Tampa Tribune – January 31, 2009 – Brett McMurphy – Knute Rockne pleaded to his Notre Dame Fighting Irish to “win one for the Gipper.”
John “Bluto” Blutarsky used a much different approach, asking his Delta Tau Chi members if it was over “when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Although both were successful, neither motivational speech has been uttered in a Super Bowl locker room, not that we’re aware of, anyway.
So what does a head coach actually say to his team minutes before they play in the biggest game of their lives?
It all depends on who you ask.
SHULA’S SUPER BOWLS: III, VI, VII, VIII, XVII, XIX
No one has been a head coach in more Super Bowls than Don Shula. So what better expert on pregame Super Bowl speeches than the coaching legend who took six teams to pro football’s ultimate game?
“What you try to do is do the things that got you to where you are,” Shula said. “You don’t want to be someone that you’re not. The thing I tried to do is summarize what it took to get there.”
Shula also reminded his team there will be only one winner.
“Once you reach the Super Bowl, both teams are talked about during the week,” Shula said. “But when the game is over, [the media] only go to one locker room. I told them to make sure it was our locker room.”
As a head coach, Shula was in the winning locker room twice and in the losing locker room four times. After losing Super Bowl VI, Shula delivered the same message to his team from the first day of practice until minutes before Super Bowl VII kicked off.
“We lost the year before, so my message from the beginning of training camp was that our goal wasn’t to get to the Super Bowl,” Shula said. “Our goal was to win it.”
His 1972 Miami Dolphins did just that. The Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII. Not only did the Dolphins make good on Shula’s goal, they also capped the only perfect season in NFL history.
SUPER BOWL XXXV: BALTIMORE 34, N.Y. GIANTS 7
After the Baltimore Ravens set the NFL record for fewest points allowed during the 2000 regular season, Coach Brian Billick knew if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. His message before the Ravens ran onto the Raymond James Stadium turf for Super Bowl XXXV was brief.
“He said to approach this like any other game,” said Peter Boulware, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year from Florida State.
“We took a very businesslike approach. That’s what helped us. We didn’t get tight. We just worked the same way.”
Despite the Ravens’ dominating defense, they still had their doubters. At least, they believed there were doubters as they used the always popular no-respect card.
“No matter how good you are, you always think you’re being disrespected,” Boulware said. “You just have to find one person, one writer, one broadcaster that doesn’t think you can win. And then all of sudden it’s no one is giving us a chance.
“And it’s funny looking back at it, because even if it isn’t true and you do get the respect, it still motivates you to do better.”
SUPER BOWL XXXVII: TAMPA BAY 48, OAKLAND 21
Ryan Nece couldn’t play in the Bucs’ only Super Bowl. He was sidelined for the 2002 season with a left knee injury in late October. But Nece was in San Diego in the locker room before the Bucs’ historic win under Jon Gruden.
“Coach Gruden always was a great pregame [speech] guy. He was always good,” Nece said.
“I remember him saying, ‘This is the time of your life,’ and, ‘Go out and take what’s ours. It’s destiny. Just go out there and take what is ours.’
“We all believed in our mind we would win the game. That’s what he preached all week, telling the guys to really enjoy every moment of it. Take in the national anthem, take it all in. It’s the greatest stage.”
Nece said the key for any speech is respect.
“There’s definitely a place [for a motivational speech], but it’s all how much the players respect the coach,” Nece said. “If guys are just out there and don’t respect the coach, they’re not going to ‘win one for the Gipper’ or anything like that.”
SUPER BOWL XX: CHICAGO 46, NEW ENGLAND 10
Coach Mike Ditka didn’t wait until Sunday to provide his Super Bowl pregame speech. He delivered it to the Bears the night before the game.
“I gave the speech on Saturday night,” Ditka said. “Basically I said this was not about me and not about the city of Chicago. I told them this is the one memory you will have of each other for the rest of your lives.”
And what a memory it was: The Bears danced all over the Patriots in what was then the biggest rout in Super Bowl history.
“I told them you won’t remember the money, but you’ll remember the championships,” Ditka said. “Because it was a special group of guys that bonded and made something special happen. That 1985 team was a very unique group of men.”
NOLL’S SUPER BOWLS: IX, X, XIII, XIV
The Steel Curtain. Lambert. Bradshaw. Harris. Swann. Bleier. Stallworth. With that core group there probably wasn’t much Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll needed to say before each of the Steelers’ four Super Bowl trips in a six-year span in the 1970s.
“It’s a coach-by-coach thing,” former Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann said. “Tony Dungy, who had his team in the Super Bowl, I don’t know what kind of speech Tony gives, but when you look at his demeanor you don’t see a fire-and-brimstone type of guy. You see a guy that’s very focused that can communicate without having to shout and scream. We can all imagine Bill Cowher and what that locker room might have been like before Super Bowl XL or Super Bowl XXX.
“Chuck was a very level, low-key kind of guy, not a fire-and-brimstone type of guy. Very directed in terms of what he wanted to get done. We didn’t get those type of speeches from Chuck Noll.
“But we didn’t lose a Super Bowl, either.”
THE SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST
For the past 25 years, John F. Murray has been involved in the motivational aspect of sports. As a sports-performance psychologist, he has worked with athletes on performance enhancement, mental health, general psychology, fitness, wellness and lifestyle. Murray, who lives in Palm Beach, has been a licensed psychologist in Florida since 1999.
Murray said the pregame pep talk or motivational speech at the NFL level can be very effective – or disastrous.
“I think it’s never going to go away,” Murray said. “Certain coaches have a certain way of saying the right thing at the right time or the wrong thing at the wrong time. You can’t discount the impact of a leader.”
Murray said the pregame speech is “an inexact science.”
“The team that gets too hyped has a disadvantage in the Super Bowl,” Murray said. “One of the more traditional theories is when you get too pumped up, you don’t perform well. I think the lower-key approach at the Super Bowl, a more cerebral, intelligent approach, might be the more effective approach.”
“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”
Photo credit: The Associated Press
Photo: Mike Ditka’s Bears made lasting memories, just as he wanted them to.
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures
Photo: John Belushi had quite a way with words in “Animal House.”
Photo: Knute Rockne
Photo credit: McClatchy/Tribune
Photo: Jon Gruden told his Bucs to “take what’s ours.”
Photo: Brian Billick
Photo: Shula had a lot of practice making Super Bowl speeches. He coached in six and won two.
Photo credit: Miami Herald
Photo: Don Shula got the ride of his life after his undefeated Dolphins beat the Redskins in January 1973.
Photo: Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was one of many great players Chuck Noll had on his Pittsburgh teams of the 1970s.