By Ernie Palladino
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The message from coaches approaching Super Bowl Week is generally the same year to year.
“Enjoy the experience,” they say. “But not too much.”
How well their players listen could well influence the outcome of the game. It’s no secret that the Super Bowl run-up is unlike any other week. Land mines in the manner of parties, pressures, and the general misbehavior of young men in big settings lie scattered around town every day until game time. It’s not unusual for some to fall into the trap to the detriment of the ultimate goal.
All of this brings us to Super Bowl LI. Though Houston is hardly a hotbed of temptation as, say, New Orleans, both Bill Belichick and Dan Quinn will keep a tight rein on players eager to wade out to the fringes of decorum.
Or at least they’ll try.
Belichick may have the easier time at that, considering his all-controlling nature. If the NFL worries about anything with the Patriots, it’s the coach, himself, as he tries for ring No. 5. But as the bye week ended, there were no reports of any Spygate-type hijinx at the Falcons’ Flowery Branch practice facility, or of Tom Brady squirreling away any under inflated footballs after the Patriots’ workouts.
As for player behavior, this is old hat for the Belichick Pats. They’re used to the grand stage. They haven’t always won, but the Giants didn’t beat them twice because one of New England’s stars landed in jail on Super Bowl Saturday.
But that is exactly the thing Quinn must guard against. The Falcons are making on their second Super Bowl appearance, the first since 1998 under Dan Reeves. It was then that Eugene Robinson gave Reeves the headache to beat all headaches on Super Bowl Saturday, and left a legacy of stupidity for Quinn to fret about.
Robinson was not only a wonderful safety, but was an outspoken religious man who that night had been awarded the Athletes In Action/Bart Starr Man of the Year Award for high moral character.
Yet, there he was a few hours later, getting handcuffed in an alley after offering an undercover cop $40 for sex.
The organization bailed him out of jail and he played in Super Bowl XXXIII against the Denver Broncos. The Falcons lost 34-19, and Robinson gave up an 80-yard touchdown to Rod Smith.
Guess who took the blame for the loss.
“I got a chance to play in that game and win that game,” Robinson told the Carolina Panthers before their appearance last year. “But I blew it.”
Robinson, now a Panthers radio analyst, doesn’t even try to evade references to that night gone awry in South Florida.
“People are right to reference me,” he told the media this week.
Quinn said he’s relying on the tight personal bonds his team has formed over the last two years to avoid such incidents.
“They totally rely on one another,” Quinn said. “This brotherhood is so strong, they care for one another and they’re playing for something bigger than themselves. For this team and this group, I totally trust them.”
Quinn had best hope those don’t become the Falcons’ last dying words to the 2016 season. It’s too easy for one player to go off the reservation and wreck an entire championship vibe.
Fullback Stanley Wilson did that to the Bengals as they wrapped up preparations for the 49ers in 1988. He went on a cocaine binge and didn’t resurface until Monday, after the 49ers won 20-16.
Shortly before XXXVII in San Diego against the Bucs, Raiders star center Barrett Robbins headed south to Tijuana for a drinking binge. Coach Bill Callahan sent him home, and the Raiders lost 48-21.
Tales of players overdoing the local bar scenes were once common during Super Bowl week.
Though it’s less likely for a Super Bowl-seasoned team like the Patriots to get sloppy during the week’s run-up, the dangers lie in wait for both teams.
But Quinn made it a point of emphasis the past week.
“We’ll have to have a real watchful eye for all the guys, knowing the process helps us get ready,” Quinn said. “We gave them three keys to fall back on. That brotherhood, that’s their responsibility to each other. The second is, ‘Do what we do.’ The reason we’re having this opportunity now is that we didn’t make this stuff up along the way.
“The third is, celebrating is for postgames.”
Belichick’s experienced gang probably knows that already.
Quinn’s? We’ll see.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino