|Associated Press / US Presswire|
|Ben Roethlisberger (left) and Larry Fitzgerald squared off in an epic Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.|
For Charles Woodson, it was the moment he stepped off the plane to a throng of media. For Ray Lewis, it was the reflective conversations shared with Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson. For Larry Fitzgerald, it was the seconds right before kickoff when the hair on his arms stood tall.
No matter who you ask, no matter what Super Bowl they played in or how the score ended up, everyone who has participated in football's biggest game seems to remember the week in a similar but unique way.
So we asked eight active stars from seven different Super Bowls to walk us through the pinnacle week of their professional lives, from the moment they arrived to the final hour of their celebration. Here is the collection of their stories:
The Week Before
Once the conference championships conclude, teams generally don't relax for long before they spring into their Super Bowl preparations. The extra week is used to put together a game plan in a more comfortable, less distracting environment.
Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (Super Bowl XLV, XXXVII): "When you win the conference championship, you have a full week to get over the feeling of winning that game. There's a lot of anticipation built up, before you even get to the week of the Super Bowl. After all that time away from playing a game, it seems like it takes you away from what you're actually there to do."
Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji (Super Bowl XLV): "Our plan for the game was already mostly in place before we even left Green Bay for the Super Bowl. We had our preparations set. We got the bulk of our work down before we got to town."
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (Super Bowl XLV): "We made sure to keep the meetings the same, too. We got all of our work down before we got to Dallas so we didn't get caught up in the media distractions. We understood the magnitude of the game, and we just wanted to be playing our best ball. You want to keep a little bit of normalcy, so we took a few days off, and then you get right back at it. You study your opponent and put in the majority of your game plan. You rehearse it and you feel good about it. So whenever you get to the city, you can just polish things up so you're clicking on all cylinders."
This year, the Patriots arrived on Sunday. Generally, though, a good chunk of teams (like the Giants this year) will wait until Monday before taking the plane ride into the host city. For players, it's not a heavy workload, but it's the first time many realize just how crazy the week ahead will be.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Super Bowl XLV, XL, XLIII): "It's overwhelming. You get off the plane, and there's media everywhere. We take a camcorder just so you can record it because it's such a blur. When we got to Dallas, there were helicopters hovering, people everywhere. It's just ridiculous. You've got to try to take it all in, but don't let it get too big. People get overwhelmed and they get too nervous, and they forget to treat it like a regular game."
Woodson: "Getting off that plane, seeing all of the media, really seemed like it signified that we made it. We were in the Super Bowl! I think that moment, getting off that plane, waving to the cameras, was a very special time for everyone."
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (Super Bowl XLIII): "We had curfews every night, so getting out on the town wasn't even an option. Coach didn't want us to be distracted with stuff like that. We got there Monday night, and media day was Tuesday. Monday night was the only night you don't have a curfew, but if you've been to the Super Bowl, you know nothing is going on Monday night anyway. So Tuesday was 1 a.m. curfew, then a midnight curfew. Then, it was 11. It progressively got shorter as the game got closer."
It might soon be time to rename Super Bowl Media Day to C-list Celebrity Day. No other afternoon displays the week's craziness like this one. Players arrive to the stadium in the morning. The stars will sit behind podiums usually set up on the field, while nearly 40 other players either wander the throng of reporters or sit in assigned seats around the area. No question is off limits.
Raji: "I realized we were in the Super Bowl when media day rolled around. You've got 'Entertainment Tonight' asking you about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I heard how crazy media day can be, but once I was a part of it, I realized for myself how crazy that is."
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (Super Bowl XLI): "It was different. There are so many different people from all over the world. I talked to a couple of people from China, Japan, Australia, England, all over Europe. Listening to some of their questions, they were pretty basic. But to them, it was probably a great thing. The atmosphere is just really unique."
Several players said Wednesday is welcomed because it actually means the team can retreat to its comfort zone. This is the first day of real practice, when they'll go over the game plan to refresh everyone's memories.
