By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have an overwhelming advantage over the Rams in terms of Super Bowl experience. A whopping 38 Patriots enter this game with a combined 85 Super Bowls of experience in their collective careers, compared to just five Super Bowls for four Rams – one of them being Brandin Cooks with the Patriots last February.
But as the Eagles proved in Super Bowl LII, prior experience doesn’t matter so much once the footballs start flying.
The only experience that may give the Patriots an edge over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII is everything surrounding the game. The buildup. The hype. The circus.
Both teams will get their first taste of this year’s Super Bowl whirlwind on Monday night at State Farm Arena, when the cameras and reporters descend on them for the inaugural round of flashbulbs, microphones, and questions. Oh, the questions they’ll have to field at this thing.
Fortunately for the Patriots, over 70 percent of their roster has an idea of what to expect. And they know the main thing is to keep their focus on taking care of business on Sunday.
“There’s so many distractions all over the place when you get down there,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said last week. “There’s events left and right, every day, every night, morning to night. We’re down there for one reason and it’s to get the win. The only thing you remember from the trip is if you won or if you lost. You’ve just got to stay focused and put it all in so you can go out there and we can do what we’ve got to do.”
Opening Night is only just that, the opener. Ten players from each team will take to their personal podiums again for 50 minutes on Tuesday (you can safely expect the Patriots to go 10-for-10 with players who have done that before). And both teams will have all players and coaches available for over an hour on Wednesday and Thursday.
It’s easy to lose focus amid all the hoopla. That’s why there’s value in the experience of balancing the various media obligations with making sure your family is taken care of, and staying focused on the game itself through all of it. They’re not going to the ESPYs. They have a game to play.
The Patriots treated the Super Bowl bye like a normal game week, and the veterans generally advised the less experienced players to figure out plans for their families and friends as soon as possible so they can turn to the task at hand. Patriots safety Devin McCourty said he was fortunate that his wife took on more familial responsibilities to give him more time for football.
“Being done with everything logistically, I guess that was Tuesday and coming in here Wednesday it’s like, ‘Alright, we’re on the Rams’ and the scouting report, watching film,” said McCourty. “I’m very fortunate that since the playoffs started, I go home and my wife’s like, ‘Do what you’ve got to do.’ Throughout the playoffs she was like, ‘I want to go to the Super Bowl so do what you’ve got to do. I’ve got the kids, study film.’ It’s the same way now. If she ever is on me, I’m like, ‘Do you want to win the Super Bowl or not?’
“That definitely helps at home with her stepping up and taking even more of a lead than she already has, and that’s what we try to encourage and tell guys. For one, get as much studying and work done while we’re here, do your normal kind of routine, going home, because it gets even harder once we get there and you’re in a hotel now, you’re trying to balance watching film, media and all of that stuff. So we try to get a lot of work done here and then just keep sharpening it as the game gets closer and closer.”
Cooks, cornerbacks Sam Shields and Aqib Talib, and running back C.J. Anderson are the only Rams who can say they’ve experienced even one Super Bowl and the excessive noise that comes along with it. The challenge ahead for the rest of the roster is not to let the extracurricular activities distract from the only reason they’re down there in the first place.
Incredibly enough, they could learn more from how smoothly the Eagles handled Super Bowl week before getting the best of the Patriots in the game. Especially in the wake of linebacker Kyle Van Noy referring to a team that was “humbled” in Super Bowl LII, it’s fair to assume that the Patriots will only be more on top of the myriad distractions this time.
Patriots left guard Joe Thuney is one of the less experienced Super Bowl players on the roster, but he at least has two media circuses under his belt. He’s likely to become the first player in NFL history to start the Super Bowl in each of his first three seasons, and acknowledges that he may have a better idea than most of the Rams what the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII is going to be like.
But he and the Patriots also realize that they still need to keep their eyes on Sunday, and not everything in-between. Ultimately, their performance in the Super Bowl itself is the one thing that either team can control.
“Each year is different,” said Thuney. “You kind of get a feel for a schedule of the week, with being in a different city for a whole week and the media obligations and stuff. But we’re trying to win a game. That’s what we’re doing. We’ve just got to focus on that.”
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.