Friday, September 30, 2022

Purple Reign 1: Chapter 15 “Festivus Maximus”

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“When you dream of winning the Super Bowl, about what it would be like to be up on that dais, you dream very selfishly. You think, ‘Winning would validate me.’ It would say, ‘I’m a great guy’ or ‘ I’m a great coach.’ I was pleased that when it really happened, when the moment of truth came, it really wasn’t about me at all. It was about Art, about the players, about sacrifice, about my family and the fans and the accomplishment and achievement. It turns out it was about everybody but me.”

Ravens head coach Brian Billick on his feelings as the confetti flew throughout Tampa Stadium after Super Bowl XXXV

The news reports came fast and furious on the Monday before the Super Bowl.

Just a day into the biggest week of my life, and the reporters couldn’t wait to track me down with the latest news.

One of the Ravens’ team buses, leaving a downtown pep rally for BWI Airport and a charter flight to Tampa, had been involved in an accident, hitting a police cruiser.

“Is that an ominous sign of things to come?” the jaded media asked the resident Baltimore media expert.

“Yes,” I replied. “That was the bus carrying the defense and they’re getting a little antsy because they haven’t hit anything in over a week. It’s definitely a sign of things to come.”

The police cruiser survived. The New York Giants wouldn’t fare nearly as well.

I suppose I now look like Kreskin.

I was attending my seventh Super Bowl and fifth as a full-fledged media member. I was only 28 behind the late John Steadman, who would miss his first-ever Super Bowl.

“Ohhhhh, beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain…”

But I knew the drill. It’s all about the hype, the parties and the excess that is America’s biggest sporting event. Otherwise, without all of the fluff and trimmings, folks could just fly down on Sunday morning for the game.

For the most part, the Super Bowl is about everything other than the game itself. That’s just a little incidental occurrence at the end of the week.

For the Ravens, the key was to not get caught up in the largess that is the Super Bowl.

When the Ravens returned from Oakland on a red-eye flight Monday morning, they were mobbed at their Owings Mills complex by euphoric fans.

The players were victorious, jubilant, excited and completely exhausted all at the same time.

On Tuesday, Billick had every player into the complex for a giant meeting, discussing game tickets, travel plans, family arrangements and protocol. Billick also met with the spouses and girlfriends of the players, and made some special requests of them as well. Using that bye week in December as a time of itinerary planning for the Super Bowl proved to be a stroke of genius on the part of Brian Billick and David Modell. By now, everyone in the organization was a ready-made game plan to follow just like the players on the field.

For the players, the orders were simple: Get some rest, study the game plan and try to treat it like any other game.

“We had done so much planning that we really had minimal distraction,” Billick said. “I gave them three days off to relax and get mentally prepared. Our theme the whole two weeks was that the game was the same.”

The idea was to get the game plan for the Giants done early during the bye week and have it implemented before the team plane even landed in Tampa.

“We basically prepared for the game as if it were being played on the first Sunday instead of the second one,” defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said.

“I think the hardest part for the coaching staff with the extra week was the tendency to outthink yourself,” Billick said. “We said that we didn’t want to change anything in the second week. I told the staff, ‘Don’t talk yourself out of anything.’”

The team didn’t report back to Owings Mills until Thursday, and even then, Billick went light on the physical and heavy on the mental, running shorter practices of just more than one hour each day.

This was in keeping with his season-long theme of keeping the players healthy for the games. Prepare the minds during the week and the body will take over on Sunday.

Virtually every veteran Raven player I chatted with during the season – especially later in the season – praised Billick’s practice philosophy and work habits while damning the previous Ted Marchibroda ideology of tougher practices making tougher players.

“It was always frustrating, especially to the older players,” Marvin Lewis said of Marchibroda. “They just beat each other up. We weren’t fresh because we were physically drained. Sometimes showing that toughness during the week makes you weak on game day.”

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