TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - As the crowds began rolling into the Super Bowl city - yep, even The Boss has arrived - the two teams began hunkering down, trying to ignore the party breaking out all around them.
In these last, critical days leading to the big game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, everyone must keep his eyes on the ball. No one wants to join the infamous list that includes Stanley Wilson, Eugene Robinson and Barret Robbins.
I have listened to what some of the veterans have said as far as 'Don't go out and experience the nightlife,' and I understand that,'' said Carey Davis, the Steelers' third-year fullback.Sunday's game is an opportunity to be remembered, and that is what we want to do.''
Wilson, Robinson and Robbins are remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Start with Wilson, who played fullback for the Cincinnati Bengals. On the eve of the 1989 Super Bowl, he headed back to his hotel room just before the last pregame meeting, supposedly to get his playbook. When he didn't return, a coach found Wilson collapsed in the bathroom, strung out on cocaine. Naturally, he didn't play in a 20-16 loss to San Francisco, which might have turned out differently if Wilson had played on a sloppy field that likely would have suited his running style.
A decade later, it was Robinson who made a stunningly bad decision the night before the Super Bowl. A safety for the Atlanta Falcons and one of the team leaders, he ventured out from the team hotel and wound up in handcuffs for soliciting sex from an undercover police office. He was up most of the evening, meeting and praying with teammates, then got burned on a long touchdown pass in Denver's 34-19 victory.
Robbins was a Pro Bowl center who went missing the day before Oakland's 2003 appearance in the title game. He was eventually found drunk and incoherent in Mexico, spending Super Bowl Sunday in a hospital while his teammates were blown out 48-21 by Tampa Bay.
I'm just trying to stay grounded,'' Steelers center Justin Hartwig said.We're here for one reason, and that's to win this game. There's a lot of hoopla and a lot of hype surrounding this game, but I'm not going to get caught up in it.''
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin expects his team to treat every game with the same professionalism, whether it's the Super Bowl or a preseason opener.
When things come up, when situations arise, you often get asked how you're going to deal with it,'' Tomlin said Friday morning.The reality is: If you wait until these moments to address those issues, that's extremely late for someone in my position. It's part of our culture, part of what we do.
``Those things are installed from Day One. We talk about it continually. That way, we don't have to push the panic button as we stand here today preparing to play the Super Bowl.''
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt was taking no chances. He imposed a curfew for the entire week, instead of just waiting until Saturday as he normally would for a road game. No one revealed the exact details, but it likely involves a bedtime that gets earlier and earlier the closer it gets to game time.
They want everybody to be focused,'' cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.I can understand that. If you are going to party, just wait until after the game. It's no big deal.''
With many hotels imposing a four-day minimum stay, the crowds began to thicken on Thursday after a rather sleepy start to Tampa's Super Bowl week. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were among the arrivals, holding a news conference to discuss their appearance in the halftime show.
``We want it to be a 12-minute party,'' The Boss said.
Most of the Super shindigs will last a lot longer. While the weak economy led to some parties getting nixed (sorry, Playboy fans) and others to scale back, but there's still plenty of things to do - and plenty of ways for a wayward athlete to find trouble here in Strip Club City, USA.
That's completely understood by Rodgers-Cromartie, a native of nearby Bradenton. He knows the area inside-out, but chose to lay low during the week. Even Tuesday, when he had enough free time to visit with his family, ``we just sat there and talked, watched TV and reminisced a little bit.''
To me, it is just like any other week when we go out of town,'' he said.It's not my home stadium. I stay 30 minutes down the street, but I can't go anywhere. I don't have a car. I'm not affected by it. My family understands why I am down here and they're not calling me and bugging me.''
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, playing in his third Super Bowl, said one of the major challenges is getting through the final 48 hours before the game, when the practices are out of the way and all that's left to do is wait. And wait. And wait.
Maybe it's not surprising that Wilson, Robinson and Robbins all ran astray during those waning hours.
One of those things is: How soon is that nervousness and anxiety going to hit you?'' Warner said.You hope that you can prolong it as much as possible, but you know Saturday and Sunday are going to be long, that you're going to be thinking about the game. You're going to be restless. It's going to be tough to get a good night sleep.''
The buildup to this game has been rather tame, with each team saying all the right things about the other. There's been little trash-talking and none of the antics such as Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon mooning a helicopter crew, Bruce Smith going off on a diatribe against racist fans or Ray Buchanan showing up for Media Day wearing a dog collar.
Then again, it's not always a bad thing to let a little personality shine through. McMahon's Bears shuffled their way to a rout of New England in the 1986 Super Bowl after yukking it all week. Five years earlier, the loose-as-a-goose Los Angeles Raiders romped to an easy win over the uptight Philadelphia Eagles, whose tightly wound coach, Dick Vermeil, apparently thought his team would respond well to prison tactics.
I'm just soaking this in. It's a great experience,'' Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said.This is what you work for. There's nothing wrong with enjoying it, but be responsible too. This is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity and I think if you come here and become crazy, you're taking the fun out of it.''