Saints' quarterback. On the flight to Florida, many of the Colts sat wondering what the week ahead would be like. Peyton Manning was worked on the only thing that mattered. "Peyton was watching film of the Saints," the Colts' wide receiver, Reggie Wayne, said of the four-time NFL MVP quarterback. That is typical of Manning, whose week-long study of an upcoming opponent is legendary.
But in the end it is not just preparation that will define these teams but how well they adjust to a chaotic week of altered training schedules and endlessly odd questions. "I'm not a horse racing fan but the week before Super Bowl XLI one of the big horses died [the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who had to be put down after breaking a leg in the Preakness Stakes]," recalled the Colts' safety Antoine Bethea, who was a rookie that season. "Someone asked me if we would be playing the game for that horse since we were the Colts. That stuff makes you wonder."