The Inside Super Bowl Scoop From a Former Player
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Go behind-the-scenes at the biggest game in sports.
By Libby Coleman
In 2012, Jameel McClain was a dominant force in the 12th-ranked Baltimore Ravens defense, with a grand total of 79 tackles. Leading 9-3 as the team headed into the 14th week of the season, he seemed an obvious playoff contender. But later that week, McClain suffered a spinal cord contusion in a face-off with the Redskins, relegating him to the sidelines, where he watched the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII.
OZY sat down with the Philadelphia native — who got back on the field 10 months later and is now the franchise owner of his own gym, Retro Fitness — for his insights on the Super Bowl experience.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How do people deal with the stress of the Super Bowl?
People do a million things to get themselves together. You have to consider that this is every football player’s biggest moment. It’s their dream. If it’s not, they shouldn’t be playing football. Working through that emotion — it’s a lot of anxiety. It’s the kid going to the first day of high school: You’re dreaming about high school your whole life, so you know the night before is energetic. A lot of players involve their family, if they have one. They share that experience. It’s for your little cousin to see what it’s like to work your whole life, and there it is. For your mother and father, who paid for those summer leagues.
Another thing people do, they reset days before the game. They go and withdraw for days. They shut themselves off from the world for as long as they can.
Adversity makes great players.
You were injured before the big game. What is it like to be on the Super Bowl sidelines?
It is a difficult thing to do when you consider yourself, and everyone else on the team considers you, a main part for why you got there. To not play in the game, it’s the most difficult thing and most selfless thing I’ve ever had to do. I wouldn’t care what I did in the Super Bowl. I could’ve run on the field and had someone knock me down, and I’d have been like, “I was in a Super Bowl play.”
But my teammates involved me. Plays where the linebackers would be doing something, they’d come over to ask what I saw, what happened with the D-line, what they could do better. Absolutely I helped. There was a part where I’d have the headphones and hear what coaches were saying and hear them relaying things. I was talking to coaches about what I was seeing. It was a coaching standpoint and an amazing experience.
How does preparation differ from a typical game?
Week 1 is the most intense. It’s the week with so much unfamiliarity. But the playoffs are completely different in terms of the level of competition. In week 1 you might have steamrolled a team, and then in the playoffs, they steamroll you. They aren’t the same team as they were the first week. The Super Bowl is the ultimate form of competition, with people holding on for dear life.
Who’s the most underrated person in the Super Bowl?
The position that I think is the most underrated in the Super Bowl, or in football, period, is the kicker. And the long snapper. I’m going to put them together as one. I hate to make this comparison, but a sniper gets one chance to make a shot to save a life. This isn’t life or death, but these people get only one shot. A linebacker in a game gets 65-70 chances to make the right play. To be a long snapper is to have one or two chances, and life depends on it. That’s the ultimate pressure.
In the front office, it’s the scouts. The scouts are the ones who are by far the most underrated. They’re the guys who brought in the veteran free agent who was only on a practice squad or another team. They recruited the college kid no one was looking at. They find people positions on your team and maximize it. Coaches, too. For the Super Bowl, they put in countless hours of work — 17-hour days.
Does winning the Super Bowl help or hurt player retention?
I think it hurts retention for the players already on the team, but it helps the team as it hopes for future players. What the Super Bowl does is let everyone else know you have a winning formula and winning players. The NFL is a copycat league. If someone’s doing something great one season, there’s a good chance you’ll see four teams doing it next season. The Super Bowl really isn’t a benefit to the players on the team, but it’s a good marketing tool.
What do people not realize is important for being a good player?
Adversity makes great players. People who withstand adversity have an inch on someone else. Tom Brady had to fight through in college and was drafted in the sixth round. It makes Tom Brady one of the most elite quarterbacks. This man can fight through anything put in his face. He’s a student of the game.
Are No. 1 recruits really that great?
It’s tough to wear the crown, to go through college being great and to be great in high school. Think about it: Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs we’ve seen. He’s worn that crown a long time, and it comes with a lot of mileage for a running back by the time you’re 26. And a lot of people want to take it from you. I think it’s the most difficult thing in the world to do. You don’t get many LeBron Jameses in the world due to the pressure alone.
What are players who aren’t in the Super Bowl doing that day?