Woodson: "By Wednesday, when you get to that first practice, you're so ready to get back to football that you can't really contain yourself. Now, you're back to doing what you do. You've done so many things that aren't football that you can't wait to get back to the game. For us, I think our Wednesday practice in Dallas was our best practice all season. After all of the media on the first two days, it refocused us on what we were trying to do."
Fitzgerald: "I think as an athlete, you're so used to having things a certain way. In the regular season, meetings start at 8 a.m. You break for 30 minutes to have breakfast. The NFL season is like Groundhog's Day. You have a routine. I eat a bagel, some fruit and a smoothie everyday. That's my routine. But the Super Bowl breaks that up. You're in a hotel. You're in ballrooms for meetings. You have fans all around the place. It breaks up the routine, so that's a challenge."
By late in the week, comfort is setting in. But so is impatience. While the parties are starting up on the peripheral, players begin to spend more time around the hotel lobby talking to their families or teammates. Strict curfews are imposed for each team.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (Super Bowl XXXV): "The most memorable part of the week? The conversations that I had with (former Ravens teammates) Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe. Just men sharing stories. Men sharing history. Those conversations took place everyday, but the closer we got to it, the conversations took place even more. Life experiences. It's a childhood dream -- everybody's childhood dream. Shannon had two already. Rod Woodson didn't have one. So the stories were so good. It was reflective for everybody."
Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod (Super Bowl XLIV): "Being able to enjoy the experience with my family and friends who flew or drove to Miami was probably my favorite part of the week. I had about 25 people there. After practice, whenever we had down time, I tried to find time to hang out with them in the hotel lobby. Very simple. But very special."
Matthews: "Around Thursday or Friday of the week, you just want to play the game. You're sick of the questions. Sick of the media. Sick of the hype. You just want to go out there and put it all on the line."
By Saturday, there's no more media. No more questions. No more distractions. The teams will head to a new hotel as part of the routine they often follow during the regular season. They'll also have one final meeting with all players and coaches.
Raji: "The most memorable moment was probably the night before. Getting ready, having that team meeting. We got fitted for rings before we actually won the game. That was a mental advantage, I think. You can visualize it. You want it. You realize that either way, it's the last game of the season. You want to have your best performance. You're sitting around with all of these people that you've traveled this distance with. It was special."
Because of the late kickoff, and because of the massive security details, teams arrive to the stadium early, left with a lot of time to kill. For the hours before the start, it is generally a quiet and cerebral vibe around each team's locker room.
Woodson: "That Sunday is a long day leading up to kickoff. You're just going over in your head different things you've seen on film, different things you've done in practice to prepare for that game. Once you get to that stadium, and you see all of the people, and the anthem is sung, you're thinking, 'Finally.' You're just out there trying to make plays so when the end of the game comes around, you're on the right side of the score, which we were able to do last year. That's the ultimate feeling."
Tillman: "The game locker room was a special part, when you walk in there and see your game jersey. That's pretty nice."
Fitzgerald: "I would say that time in the locker room before kickoff is really special. It's much longer than usual because the pregame is such a different experience. You look around that locker room, and it's all Super Bowl signs. You see those patches on the jerseys. That's when it hit me, when I realized I was playing on a larger stage. You realize you're 60 minutes away from living the ultimate dream of being a Super Bowl champion. That's when it really hit me. Then, right before kickoff, the hair on your arms is standing up. You know you're about to go. You see all those flashes, and those fighter jets fly over. Man. It's just all so cool."
Woodson: "There's nothing like it. Every player that touches the field during that season plays for that moment, for that game."
For the losers of the game, it's going to be a long, hard night. For the winners, it's going to be a long, crazy party. Last year, Kid Rock played the Packers' after party, which is a very exclusive event. Two years ago, Kenny Chesney played it. For the first time all week, players get to unwind and realize what they just accomplished.
Bushrod: "The best part was the after party. Being with all [my teammates], hanging out with my coaches from college and high school, who all made the trip, it was such a special experience. All of the hard work that you've put in all year, all of your career, has just paid off. Being in a Super Bowl is a dream come true, and the fact that our team did it with such great guys, it was just awesome."
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington