My Super Bowl Coaching Advice: ‘Don’t Let the Moment Slip Away’
Listen up, Pete Carroll and John Fox. Mike McCarthy has been there, and he's got a few tidbits to share on how to approach the final 48 hours before kickoff, the game itself and, most importantly, the one thing to keep in mind amidst the madness if it's your team hoisting the Lombardi
By Mike McCarthy
I’ve always felt that preparation in this league needs to be meticulous and no detail should be overlooked. In the Packers organization, we focus a great deal on the formulation of our players’ weekly schedule and its consistency throughout the season. Players benefit from regularity, and it puts the team in the best position to be successful.
With that in mind, when it came to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas against the Pittsburgh Steelers, we tried to maintain a similar schedule for the players. We weren’t going to get to the biggest game of our careers and start changing things. On game day, we did a good job of managing the different stress points and variations that the Super Bowl presents. I felt our players were confident when we finally took the field on Sunday night.
We completed our game-plan work in Green Bay during the off week, preparing right up until our flight for Dallas on the Sunday before the game. Upon arrival, we were given an amazing welcome on the tarmac by two fire trucks that shot water over our plane. An ice storm hit Dallas that night, which in hindsight, I believe helped us. The storm created travel limitations, and as a result, our young team was doing a lot of things together that fostered bonding and camaraderie.
Much is made of the media attention surrounding the teams in the Super Bowl, and while nothing can prepare you for the volume of media you talk to during the week, our staff and the NFL did a tremendous job of keeping everything organized and efficient. I thought our players were very comfortable handling the increased attention. I’ll personally never forget the final press conference before the game on Friday morning. I walked out onto the stage and was impressed by the number of people covering the event. I had never been exposed to anything like that. It was a unique moment. They asked me to pick up the Lombardi Trophy for some photographs, and I knew some coaches in the past had been superstitious and wouldn’t touch it, but hell, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Once Friday arrived, from a scheduling standpoint, the next 48 hours were pretty normal for us. I knew Sunday was going to be a long day, and as I had done in the past with night games, I pushed my themed talk to the team from Saturday night to Sunday morning. On Saturday night, we had a motivational speaker, Dr. Kevin Elko, speak with the team. Prior to his presentation, many of the guys were hanging out around the meeting rooms where they found a baby grand piano.
C.J. Wilson started playing while Greg Jennings and a number of guys sang spiritual songs for a good 25 to 35 minutes. It was special and something I’ll never forget. That moment gave me a lot of confidence that the guys were dialed in and ready to play. I always look for stress points in our team’s behavior and that was a very confident moment. Dr. Elko had a great talk that evening and after that meeting broke, the players walked out and were measured for their Super Bowl rings. The players really enjoyed the opportunity to see what they were playing for, not to mention the timing of that message. Like all nights before games, Saturday night concluded with a team snack. I’ve never heard so much hooting and hollering; the camaraderie, energy and confidence were through the roof. Dr. Elko and I were talking that night about the week and the interaction he observed among the players. He was amazed and I very clearly remember him telling me, “Mike, you’ve already won this game.” It’s easy for me to say it now, because we won the game, 31-25, but I felt very confident Saturday night.
The opportunity to speak to the team on Sunday morning is something I’ll always cherish and remember. My message was simple; it was about the “Power of ONE.” Our team was unified in the pursuit of ONE goal, and like the three letters in the word one, our team was made up of three units—offense, defense and special teams. Additionally, our team’s identity was characterized by three components—discipline, toughness and being fundamentally sound. Finally, I left the players with the reminder that they carry the history and tradition of the Green Bay Packers with ONE mind, ONE heart, ONE purpose and ONE goal. We were playing that night to take the Lombardi Trophy back to the ONE city where it belongs. It was our time to take it home.
The easiest part of the week was game day after we arrived at the stadium. At that point, it was all about football. We talked for two weeks about hydration and conserving energy during pregame and our guys did a really good job of focusing. We always have a couple of guys that we worry about exerting too much energy in pregame, but everybody was on the same page. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac shared his experience from when he was with Carolina and played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Panthers came out of the tunnel and guys were so jacked up and ready to go that he had to tell them, “Guys, settle down, Beyonce hasn’t even come out on the field yet [for the national anthem].” It was a great message for our guys to hear, and they did a good job of handling the extended pregame.
We usually want our guys up and toeing that white line and ready to go, but it was the opposite for the Super Bowl. We told them to sit down and relax because it’s different from a normal game. Players and coaches tend to get programmed to the length of time prior to kickoff because we’ve been in so many games during our careers. We know when the national anthem is running a little long, and we know it’s a few minutes longer to kickoff for Monday Night Football. With the Super Bowl, it’s much longer and those were the preparation stress points we talked about.
As for halftime, our strength and conditioning and training staffs had a distinct plan to get the players fed, hydrated and off their feet. I didn’t want our players to feel like they were sitting around very long before they had to head back out to the field, so we coordinated our meetings with the players and coaches to begin later into the halftime segment. We gave them more individual time on the front end of our arrival to the locker room as opposed to the exit. The in-game challenges are what every coach knows he has to deal with going into every game. The Super Bowl is different and you have to plan accordingly.
I did make one mistake surrounding the game, and it’s something that I regret to this day. I was not prepared for the postgame atmosphere after our Super Bowl victory. I had heard other coaches talk about postgame after they won and, frankly, I forgot all about it. That’s the only thing I wish I could change about my Super Bowl experience. We all work tirelessly for that moment and our families make sacrifices and support us, and I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it with them or the team the way I would have liked to in the immediate aftermath of the game.
As the clock winds down, the NFL is so focused on getting the head coach across the field that I didn’t really have the chance to share in many moments on the sideline with our players. T.J. Lang and Ryan Pickett doused me with Gatorade and I spoke briefly with Aaron Rodgers, Jennings and a couple of other guys, but that was about it. However, I’ll never forget the moment I had with Mike Tomlin and how gracious he was at midfield. I’ve always had great respect for Mike and that moment was a great illustration why.
After that, I was pushed onto the stage for the trophy presentation. My family was nearby on the field, but I couldn’t really talk to them. Receiving the Lombardi Trophy was an amazing moment, but I couldn’t wait to hug my family. Unfortunately, that moment was brief and incomplete because we were interrupted by multiple people trying to get interviews as I came off the stage. Sadly, unlike many of our coaches, I don’t have a picture with my family on the field as the confetti fell during that historic moment.
I was numb for the next half hour and I wasn’t even sure what part of the stadium I was being taken to. I did a press conference immediately, and I’ll always appreciate the class the Rooney family, and Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan, the Steelers’ GM and director of football administration, displayed by congratulating me after I walked off the stage. Following the press conference and some other interviews, I got back to the locker room and it was pandemonium. I’ve never seen so many people in the locker room.
Overall, I really treasure the entire Super Bowl experience, but it’s easy to get consumed in the preparation for such a big game and everything surrounding it that you forget about the little things. Except when you look back, those things aren’t so little. A good friend of mine was coaching for the Ravens last year and I told him, “Whatever happens, make sure you get your family on that field after the game and enjoy that moment with your family and players. Don’t let that slip away.” When the Green Bay Packers win their next one, I’ll be much better prepared for that part of the experience.