TAMPA – Super Bowls are won on Sundays. But they can be lost long before then.
Atlanta Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before Super Bowl XXXIII on charges of soliciting a prostitute. On Sunday morning, all the Falcons talked about was Robinson’s arrest. Distracted, they lost to the Denver Broncos 34-19.
Oakland Raiders center Barrett Robbins, who was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, missed a team meeting the day before Super Bowl XXXVII when he went on a drinking binge in Tijuana, Mexico.
Robbins missed the game, and the Raiders were steamrolled by the Tampa Buccaneers, 48-21.
The lesson for the Arizona Cardinals: This is a business trip, not a party cruise.
“We’ve got a curfew,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “Night life won’t be a problem.”
And players have never, ever broken curfew.
How the Cardinals handle Super Bowl week may go a long way in determining how they play on Sunday.
It’s easy to get distracted and lose focus in the days leading up to the game. The media attention can be overwhelming. The party scene can be tempting. And then there’s the casino just 15 minutes from downtown.
“You really can’t understand what the media is going to be like until you get here,” quarterback Kurt Warner said.
The Steelers should be able to keep their bearings. They’ve been through this as recently as 2006, when they beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in Super Bowl XL.
But for most of the Cardinals, this is a strange, new world. Only six Cardinals have Super Bowl experience: Warner, special teams player Sean Morey, tight end Jerame Tuman, quarterback Brian St. Pierre, cornerback Rod Hood and safety Matt Ware.
That’s not a lot of collective wisdom to fall back upon. Plus, the Cardinals are a young football team, and young players sometimes do silly things.
“Obviously with our team as young as it is, you have a little more concern,” defensive end Bertrand Berry said. “But those guys have handled things well before. I don’t see them going off the deep end.”
The Cardinals are fortunate that seven of their coaches, including Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm, have experienced life under the Super Bowl big top. They’ll say the right things and stick to a schedule that limits the players’ interaction with the outside world.
Still, it’s impossible to keep the lid sealed tight. And all it takes is one player doing the wrong thing to lead a team astray.
“One thing we don’t want to lose focus on is that we’re here for a game,” Whisenhunt said. “I don’t think you can talk to them enough about that. We’ve talked to them and we’ll talk to them again.”
Ultimately, though, a player’s conscience will be his guide. And when that voice in his head says to go for it, he should think about how Robinson must regret his actions every day of his life.
“The bottom line is, ‘Why are you here?’ ” Warner said. “The one thing I know is that when you’re able to put one of those (Super Bowl) rings on your finger that means you have access to a lot of parties in the future.
“You don’t have to enjoy them all this week. You can sit back and do what you came here to do, and then enjoy all the parties for the rest of your life. I hope that’s how guys look at it. The game is something special. The parties will come and ago, but being a part of history … I hope guys embrace that and understand that.”
Staying out of trouble doesn’t guarantee a victory on Sunday. The Cardinals can act like angels and still lose to the Steelers.
But if they have too good of a time, they’ll regret it come kickoff.
And what a shame that would be.