With Super Bowl LVI fast approaching, the matchups on the field have been analyzed using statistics, tape, and in every other imaginable way. One of the most underrated aspects of a Super Bowl is something that can’t be replicated – previous Super Bowl experience. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay will become the 25th head coach to lead his team to multiple Super Bowls and is looking for his first championship after a 13-3 loss in Super Bowl LII.
The 33rd Team’s network of NFL insiders gave their views on the advantages of having been on the sport’s biggest stage before, what they learned about the environment, and how it impacted on-field performance.
Hall of Fame General Manager and six-time NFL Executive of the Year Bill Polian reached numerous Super Bowls, including a victory in Super Bowl XLI as the General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts.
“It is immensely helpful to have been there before,” says Polian. “The first time you’re in it, no matter how much preparation you do, you are not prepared for what you’re faced with.”
Polian mentioned that in 1987 when the Colts won the AFC East, they brought in Detroit Lions Vice President for Player Personnel Jerry Vainisi, who had served as the General Manager of the Chicago Bears during their Super Bowl XX victory in 1985.
“[Vanisi] led two days of meetings with just the select group of front office people that were going to operate the trip and it was immensely helpful.”
One of the most unique Super Bowl timelines was Super Bowl XXV between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants in 1991, during which the United States was involved in the Gulf War in Iraq. Polian was the General Manager of the Bills at this time, and describes how all of the planning “had to be adjusted to turn [the game] around in one week in the face of an armed conflict in which the United States was involved.
“From there, every Super Bowl that I was in was not that difficult to deal with,” says Polian. The accelerated timeline presented a challenge, “but each still presented unique problems.”
John Fox, former head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, and Chicago Bears, is one of only seven head coaches on the planet who have coached in multiple Super Bowls.
“We always tried to put most of our initial game plan in while we were still at home,” said Fox, “Then, once we got to the site we would tweak it, but the majority was put in early.”
Fox discussed how this learning experience would lead to additions to his future process after coaching with a bye week: “I would do a lot of preparation at home, whether it is family, planes, how to disperse tickets and so forth in order to avoid a logistical nightmare.”
Fox says if he were to head back to a Super Bowl, he would also ensure he treated the first week “like a bye week and put in the majority of the game plan the week of.”
Former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini believes that the Super Bowl’s location in SoFi Stadium – home to the Rams – and McVay’s prior Super Bowl experience give Los Angeles the upper hand.
“I would think the Rams have a significant advantage not having to travel and deal with all the things that come with that,” says Mangini. “It is also hard to convey how long pregame and halftime are and how to make sure the guys are mentally and physically peaking at the right time. The first time you experience it, it can throw you off because it is so much longer.”
After no team had played in their home stadium through the first 54 Super Bowls, this is the second year in a row we will see that occur following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl LV victory in Raymond James Stadium. Having been to the Super Bowl before, and hosting this one themselves, it’s clear that Sean McVay’s prior Super Bowl experience will play a role.