I sat across the table from Troy Aikman in 1993 in a San Francisco restaurant as we talked about the NFC title Game he would be playing against the 49ers for the right to go to the Super Bowl. He had two days to focus for the upcoming contest, and I used the opportunity to talk with him about what would happen in the two weeks to follow if the Cowboy won on Sunday. Troy was extremely bright and exceptionally tough and realistic and he said, "Now a skeptic would ask why you're having this discussion with me, since the whole world thinks we are going to lose."
But we spent a few minutes discussing the magnitude of being the quarterback in the Super Bowl, the family demands, the press demands, the potential danger of being out on the town in Los Angeles. Well, the Cowboys did beat the 49ers, and Troy then used his usual good judgment to navigate the week in Los Angeles and made sure to cease all outside activities three days before Super Bowl XXVII so he could move into his zone of preparation.
He went on to play magnificently in that Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills. When he walked on the field at the start of the game, he was "Troy Aikman, talented Dallas quarterback who after being drafted No. 1 in 1989 struggled on a rebuilding team before leading the Cowboys through the playoffs." When we left the game, he was "Troy Aikman, Superstar and Household Name." That is the promise of the Super Bowl, but spending a week in the host city hosting has risk also.
I had the privilege of preparing many other players for the experience over the years and trying to ensure nothing detracted from their readiness. Playing in and winning the Super Bowl is the goal of every player in the NFL. They grow up visualizing the possibility. Most players, no matter how talented, never have the chance to participating. Thirty-two franchises and their owners, front offices, coaches and players commit their careers to this quest -- but just two teams play and only one team wins.
Every player on a winning team carries that magic aura of Super Bowl winner with them forever after. Free agents who leave their team see their value skyrocket. Veterans enhance their contractual bargaining position. Players who play dramatically can receive endorsement offers for years to come. But they need to win the game. The public has a "winner takes all mentality" and the losing team suffers.
The Buffalo Bills achieved something historic in the 90s. For four straight years, their quality ownership and front office and coaching, combined with multiple superstar players vaulted them to the status of one of the two best teams in the NFL. That is an unbelievable achievement given the tendency of the salary cap to enforce parity, and the ever-present risk of devastating injury. But they suffered under the stigma that they weren't the second best team in football, but the worst, for losing the Super Bowl. The stakes are high.
The teams are arriving in New Orleans to spend the week in preparation for Sunday's game. Their nights are generally free until the weekend. New Orleans is a great tourist city because of the exquisite cuisine and nonstop party opportunities. It has been possible to buy and consume alcohol 24 hours a day, with drive-through bars serving cocktails to automobiles. The French Quarter and Bourbon Street are especially overcrowded with partiers. The Super Bowl has become a convention of Americana. As many as 200,000 visitors can invade the city. Corporations reserve hotels for employee and customer hospitality.
It is possible for players to get involved in difficult situations at night. Surrounded by adoring fans in the midst of the bacchanal, players can get into misunderstandings. Super Bowl history is replete with players who got arrested, were involved in fights, even in a murder scene in the nights leading up to the game. It can create distractions and undermine team solidarity. Players can become so distracted by ticket requests and family and friends desire to see them, that normal game week focus is altered.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.
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