Could a game played overseas, in October, determine the winner of Super Bowl XLII?
To more than a few pundits it could. As preparations for the NFL's title showdown move into high gear this week, some observers feel the Giants may hold an advantage in the Super Bowl because they played a neutral site game this season in London against the Miami Dolphins.
The fact that New York played in the first regular-season NFL game across the pond may have given the Giants a crash course in dealing with distractions, but that will count for little against a Patriots team that has the equivalent of a university degree in big games.
Still, there is something to be said about a Giants team that performed better on the road this season than it did at home. New York has won 10 straight on the road after a Week 1 loss against Dallas. And though that accomplishment is easily trumped by the Patriots, who won all of their games this year -- both home and on the road -- it's a feather in the Giants' cap that is both admirable and noteworthy.
But now comes the hard part. The Super Bowl is the ultimate distraction. There are a lot of exciting things going on, and both teams will be tempted to enjoy themselves and celebrate their accomplishment in making it to Arizona. That being said, the players must attempt to maintain the same focus and intensity of preparation on the road as they have all season. That will be no easy task.
During a typical road trip, teams arrive the day before a game. In certain circumstances, a team will arrive an extra day earlier if they are traveling to the West Coast from the East Coast and vice-versa. Maintaining the same routine and schedule is at a premium during a regular road trip, but nearly impossible during Super Bowl week, with both teams arriving at least six days before the game.
Most of the five teams that I played for arrived around 3 or 4 p.m. the day before a game, usually a Saturday. After picking up your room keys and changing out of your dress clothes, there is typically a little down time before dinner and night meetings. Most NFL teams, but not all, allow their players to eat dinner elsewhere the night before games. There is always a snack available after the meetings, which culminate the week of preparation.
Most players then hang out in their own, or each other's rooms, watching TV, movies or playing video games before making sure they are in their own room by curfew, when the coaches or security personnel come around to perform a bed check. Teams cut players some slack during Super Bowl week, but not much.
Unfortunately, some individuals and teams have had a tough time maintaining their focus during Super Bowl week and have taken the fun too far. As a former Bill, I have heard a plethora of stories from fans and players alike who believe the Buffalo teams of the 1990s may have enjoyed their Super Bowl week experiences a bit too much.
The chronicles of individual Super Bowl infamy are led, of course, by Eugene Robinson and Barrett Robbins. Robinson attempted to solicit prostitution the night before the big game, while Robbins was MIA after an all-night bender in Mexico. It appears for some that the Super Bowl pressure is just too much to bear.
To their credit, the Giants appear to have a collection of players, led by Plaxico Burress and Antonio Pierce, who feed off the negativity that surrounds them on the road. Their focus seems greater as they are able to distance themselves from any of the distractions that may be going on at home. Every away game is a business trip and the G-Men have treated it as such.
Watching the Giants three-game road-trip odyssey through the playoffs reminded me of one of my first away games as a rookie with the Washington Redskins: a 2001 game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium. Growing up in Southeast Pennsylvania as a huge fan of all Philly sports teams, I was struck by how awkward, yet exhilarating, it was to drive into the stadium on the opposing team's bus. A large segment of Eagles fans offered our bus the same hand gesture as we rolled past them. It was almost like a rite of passage as 8-year-old boys followed their father's lead in offering us the "one-finger salute." Some of the guys on the 'Skins got angry. Some got excited. Others just laughed. Once in the stadium, we were called foul names or worse. Some of my teammates clearly fed off of the negativity and were able to parlay that into a convincing road win, our fifth straight of the season.
This year's Giants may need to feed off similar negativity from Pats fans in Arizona to win their 11th road game. All season long they've had a Phillip Rivers-like glee for silencing the typically mouthy fans of the opposition. Can they do it again? We'll find out soon enough.
A large group of NFL players not on the Giants or Patriots will make their way to Arizona this week to participate in some Super Bowl-week festivities. They will participate in promotional activities, make personal appearances and take part in the night life for which Super Bowl week is so well known.
One place where you will not see many players, however, is at the game on Sunday. Though each player is given the right to purchase two tickets at face value, and many do, they will not sit in the stands and watch the Pats and Giants go toe-to-toe.
Why? Well, like most players, I have never been to a Super Bowl. I never wanted to attend one as a spectator during my playing career for multiple reasons. One is that it would be too difficult to watch two other groups of players fighting for the ultimate prize in a season in which my team fell short. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I always dreamed and wanted my first Super Bowl experience to be running out of the tunnel onto the field. I wanted to experience the spectacle from the inside. Now that that dream is over given my impending retirement, I'm sure I will go to a Super Bowl at some point just to see what it is really like.