SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It is possible the Carolina Panthers are the loosest team in Super Bowl history. At least recent history. Maybe the 1985 Chicago Bears were more relaxed. But here's the issue for the Panthers: Loose can be very good, but loose can also be very bad.
We don't yet know which loose they are, and we won't until Sunday night. It's almost impossible to tell how the looseness of a team before the Super Bowl will affect performance in the game itself. The examples of looseness are numerous, but the results are mixed.
In the week leading up to Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers were loose and relaxed. One Packers player, in fact, during a day of media access that week, looked like he hadn't slept.
"How was last night?" I asked.
"I just got in," he said, smiling.
Turns out, he didn't sleep much that week. He partied every day of the week leading up the Super Bowl, his teammates would later tell me. He played well anyway, and the Packers beat the Patriots. The partying didn't matter. The looseness was a positive.
Go now to Super Bowl XXV between the Giants and Bills. The Bills were so loose, they were spotted out partying almost every night of Super Bowl week. They partied so much, their blood type was Miller Lite. The result: One of the most prolific offenses in history was slowed by the Giants, and Buffalo lost on an infamous field-goal miss. The looseness, in that case, was like poison.
On and on the lessons of the looseness go. It's 1999, Super Bowl XXXIII, and Atlanta's Eugene Robinson is cruising Miami the night before the game allegedly looking for prostitutes. He instead found an undercover officer and was arrested. It was an unmitigated disaster of looseness, and the Falcons were blown out. Robinson was burned for an 80-yard touchdown late in the first half.
Looseness is a disease. Sometimes it can be infectious like laughter. Other times, it can be infectious like smallpox.
One of the lessons learned from watching so many loose and tight teams over the decades is that teams that do well in the Super Bowl, like the Bears, embrace their inner looseness. The trick, though, is to keep that looseness somewhat tamed. It's like that well-known porridge. It can't be too cold or too hot. It has to be just right. Uptight teams get beat, but so do teams that party so much they get bar stools in Super Bowl cities named after them.
Watching the Panthers' looseness all season, I see the really good brand of it. Almost '85 Bears-ish.
When you are smartly loose, you can wear pants like these.
On Opening Night, Panthers players wore wrestling masks when speaking to the media. Corner Josh Norman ripped Deion Sanders to his face over Sanders' criticism of him during Norman's melee with Odell Beckham. Then I saw Panthers players dancing with Miss Universe. Or was it Miss America? Not sure.
Also on Opening Night, Cam was asked if he was the LeBron James of the NFL?
"Why can't LeBron be the Cam Newton of power forwards?" he said.
At one point, Newton rapped. It was glorious. None of that is cockiness. That's looseness.
What the Panthers are doing is what other good loose teams do, and that's be themselves while also being professional. The Panthers won't be out every night until the sun comes up. They'll party, but they'll be smart. Smart loose.
What will be interesting to watch is the Broncos. One of the worst-kept secrets in football is that in some big games, Peyton Manning gets tight. Especially in Super Bowls. It's possible his tightness is the reason he hasn't played well in them.
When the Broncos played the Seahawks in the Super Bowl two years ago, it was a classic example of one team entering the game uptight and the other being loose as hell. The result was 43-8 Seahawks. The 35-point victory was the third-largest in Super Bowl history.
It is true that it sometimes doesn't matter how loose or tight a team is. Talent is the deciding factor. Yet in these games, the talent level is close, and the mental state of the team can be one of the key deciding factors.
The Broncos are talking the smart approach to the week. Head coach Gary Kubiak told reporters he wouldn't question the judgment of his players. He's trusting their looseness.
"First off, I trust my guys," Kubiak said. "They've been great all year. I pretty much put that in the captains' hands, to be honest with you. We're going to have our preparation. They've done a good job with this football team. Our accountability has been very good. Obviously that's a tough environment, but I've trusted them all year and I'll trust them again this week."
One of those captains is Manning, so, again, let's see if the Broncos are too tight or not.
It's unlikely we'll see another Eugene Robinson this Super Bowl. Players now are too savvy to get stung like that.
But make no mistake: How much they party, exactly how loose they are, will be as big a factor for these teams as red-zone scoring.
Loose is good.
Just not too loose.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.