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Eyes on the Prize: How Teams Mitigate Super Bowl Distractions

Super Bowl distractions

When Thursday of Super Bowl week arrives, the hoopla factor rises tenfold, and so do the challenges for coaches and team executives to manage distractions and keep the players focused on the main task this week — winning the big game.

Thursday is when the family planes arrive from Kansas City and Philadelphia, carrying the wives and children of players, coaches and team execs along with team staff that were not already in Arizona at work in the offices set up at the team hotel. Thursday also is when most fans arrive, and they're primed to party hard for four days. One of their first stops is the team hotel, which has security to the hilt to protect the team, but the fans still hope to get a glimpse of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and their teammates. 

I've been to the Super Bowl with my teams on two occasions — with the Vikings in 1977 and the Titans in 2000 — so I know the drill. 

As soon as the teams left their locker rooms after winning the conference championships, the phones of everyone associated with the teams blew up with non-stop calls, texts and emails from family, friends and long-lost acquaintances seeking game tickets, hotel rooms, party tickets, dinner reservations, etc. Thus the challenge began immediately for players and coaches to navigate the inevitable distractions uniquely associated with this game.

Experience is Everything

It falls primarily on team execs, head coaches and the team captains and leaders to keep the players focused on the goal of winning the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. It helps if they have Super Bowl experience.

The good news for the Chiefs is that this is their third Super Bowl trip in the past four years. Coach Andy Reid, GM Brett Veach, team president Mark Donovan and owner/CEO Clark Hunt have a blueprint for managing Super Bowl week.

For the Eagles, it's been five years since they played in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. GM Howie Roseman, team president Don Smolenski and owner/CEO Jeff Lurie were with the Eagles at the time, but this is the first Super Bowl for coach Nick Sirianni. Each team has veteran players with Super Bowl experience, but there's much more of that among the Chiefs. 

The players were hit hard on the importance of getting all of the family and friends requests handled last week before the team arrived in Arizona. That's easier said than done.

As I said, I speak from experience. My two Super Bowl trips with my teams (to L.A./Pasadena with the Vikings and to Atlanta with the Titans) were a mix of excitement to be there and disappointment, unfortunately, to lose both times. These weeks were crazy busy with work, events and family, especially once Thursday hit. 

I was a rookie PR man when I went to the Super Bowl with the Vikings, and it was the team's fourth Super Bowl appearance in eight years. Coach Bud Grant, quarterback Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters on defense led by Alan Page, Carl Eller and Paul Krause drove that veteran-filled team. 

Yet with an abundance of Super Bowl experience, I saw a bunch of players who couldn't get out of the ticket business during the two weeks leading up to the game. Player salaries were far lower than today, so picking up a few thousand dollars by selling their personal tickets (yes, scalping) meant significant extra money for the players. That wasn't why we lost to the Raiders (Kenny Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff and Co. made the difference). But the ticket distractions didn't help our cause.

I learned from that Vikings experience, so when our Titans went to the Super Bowl, I made a strong statement to our entire organization about minimizing distractions and getting in and out of the ticket and hotel business as quickly as possible. 

Adding to the difficulty in 2000 was that we only had one week between our conference championship victory in Jacksonville and the Super Bowl. And we left for the Super Bowl site in Atlanta less than 24 hours after returning from our AFC title game win at Jacksonville. 

We could not wait until after winning the AFC title to have our meeting with the players, coaches and staff about Super Bowl plans. That created the awkward situation of telling everyone in the organization exactly what they would be receiving in tickets (15 per player and coach), hotel rooms (two apiece, and we'd try to help with additional needs), seats on the Monday team plane and Thursday family plane from Nashville to Atlanta, and details on family activities in Atlanta. 

We encouraged the wives and girlfriends to handle the tickets and travel details for family and friends while the players focused on the AFC Championship, so that come Sunday night, everyone hopefully would have their lists ready, if needed. Our pre-planning worked well, and things were under control as our team was prepared to play one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever. It came down to the last play, when Kevin Dyson caught a pass from Steve McNair and was tackled a half-yard short of the goal line.

More Time, More to Do

With the standard two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, the Eagles and Chiefs had sufficient time to get things in relative order by the time the teams hit the Super Bowl site. The advance staffs have been at the team hotels for the past 10 days, so everything was ready to go with team meetings and meal rooms, computers, video setup and the daily bus transportation setup. 

The teams had several days of practice at their home facilities last week, where game plans were installed, and they've been fine-tuning during Super Bowl week practices in the Phoenix area.

Meanwhile, ticket distribution plans were put in place for season ticket holders via a lottery, and the fan travel packages were sold. The team owners and execs have finalized their allocations for local and national politicians, sponsors, celebrities and other VIPs. Party tickets for premier events such as the NFL's Friday Night party and the Sunday Pregame Tailgate Party have been assigned.

Super Bowl week presents challenges because it includes a schedule far from the norm. The teams are on the road for an entire week. There are major press conferences throughout the week, which started with the massive "Opening Night" in downtown Phoenix on Monday.  

In Atlanta, we had to deal with freezing weather. Our team press conferences were held in a poorly heated tent on the hotel grounds. There are no such issues this week with the mild weather in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Glendale, where Super Bowl activities are being held.

It's a critical part of Super Bowl week to keep the families happy and occupied so they are not bored and complaining to the players. We had events for the Titan families at CNN and the Atlanta Zoo, which were not attractions at the level of Disneyland and Universal Studios during our Vikings Super Bowl week. Each team's planning staff has worked with the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee to find fun activities to occupy the team's family members, such as a private outing to the Super Bowl Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center. There are plenty of other attractions to hit. 

One of my biggest headaches in our Titans Super Bowl was controlling access to the post-game party planned for 1,500 people. Security must be extra tight for this event. We had just lost the game, and it was still an overflow crowd at this party. When I walked into our Titans post-game party, a replay of our loss to the Rams was on several giant-screen TVs — which was the last thing most of us wanted to see, and I would've nixed it in the event of a loss if I had known in advance. 

Many teams have used a secret hideaway hotel the night before the game to sequester away from the chaos at the team hotel. With the Vikings, we used a hideaway hotel closer to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena than our Costa Mesa team hotel during the week. We did not think it was worth uprooting the team to do this with the Titans in Atlanta, so we beefed up security and had an 11 p.m. curfew for the players the night before the game.  

The Chiefs and Eagles are trying to anticipate such issues and control the distractions as much as possible. The team that does the best job in this area is not guaranteed a Super Bowl win. But it may improve their chances by keeping the players and coaches a bit calmer.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the VikVikings'-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter-- @jeffdiamondnfl.

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