Levy and Carroll on their shared Super Bowl (in)experience
Twenty-three Super Bowls apart, and in very different football eras, Marv Levy and Pete Carroll were dealt the same seemingly difficult hand: a roster of nearly no players with prior Super Bowl experience.
In the week preceding the game, the media frenzy is smothering, the distractions are numerous, and the constant attention is wearing. The game itself is on the biggest stage on which football exists and can feel heavy when weighed both by the scope of the audience and the personal pressure in playing in the biggest game of a career.
Put simply, it's a lot of a lot, and experience in handling the constant pressures and staying focused seems valuable.
But to the Seahawks' Carroll – working with only WR Ricardo Lockette with one Super Bowl under his belt - and Bills' Levy - with not a single member of the 1990 Bills with prior experience - that Super Bowl inexperience was a non-issue.
"To tell you the truth I never dwelled on that very much," said Levy. "It was something we didn't really discuss. I'm sure they all aspired to get to that level for quite a while - maybe before they even got to the NFL - but it was a long hard road to get there so it wasn't a stunning surprise to get there."
Carroll harped on a similar sentiment, saying that the enormity of the game was understood but not overwhelming to his players, whom he tells to treat every game like it's the championship game.
"If we just started talking about it this week and tried to figure it out, I don't think we'd have a chance," he said. "But we've been preparing to be a championship team all along. We've been prepared to have the kinds of expectations…I think that our mentality is strong and we understand about what it takes to perform in a game of this kind of magnitude."
Acceptance of the magnitude of the game itself aside, between the almost-daily media sessions and enormous hype from even family and friends, it was impossible for the inexperienced '90 Bills and '13 Seahawks to remove themselves completely from the buildup. Levy and Carroll couldn't prevent the distractions, so what became important was creating a team-wide laser focus on football.
"Bill Polian once said to me before one of the Super Bowls, 'The only thing that matters is what happens after kickoff," Levy remembered. "Don't tell me you have the will to win, tell me you have the will to prepare. Focusing on preparation was hard given all of the tremendous distractions given all the things going on that week but that's what you have to do."
For Levy, that meant constant reminders to his players to take each aspect of the week leading up to the game in stride, and to stick to the football game plan and no other agenda.
"We tried to keep it as regular of a week as possible even though there's nothing like the media attention of that week," said a member of that '90 Bills squad, Steve Tasker. "Just stay focused on the game. That's what Marv kept telling us. The only thing that mattered was the game."
"I just tried to tell them that there are going to be all types of distractions that you're going to be faced with," said Levy. "It's going to be different than every other game. But I didn't feel that having so many players being there for the first time was an issue and I didn't address the players like it was."
Levy and Tasker agreed that with 22 players who'd soon go from Super Bowl rookies to four-time Super Bowl veterans, the non-football preparation and ability to focus got easier. But as Levy said was true for those '90 Bills, this year's Seahawks, and each team in between, no matter how experienced, the love of the game is shared and brings the enormous event back down-to-earth.
"When I talked to our players," said Levy, "I would tell them, 'Don't ever forget why you first played this game. It wasn't because of the big money you're earning now. It wasn't because you wanted to play on the world stage. You did it because it was fun. You're going against a worthy opponent. So many people would love to be in your shoes, so remember why you first played the game because that's what it's all about.'"