Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy looks on from the sidelines in the fourth quarter during the NFC Championship game at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
Mike McCarthy is a Super Bowl neophyte, so when he said this will be a normal week for his Green Bay Packers, that could have been wishful thinking on his part.
With two weeks between their NFC championship game victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday and Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas,, there’s no way to predict how much hubbub will surround them and what controversies await. How they handle things this week at home and next week in Texas will go a long way toward determining how they perform under the bright lights at Cowboys Stadium when the game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 6.
That makes McCarthy’s job as a schedule maker critical.
In that regard, the Packers coach took a page out of Mike Holmgren’s book. Holmgren learned from former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh that one of the keys to Super Bowl success was to prepare for the game at home because it’s easier to get work done there than the Super Bowl site.
So McCarthy, like Holmgren did during the Packers’ consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, gave his players Monday and Tuesday to take care of any and all arrangements for tickets and accommodations for family members, and then he planned to get to work on the Steelers.
The week’s work will begin Wednesday with film and meetings and then will include three days of practice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the team charter departs for Dallas on Monday.
“When we get on the plane Monday, we’ll be ready to play the game,” McCarthy said. “This will be a normal week for us.”
McCarthy said he relied on several friends in the coaching business for advice on Super Bowl scheduling, but he didn’t just come up with this plan on the flight home from Sunday’s 21-14 win over the Bears at Soldier Field. He had this in his files going back at least as far as 2007, when the Packers lost in the conference title game to the New York Giants.
This plan has become the norm for teams in recent years. The only change from the 1990s is that the NFL no longer requires teams to be at the Super Bowl site on the Sunday before the game, like Holmgren’s teams had to do. Now, teams aren’t required to be in the city until 5 p.m. on Monday.
This is all new to most of the Packers. Only three current players have been to a Super Bowl and one of those, fullback John Kuhn, was only a practice-squad guy with the Steelers during their 2005 title season.
“We haven’t gotten too deep into our schedule yet, how practice is going to be this week,” Kuhn said. “From outside right now, it looks very similar. It looks like we’re going to start back up on Wednesday, probably go pretty hard here at the end of the week and do much of our heavy stuff here this week before we get down there. Very similar (to Pittsburgh).”
Upon arriving in Arlington, the Packers will have a media session on Monday afternoon or evening and then the full-blown media day on Tuesday at the stadium before resuming practice on Wednesday. The Packers will use Southern Methodist University as their practice site while in the Dallas area. The Steelers will be in Fort Worth, practicing at TCU.
The sum of it all could be overwhelming for a team that hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in 13 years, especially considering the Steelers are semi-regulars at it, having been twice in the previous five seasons. That’s why one of McCarthy’s early messages to his team was to focus on the opponent, not the magnitude of the game.
“He said don’t worry about the Super Bowl,” Packers receiver Donald Driver said. “We’re going to beat the Steelers, and that’s our mindset. Once it’s all said and done, and the game is over and the confetti starts falling and you know you’ve won it, that’s when you say you won the Super Bowl. But right now our mind and focus is just beat the Steelers.”
With so little Super Bowl experience on this team, there’s no way to know whether the Packers, especially their younger players, can follow McCarthy’s mantra.
“It’s not a typical week,” Kuhn said. “So just take every moment and really embrace it, soak it in. But remember that at the end of the week, all your memories will be that much sweeter if you get the win.”