Steelers understand what awaits in Dallas

Routine is important for a football team. Coaching staff and players, everybody uses the routine of an NFL season to get into a rhythm personally, and then collectively as a team as well, for whatever challenge is directly in front of them.

Strategy sessions, practice, video review, meetings, body maintenance. Each day of the week is different and carries its own requirements, but Tuesdays are the same and Wednesdays are the same and Thursdays are the same. There is the week before a home game, and those are the same, just as are the weeks leading up to a game on the road.

But the Super Bowl is different, everything about it. It just is. Beyond what's at stake for the teams, the week leading up to the game and the game itself are unlike any other staged by the NFL. And that becomes its own challenge for a coach trying to prepare his team for the most significant game of each season, the one that will crown the league's champion.

"We need to deal with all of the things that are somewhat unique about this game, and about being in this game, better than our opponent," said Mike Tomlin.

And so Super Bowl XLV was to begin for the Steelers Monday with a plane ride to Dallas, to be followed by a bus ride to the hotel where they'll all live for a week, to be followed by an afternoon media session that will give them all just a little taste of the hype that will build to a crescendo come Sunday, Feb. 6.

To be ready for that, however, Tomlin used the week after the AFC Championship Game to put the Steelers through their normal routine one more time.

"For us, we wanted to create the urgency as if the (Super Bowl) was going to be played on (the following) Sunday. I think there's value in that rhythm from a preparation standpoint," said Tomlin. "We have no control, to a large degree, over a number of things that could be pulling at us in Dallas. We acknowledge that's going to be an irregular week. We had an opportunity to have a regular week here, so we took advantage of it from a preparation standpoint, from a game planning standpoint, from a practice standpoint."

The day after the win over the Jets, the Steelers came to their practice facility for the usual Monday stuff, and the players were off on Tuesday while the coaching staff put together the game plan. That plan for the upcoming opponent – the Green Bay Packers – was introduced on Wednesday morning, and then it was a normal in-season week for the Steelers through the end of business on Friday.

Tomlin believes that will serve as the foundation for their week in Dallas, where he has come to understand there are times to be light on one's feet.

"There always are going to be things coming up in preparation for this game," said Tomlin. "Not necessarily the football element of it, but the things that can distract and take away from the football element of it. Travel arrangements, accommodations, family and friends. The hay is never in the barn in regards to some of those things, and these guys need organized help in those areas. The more organized help and information we can give them, the better they can focus on what it is we're actually going down there to do, which is to play a football game and win."

The Steelers are experienced in the ways of the Super Bowl throughout all levels of the organization. Much is made of the number of players on the roster and coaches on the staff who have been through this process, and been through it successfully, but the Steelers also have experienced people handling the things that have the potential to become a distraction. The travel and hotel accommodations and office set-up, all of that is in the hands of experienced people. There still can be hiccups, but experience can help there, too.

Then there's the media.

In some ways, the Super Bowl media schedule is actually better for the players and coaches, because it's rigidly structured. Everybody must be present and willing to participate, but it's always for an allotted period and when the time is up it's over. Just like a game.

In other ways, well, let's just say the NFL long ago gave up the pretense that media and journalist were synonymous when it came to issuing Super Bowl credentials. This is an event, and events are to be hyped. Media Day is especially the theater of the absurd.

"I'm going to prepare them for it. We're going to talk about it, and we're going to enjoy it because it is an awesome experience," said Tomlin. "We're not going to fight against it, and I think that's one of the advantages to having, for the most part, a plan in place for when we get down there. I just tell them to enjoy themselves and to keep everything in perspective and to deal with everything in a professional manner, as we have all year."

What they know will be different from what they've worked with all year is the schedule on the day of the game itself. Pregame is longer and disjointed. The national anthem is longer. Halftime is way longer. Kickoff time is in between what they've come to understand as the second game of a network doubleheader and what they deal with for a game in primetime.

"More than anything, knowledge of it is the No. 1 weapon," said Tomlin. "We have that knowledge from last time, and I'll remind them of it this time. The big thing I like to impress upon our team in this type of circumstance is that it's going to be unique and irregular, but it's going to be unique and irregular for both teams. If it is a factor, it needs to be less of a factor for us."

And for help there, Tomlin will turn to his leaders. There will be curfews, but Tomlin has no interest in bed-check being the focal point of the day. This is a lifetime experience for these players, but it will turn out to be nothing but a painful memory if it's handled as anything but a business trip.

"I think everybody understands what we're doing here," said Tomlin. "We have an advantage because our leadership has experience in this game, so it's a weapon for us and we have to utilize it."

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