For Joey Franchise and the rest of the Bengals’ kiddie corps, Super Bowl week has been business as usual (Photo Credit Dr. Michael Huang).
Super Bowl Distractions
By Dr. John Huang
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – One of the biggest questions facing the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI is how all their young stars will respond on the biggest stage imaginable. Will Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and company keep their cool like they have through their current magical run? Or will they wilt like a cheap suit under the glare of the sporting world spotlight on Sunday?
Your guess is as good as mine. The only thing I have in common with most of these Bengals is that it’s my first Super Bowl also. I don’t know quite what to expect. I’ve been told that it’s a media zoo and that you have to take everything in stride.
Come Thursday, when I’m wheels down at LAX, I’m just going to soak it all in and let the chips fall where they may. I’ll certainly take full advantage of all the media swag, the parties thrown, and the free food and drink readily available. But if my computer crashes and burns, so be it. You only live once, right?
Everything we’ve heard from the Bengals’ camp thus far, however, indicates that it’ll be business as usual for the players and coaches. Those we’ve talked to during the week-long virtual video sessions have all been acting like they’ve been there before. Which, of course, is not true. The Divisional Playoff and the AFC Championship games were HUGE—but they weren’t the Super Bowl. How much will the Bengals’ youth and inexperience play into the outcome when they tee it up at SoFi Stadium?
“Nobody even realizes how young Zac [Taylor] is really,” Burrow said about his 38-year-old head coach. “He does a great job of commanding the room. I would say the only time you notice it [his youth] is when he’s relating to the players. He does a great job of doing that like you expect he would.”
It’s one thing to be able to communicate and relate to your players in the locker room. But Taylor has minimal control over the multitude of distractions that come with the glitz and glamour of a Super Bowl appearance. The media obligations, the ticket demands from friends and family, the lure of Hollywood nearby—all adding up to a siren song of diversion looking to disrupt and derail one’s performance on the field.
Who can ever forget Cincinnati’s last Super Bowl appearance in 1988 when, the night before the game, they found Stanley Wilson in the bathtub naked, coked out of his mind? The loss of their starting running back essentially cost Cincinnati an elusive chance at glory.
Burrow and Taylor both hinted at distractions during their scheduled media sessions. But neither of them mentioned anything specific. I’m sure they felt these obligatory media sessions were a pain in the butt, but what else was out there to tempt and entice?
Bengals’ cornerback Mike Hilton addressed the elephant in the room.
“We’re out in LA, so that pretty much speaks for itself,” said the former Pittsburgh Steeler. “But we’re here to do one job, and that’s win. All the distractions and stuff can take care of itself after the Super Bowl. Our goal is to win, and the guys are locked in.”
Sunny beaches by day and a vibrant club scene at night. Wine, women, and celebrities galore. What could possibly go wrong?
Here’s hoping Hilton walks his talk, as he’ll be tasked with covering the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, one of the league’s top receivers. Let’s all pray he stays put in his hotel room, orders room service, and gets to bed early.
In regard to minimizing distractions, the LA Rams should have a distinct advantage. Although they’ll officially be designated as the visiting team, they’re essentially playing a home game. You’d think it would truly be business as usual for them.
“I think they’re pretty limited for us,” said Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford when I asked him on the virtual Zoom today regarding possible distractions. “We don’t have to travel, which is nice. I think the biggest new obligations we have in the last ten days or so has been these media obligations that we have. Some things that we have as a team to do—whether it be the little pep rally or whatever it was the other night—but I think coach has done a great job.”
“We’ve got a veteran team—guys that understand what it takes to get ready to go play a football game,” the former Georgia Bulldog and Detroit Lion quarterback continued. “There are probably some guys with a few more family members in town. But I think our organization did a great job of helping us find spots to put those families so that we could continue to create as much of a normal atmosphere as we possibly can and continue to get ready to play this game on Sunday.”
By the way, I heard reports that the pep rally Stafford referenced paled in comparison to the outpouring of support the Bengals had on Monday night prior to leaving town. Perhaps the apathy of the LA fan base could be a great equalizer in terms of fans in the stands. Plus, everyone loves the underdog, right?
At the end of the Wednesday media session, Hilton came up with a line that was music to my ears.
“But we’re going to enjoy this time now,” he added. “I’m not saying we’re so, so locked in on winning. We have to celebrate reaching this point. Guys are excited about this opportunity, and they’re locked in. So, we’ll be ready.”
That’s me this week. I’m locked in. But I’m also ready to enjoy my time at Super Bowl LVI.
I’m glad you hopped on for the ride.
Dr. John Huang is covering Super Bowl LVI for Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. His newest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is now available in stores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669