We’ve all witnessed that team return from halftime looking like its players have just been smoking PCP for the last 10 minutes and are now jacked up beyond all recognition. Suddenly, the team that couldn’t get a first down to save its life in the first two quarters is now firing on all cylinders and appears to be playing like a completely different group.
Could this dramatic alteration of energy and execution be the embodiment of amazing coaching or the manifestations of some bold speech delivered by an emotional leader?
Perhaps the answer is some combination of both, along with the influence of numerous, yet much more anonymous, contributing factors.
Consider this—each team has only 12 total minutes between the end of the second quarter and the start of the third quarter. For the players and coaches, much of that time is eaten up by the walk to and from the field.
So how much can a team really accomplish in such a short period of time?
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton happened to have an opinion about this very topic when asked about his team's second-half performance following the win on Monday night per WWLTV.com:
Halftime is about 7 ½ minutes so you’re in (the locker room) and guys are getting something to drink, going to the bathroom and we talk amongst the coaches on a few things we want to hit on. There may be a couple of important things, maybe not.
The room is oddly warm for reasons which must involve the preservation of loose muscles. Seating is limited as offenses and defenses scurry into the locker room dispersing in different directions depending on individual needs.
Some of the players make a quick dash to the bathroom for load-lightening, face-washing and/ or vanity concerns. Even in the most competitive moment of your life, looking sweet in that uniform is paramount. Others veer toward the training room for re-taping, stretching, Ibuprofen or more powerful party favors intended to mask the agony brought on by the brutality of the NFL.
Rows of needles full of various numbing agents are ready to go should a player need one.
Some players may need to change jerseys or pants which may have ripped during the action or perhaps to receive some sort of treatment. Due to the fact time is limited and the uniforms can be extremely tight, this process often requires the help of a couple members of the training staff, who quickly jump to the call like a NASCAR pit crew.
Coaches are seen piling into another room with fervor, followed by a closed door. This is where they collaborate in private to quickly determine the next course of action with regard to leading a room of grown men toward victory. What goes on behind this door remains a mystery.
Meanwhile, players begin finding their designated areas of the locker room, which is broken up into several groups for efficiency in delivering pertinent information. Offensive and defensive players are always separated on opposite ends of the locker room and further broken up by sub-units relevant to position.
Random outbursts of emotion are commonplace within the private confines somewhere beneath the feet of thousands waiting to cheer their team to victory. Such outbursts vary from motivational rally cries on the fly to curse-laden rants of disgust. On occasion, heated altercations between players will work themselves out organically as the intensity of competition rears its ugly side.
These skirmishes can sometimes escalate into full-on fistfights if players, and even coaches, aren't careful. This is the drama you never see and rarely read about in the media.
Meanwhile, some players go digging into their lockers for another dose of whatever supplement they're banking on to give them an edge.
Walking around at this time involves careful foot placement considering bodies are sprawled all over the carpeted floor in various stretch positions as players fight to stay loose or keep traumatized tendons from tightening up.
Eventually things do settle down just long enough to catch a breath and look around for a bit. The self-appointed team D.J. typically embraces this moment by ending any semblance of silence. Soon the walls are bouncing with the preferred jams full of hyperactive beats and motivating lyrics determined through some unspoken team consensus forged during the months of training together.
Songs can vary all across the sound spectrum. Phil Collins’ "In the Air Tonight" was a favorite while I was in Oakland.
Around this time, the coaches are making their way out of their private room and meeting with their specified units. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan doesn’t say much to his players at halftime, while his twin brother loves to give his defense a state-of-the-game speech. These quick summaries of player performance are both valuable and often just as enjoyable as his now-famous postgame pressers. As we’ve all come to learn, Coach Ryan has an interesting way of putting things into words. As you could imagine, this is especially true when relating to his defense.
Most of the strategic talk is done by position coaches in small huddles with a dry-erase board and marker.
When it comes to such adjustments, there’s very little time available for much to occur. This is extremely important to understand because coaches must emphasize only the most critical talking points for each position group and for the team in general.
For the most part, only slight variations in the game plan can realistically be made. An entire week’s worth of preparation cannot just be thrown to the wayside. Unfortunately, a struggling team entering at halftime will often be confined to the same lame-duck game plan the coaches masterminded back on Monday.
Only a few specific plays and players from the opposing team can be focused on. Such adjustments are dedicated exclusively to the most disruptive forces.
This is the time when matchups are reshuffled, problematic plays are thrown out, clarification on assignments is re-articulated and maybe one or two new play calls are discussed as potential options.
Throughout this process a designated staff member, usually the strength and conditioning coach, is yelling out the time remaining before the team must take the field.
“Three minutes guys! Three minutes till we roll out!”
This is about the time players start reaching for their helmets and the head coach asks the self-designated D.J. to hit the off button on the boombox in his locker.
No halftime is complete without a final speech from the head man himself.
Depending on the coach and how the game is going, these speeches can vary from the benign to the boisterous. If Norv Turner is your coach, expect the former.
In the event of finding yourself in such a plight, it helps to have a few outspoken team leaders who can step up and set an emotionally charged tone. A great example of this can be seen in this video below featuring the leadership skills of Tim Tebow—back before accuracy actually became important.
Energized, recharged and ready for vindication, the teams charge the field. Final outcome? Unknown.
For those who believe miracles are created during the few minutes of down time between halves, the grandiose depiction of events most fans envision is rarely what really occurs. However, value is indeed extracted from the clutches of a pressure-filled room of determined athletes.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report