How much does experience mean in the world of sports? When it comes to the Super Bowl, it might mean everything.
As the Broncos and Seahawks draw closer to their epic showdown in New Jersey, that experience is going to play a crucial role in everything from preparation to which team gets to hold that trophy at the end of the day.
Part of it is pure statistics. A study showed that the more experienced team has won the Super Bowl 58 percent of the time.
It's worth noting that some people claim that those results could be nothing more than random chance, that they don't matter, but that's to ignore a large part of the reality of sport. Stats matter. They are telling.
I wouldn't say that numbers never lie, but to subscribe them to random chance is shortsighted at best. In a league that is so awash with attention paid to every little stat every week, ignoring a gap like that is impossible.
To some degree, it also matters where your experience lies. If your punter has been to four Super Bowls, it's not likely to make as much of a difference as if your quarterback has been to just one or two.
No disrespect to punters, but their teams hope they never touch the field. The quarterback has an undeniably larger impact on the way the team performs.
It is also worth noting that quarterback play is largely cerebral. Even athletic quarterbacks who love to run play the game more in their minds than with their bodies. They have to see the defensive look, consider the play that was called, watch the defensive coverage shifts and blitzes and decide if it is a good idea to run, to move the pocket or just to stand in there and wait for someone to break open.
This is the most difficult part of playing quarterback. Being able to throw the ball accurately and powerfully is all well and good, but try doing it with the defense in your face, able to see maybe half of the field all while trying to simultaneously run for your life and keep your eyes downfield.
It's no picnic.
That being said, Super Bowl week is one of the most hyped weeks of the year. Everything is huge. Everything is a production.
In this world, experience is enormous. It means you know what to expect. Everything slows down. The moment doesn't seem so big, so crazy, so outside of the norm.
Think of it this way: How do you think the Red Hot Chili Peppers felt the first time that they went on stage in front of more than 50,000 people? It was probably a rush like nothing else. The bright lights, the screaming, the atmosphere of it all.
Now, how do you think they'll feel at halftime?
Sure, they'll get pumped for it, but it's not going to be anywhere near as overwhelming as that first time. They'll just do their thing, like they've been doing for years.
The Super Bowl is the same way. It's a spectacle like you don't see in the United States for anything else. It's practically a holiday.
When I was a kid, we made homemade decorations and hung them up around the house, no matter who was playing. I'm not kidding. That's the grip the Super Bowl has on American society.
The players know it. They feel that energy. To some degree, they feed off it.
But it can also be too much.
It can push them to a breaking point before they even touch the field.
The ramifications of this mindset are tremendous. Preparation becomes a chore with distractions everywhere. Practice just feels different. Your mind is always buzzing, your nerves on edge. You might not be able to sleep.
The nerves before that first kickoff or that first snap are like electricity running through your veins.
It's safe to say that this settles down. As the game takes shape, players settle in and calm down. It starts to feel like football again, and they know football. By halftime, they're just playing one more game in a season full of them.
However, the Seahawks cannot afford any mistakes. The style of football that they play is physical, dominant and downright brutal.
They'll punch you in the face and get up to do it again. It's a toughness that football has lacked recently, and it's refreshing to see.
But it's a style that has to work. They can't afford mental lapses. They can't afford to let Demaryius Thomas get behind them on a blown coverage because the safety doesn't shift over to give support. They can't afford to let Wes Welker run unchecked across the middle if Denver gets in the red zone.
Those are not passes that Peyton Manning is going to miss. Welker scores constantly on those short passes and Thomas has the speed and power to score from anywhere.
And that could give Denver the edge in this game. Denver has four players who have been to the Super Bowl:
|Peyton Manning||Super Bowl XLI||Super Bowl XLIV|
|Jacob Tamme||Super Bowl XLIV|
|Wes Welker||Super Bowl XLII|
|Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie||Super Bowl XLIII|
Seattle has exactly zero.
That experience is critical, especially in the leadership role filled by Manning. This is his third rodeo. He's going to be able to practice normally, prepare like he always does and help keep the team in check.
Oh, one other person in a small leadership role with Super Bowl experience was almost overlooked: head coach John Fox.
When Denver takes the field, they're going to be more ready to line up and play their brand of scorched-earth offense than Seattle is going to be ready to play flawless defense. And that could quickly lead to points.
One mistake, one misstep, and Denver is flashing by you on the way to the end zone.
Surrendering early points would doom the Seahawks. Seattle has a relentless rushing attack and the offensive game plan will almost certainly be to slow the game down, run the ball and keep Manning off the field.
You can't do that if the Broncos are already up by 14. You have to throw. You have to chase.
And that's not at all the game Seattle wants to play.