How to handle Super Bowl distractions

How to handle Super Bowl distractions? Ask the Saints.

N.O. stressed focus, hard work, used bed checks and kept distractions to a minimum

By Brian Allee-Walsh; updated 9:55 p.m. ET Jan. 27, 2011

NEW ORLEANS – As Who Dat Nation and the Gulf Coast Region partied deep into the “dead week’’ prior to Super Bowl XLIV, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton warned his players of the potential trappings that awaited his team in Miami.

Given a week of R&R after beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime to claim the franchise’s first NFC championship, players were advised “to take care of all the b.s. before you get to Miami,’’ according to former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a nine-year veteran now playing for the Cleveland Browns.

“Sean wanted us to unwind and to focus for the next week,’’ Fujita recalled. “He wanted us to know how distracting it was going to be. Most of all he wanted us to get out of New Orleans. It was a lot of fun but it was absolutely crazy in the city.

“When we all came back to begin the Super Bowl preps in Miami, he was all business. He did such a good job of making sure guys were focused and eliminating all the distractions.’’

Despite Payton’s efforts, a handful of players didn’t heed the warning. Five players missed the team bus for Media Day the Tuesday before playing the heavily-favored Indianapolis Colts. One by one they showed up late at the stadium — Bobby McCray, Roman Harper, Usama Young, Jermon Bushrod and finally Tracy Porter.

They had been out partying the night before, taking full advantage of their first and last night of freedom before getting down to the business of trying to win the biggest game of their lives.

“This was the perfect time for a crisis, Bill Parcells-style,’’ Payton writes in his book, “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life.’’

“This was going to be a teaching moment. Teaching by confrontation.’’

With all hands on deck, behind closed doors in their locker room at Sun Life Stadium, Payton delivered perhaps his best-ever pregame speech five days before the game.

“My intuition tells me you guys are in for a rude awakening this coming weekend. I can smell an ass-kickin’ on the way. I can smell a team that looks like they’re just happy to be in the Super Bowl. You guys reek of that team.’’

Perhaps McCray, Harper, Young, Bushrod and Porter reeked of South Beach.

“I asked Bill Parcells to speak to you guys,’’ Payton said. “You know he means a lot to me. He’s a smart guy, and you’ve heard me talk about him. He’s not in a position to speak to this team. But he had a message. Here’s the message:

“ ‘When the band stops playing and the crowd stops cheering — when people stop paying to come — and it’s quiet and all you’re left with is yourself, you’ve got to be able to answer the question ‘Did I do my best? Did I do everything friggin’ possible to win this game?’ ’’

The message apparently got through to his players that day as evidenced by their 31-17 victory against the Colts, a game in which “the late’’ Tracy Porter delivered a clinching 74-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining.

“Parcells was a big part of mentoring Sean in preparing him for that Super Bowl,’’ Fujita said. “I heard Parcells-isms that whole week. I kind of liked the fact that Sean jumped their asses’ big time when they came in late. It kind of set the tone for the rest of the week. I almost think Sean wanted something like that to happen, so he had an excuse to jump some guys.

“During the dead week, a lot of people were telling us that even if we don’t win, at least we can always say we’ve gone to the Super Bowl. And part of you for a minute starts to actually agree with that: ‘Hey, you know what? I did make it to that big stage!’

“Then, the week of the game,’’ Fujita said, “that’s when Sean said every single day, ‘You don’t want to lose this game. Trust me, it will haunt you for the rest of your life.’ I think him hammering home that point every single day was a good message.’’

Payton hammered home the point in numerous other ways the week of the game, all the while trying to limit the many distractions and keeping his team loose and focused.

He installed an 11 p.m. bed check Tuesday through Saturday. Family members could stay at the team hotel but they were quartered on separate floors from the players. At no time were family members allowed on the players’ floors. Friends of the family were housed at a nearby hotel, not the team hotel.

The Saints also remained at their downtown hotel the night before the game, unlike some past Super Bowl teams that switched hotels to get away from the distractions.

“Sean kept telling us that family, friends and the people closest to us may have our best interests in mind, but they serve as the biggest distractions,’’ Fujita said. “I can remember him saying that over the course of my four years in New Orleans, but especially during that Super Bowl week.

“I remember on several occasions telling this 22-year-old security guy on my floor at the hotel that I was going to spend the night with my wife and he would say, ‘You’re not allowed to do that. Go take it up with your coach.’ ’’

Payton also made it a point to have his team arrive in Miami ahead of the Colts and break the first practice sweat. He even liked that Mother Nature wreaked havoc with his practice schedule that first afternoon in Miami.

Heavy rain forced the team to change practice sites and ultimately work outdoors.

“We left New Orleans on Monday morning and we got into Miami and went straight to practice,’’ Fujita said. “That was a long day now. It was nightmare of a day, but I think the coaches loved it, too. On the one hand they liked the idea that we were the ones who went to work on Monday. I think Indy was flying in on Monday night, so when they got into Miami they were going to see us on the evening news. Practicing that day out in the rain, busing all over the place; those guys were going to be a day behind. You know how coaches are? They love that s—.’’

To this day, Fujita still remembers quarterback Drew Brees suggesting a novel idea to Payton in advance of the Super Bowl: “If you want to do something you’ve never done before, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done before. How about giving us the whole week off?’’

Payton did.

And the Saints did, too.

“Honestly,’’ Fujita said, “come game day I noticed we were really, really relaxed — shockingly relaxed. Guys who had played in the game before were telling the younger guys, ‘Hey, make sure you stay loose, the pre-game is going to take forever and the halftime show is going to take forever, so stay loose. All that dead time is going to fatigue you.’

“Hell, I felt like we were like a bunch of kids out there during the game, running around and having a good time. I remember going up to Peyton Manning a bunch of times and telling him I could eat more Oreo cookies than he could. That night felt like recess to me, to tell you the truth. Like we had found the fountain of youth.’’

Brian Allee-Walsh is a NBCSports.com contributor and covers the Saints for NewOrleans.com. Full story posted on http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/41302998/ns/sports-super_bowl_xlv/page/2/

Filed in: Press Room • Friday, January 28th, 2011
 

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About

Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more