Does Super Bowl experience matter? Seahawks, Broncos are not convinced
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette is anything but a big name. He was signed by Seattle as an undrafted free agent out of Fort Valley State in 2011. He's caught seven passes for 181 yards and a touchdown in his career, and you may not see him in Super Bowl XLVIII unless you're specifically watching the Seahawks' special teams guys.
However, Lockette is important in one way: He's the only Seahawk with any Super Bowl experience. He picked that up when the San Francisco 49ers signed him in September 2012, about a week after Seattle released him. Lockette stuck on the 49ers' roster long enough to go through Super Bowl week and experience San Francisco's close loss to the Baltimore Ravens last February in New Orleans. Seattle got him back in October, and Lockette has received more namechecks from Seahawks head coach Pete Caroll this week and last than he may have ever expected.
After all, when you've got the second-youngest team in Super Bowl history, any experience in the biggest game of your life is good experience. Carroll has a bunch of bowl games to fall back on during his time at USC, but outside of linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr., there isn't all that much Super Bowl experience on Seattle's staff. And because these young Seahawks have no way of knowing any better, they refuse to believe it's a big deal.
We have heaps of experience," Carroll said Sunday.
"There is a lot of stuff in traveling here that we have to be aware of. It’s a long trip for us, when we’re staying here for the whole week. There are a lot of things going on. We have a tremendous support staff that will keep us on track with all of the logistics and all that, but basically we have to stay focused on the football. There’s a lot happening, and it’s a very exciting time for everyone. The conversation is ongoing about staying true to what we’re doing and staying true to ourselves as we prepare for this.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson wasn't taking any chances -- after Seattle's loss in the divisional round of the 2012 NFC playoffs to the Atlanta Falcons, he vowed to Carroll that his team would make the big game someday soon, and he attended Super Bowl XLVII (the Lockette Bowl) just to get a feel for what it would be like.
"Just to observe and watch and [do] some broadcasting stuff, but my main objective within all of that was to get prepared for the situation if that was the case. Just observing and noticing the time that it took in terms of pregame, in terms of halftime, you never know what may happen. You always have to be prepared for that. I think the biggest thing for our football team is just noticing that circumstances are a little bit different, but at the same time, it still feels like 100 yards, still 53-and-a-third; it doesn’t change, and we’re looking forward to that moment when the ball is kicked off and we play one play at a time and just be in the moment and enjoy the moment.
Still, it's a major moment, which is why Carroll has reached out to friends and colleagues to try to get a better sense of what that moment will be like. He refused to identify his confidantes, but Norton is the only player to win three straight Super Bowls -- which he did as a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993, and with the 49ers in 1994 -- and that makes him a very valuable voice. It doesn't hurt that Norton's personality demands attention. When he talks, everyone in Seattle listens.
"He’s always been a guy that’s been a resource to us as we’ve tried to understand what it takes to be a championship program," Carroll told me about Norton, who he also worked with at USC. "He’s a very unique coach and a unique individual that meant a lot to those teams. He was right in the middle of all of it that was happening. He’s always been a great resource for us. Specifically this week, we’ve used the few guys that we have that have spoken. Ricardo Lockette has not made a presentation to the club yet. There have been some phone calls. A lot of our guys have talked around to make sure that we’re getting all the information that we can so that we can make good decisions.
"It seems like, from the input that we’ve received, that we’re on track with what we’re trying to do and the expectations of how we’ll get through the week and how it will all work out for us. We feel very comfortable with it. I don’t really feel like we have to change a whole lot. I think our system is pretty intact and we’re going to try to make sure we maintain that throughout the week.”
And that's all they can ask.
The Broncos have a bit more experience -- this is Peyton Manning's third go-round in the big game, and he would very much like to break his .500 record in the right way -- but their roster isn't exactly teeming with Super Bowl veterans, either. Some of Denver's players have waited a very long time to get to the Super Bowl... specifically cornerback Champ Bailey, who came into the league in 1999 and has become the man for whom his teammates would love to win this one.
Head coach John Fox has been to this event twice -- in Super Bowl XXXV as the New York Giants' defensive coordinator, and a decade ago in Super Bowl XXXVIII as the Carolina Panthers' head coach. Fox is still looking for his first win, though -- and one of the things he did to enhance his chances was to bring former Broncos safety Brian Dawkins in to speak to the team. Dawkins got his shot with the Philadelphia Eagles the year after Fox's Panthers did, but both teams fell to the New England Patriots.
"Brian lives here in town," Fox said Friday about that visit. "He played here, was a part of our team my first year here. He is a guy I have great respect for, competed against all these years while he was in Philly and I was in New York and even in Carolina we played them in the NFC Championship Game. He is a guy that spoke to our team early this season and he reached out to us, and I had him speak with our guys at the conclusion of practice today.”
While the Seahawks don't know what this is like, there's a heavier weight to this game from some in Denver's camp. They've seen the elephant up close, they've been trampled by it to a greater or lesser degree, and this is a chance to erase some demons.
“Basically I've just shared my experiences of being here at the Super Bowl," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whose Arizona Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. "I told them last week that this was going to be big when preparing for the game because when you get here, there were going to be a lot of distractions. We don’t want to just enjoy being here. We have to bring last week and carry it over to this week. With Media Day, family and friends, we have to understand that it is still a game.”
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who's generally good for an incendiary quote or five at any given moment, may have summed it up best for both teams when he was asked about the experience issue Sunday when he said that “I’ve never seen experience playing a game."
"We don’t worry about things like that," he continued. "We didn’t have any experience in the NFC Championship either, and we did fine there. I think us treating every week like a championship experience, like a championship game, has helped us kind of look at every game the same, and every game has a tremendous impact and is of tremendous importance to us. I don’t think anything changes this week for us in that regard.” Playing like young men, but carrying a mature mindset into the arena. it's an edge both teams will be striving to find on Super Bowl Sunday.