EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Sunday morning arrived a little cloudy, a little cool, no precip, no wind — a benign, Seattle-like start to what will be the longest day in the sports lives of the Seahawks and Denver Broncos. The wait before kickoff is agonizing, said a man who should know — Mike Holmgren.
The coach of the only other Seattle team to make a Super Bowl appearance (in XL in Detroit), Holmgren has three gaudy championship rings: two as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers (SB XXIII and XXIV) and one as a head coach from Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35-21.
"The Super Bowl is a season in itself," he said recently in a meeting with Seattle-area reporters in the Sportsradio 950 KJR studios. "Coaches like to talk that every game is the same, but the Super Bowl is different. Your emotions are different, your sleep is different. How you pet the dog is different.
"Human beings are in a very stressful situation with a lot at stake. The game starts at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern). That's one of the bigger challenges: When do we eat? How late do I sleep in? We're all used to game at 1 o'clock. Your clock is important, and it’s different."
If there were a coach who is acutely aware of Holmgren's message, it is Pete Carroll, Holmgren's Seattle successor once removed (Jim Mora, remember?). He has been vigilant in maintaining a constancy in words and deeds, making sure that a routine that is familiar and reliable to 53 large, amped young men who typically often lack discipline.
"Just trying to stay the same," he said this week. "We've had a strong couple of years here and have played with a really good mindset. I don't want that to change. We're really trying to do the things that we always do . . . Stay true to ourselves. If we do that, we'll be OK."
Carroll even bothered to choose the same uniform combo — white jerseys, blue pants — the Seahawks wore Dec. 15 when they beat the Giants 23-0 at MetLife Stadium, site of today's game.
The Seahawks are, by average age, the second-youngest Super Bowl entrant, and the first team since the 1990 Buffalo Bills to have no players with previous Super Bowl experience. Nor have the coaches — Pete Carroll sounded almost prideful when he said he has never attended a Super Bowl in person, saving it for the day when he took his team.
However, his quarterback, Russell Wilson, was at the Super Bowl last year at Indianapolis, one of dozens, if not hundreds, of non-participating players here to do media or just hang out in the intense energy that swirls around the event.
Wilson saw how the pre-game warm-ups start earlier, because of the long pre-game show. How long the halftime show took, which makes for more than 30 minutes in the locker rooms.
"Just noticing how long the day is," he said. "It's really a five-hour day. You've got to understand that your emotions, your energy, your adrenaline will be running wild. So you've got to make sure you calm down. Make sure that you time it up right.
"It's still going to come down to a two-minute drive before the half, and at the end of the game. Hopefully, I pull through and win the game for us."
The week prior to the game is probably the hardest thing to manage because of all the media obligations required by the NFL of the participants.
"You can’t let it intrude — the intrusion that organizations fight is you guys," Holmgren said, chuckling. "You need to talk, but as an organization, you try to control that and still do what you have to do to get your message across.
"The more veteran a team, it’s a little easier. If you’ve been through it, it’s easier. If you're going through it the first time, there’s nothing like it. So you have to talk to your team about it. The worst at the Super Bowl is tickets for family. You have more family than you ever knew existed. You try to insulate the players a little."
But Holmgren doesn't think the lack of experience will be much of a factor with these Seahawks, around whom he's hung around this season as a commentator on KJR.
"These guys are as loose as a group as I’ve been around," he said. "Having said that, it’s pretty controlled. They understand it pretty well. I don’t imagine it’s that different.
"They probably have more fun than I do. Kinda sad, actually," he said with a small smile.
Managing emotions are big in every football game, and more intense when everything is at stake. If Holmgren could change something he could control in the grim 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh in 2006, it was how he handled himself and the team on the sideline.
"If I could change anything . . . I couldn’t change the emotions of the players on the field and sideline as the game was going on. Every (bad officiating) call after the beginning, the sideline would erupt. I couldn’t calm them down, partly because I got upset. I got excited. I didn’t do that very well.
"You are who you are, I suppose. I’d get going, and the player says, 'He’s trying to get me to settle down?' "
Holmgren has enough veneration for the game that he has always tried to soak up the drama and setting. In 1998, when his Packers were playing the Broncos in San Diego, he went out during warm-ups when players were stretching, and just before the crew took the field that was in charge of rehearsing the display of the giant U.S. flag for the national anthem.
"I'm looking for where my family is sitting, it's a beautiful day, I'm looking at all of the fans, and all of a sudden a little guy comes out with a cigar in his face," Holmgren said. "He says, 'Get your ass off the field!' I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm the head coach.'
"He said, Get outta here.' So much for soaking in the atmosphere. I almost got run over by the flag.'"
Fair warning to Carroll: Don't expect the New York guys to be nicer than the flag-rehearsal guys in San Diego.
Among all the comparative data pounded into pixel dust in the two weeks of matchup analysis, here's the factor that stands out to me.
Seattle in its last seven games faced defenses all ranked in the top half of the league in fewest yards given up. In fact, six were against top-eight defenses — the Seahawks twice played New Orleans (No. 4), twice played San Francisco (No. 5), Arizona (No. 6), and the New York Giants (No. 8). St. Louis was No. 15, and the Rams defense is no one's idea of a sunny stroll in Central Park.
Denver's is rated 19th with 356 yards given up per game. No. 1 Seattle gave up 273.6. Big disparity.
The Broncos defense is missing five players who combined, per USA Today, for 2,545 defensive snaps this season — end Von Miller (nine starts), cornerback Chris Harris (16, including one postseason game), linemen Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson (11 starts each; Wolfe had a concussion in the exhibition game in Seattle Aug. 17) and safety Rahim Moore (10 starts).
And Seattle offense is adding Percy Harvin.
Seahawks 27, Broncos 24. Start spreading the news.
Art Thiel is all over the Super Bowl and the Seahawks' preparations for the big game. Thanks to our sponsor MTR Western, a motor coach service for college and pro sports teams. Find out more about MTR Western by clicking here.