DALLAS -- Vince Lombardi motivated his 1960s Packers with fire-and-brimstone speeches. His powerful all-or-nothing messages inspired the Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls.
Before Super Bowl XLV on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, the Packers will hear from hired hand Kevin Elko, an acclaimed motivational speaker who previously worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the other team fighting for the Lombardi Trophy.Motivational techniques have changed since the days of one-bar helmets. Coaches experiment with all sorts of methods to gain an edge. Some will strike chords with emotional speeches. Others will search for bulletin board material to convince their undefeated team that it is the biggest underdog since Team USA's Miracle on Ice.
As Lombardi said in his famous No. 1 speech, "It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win and to win."
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy sees benefits in using an outsider to delve inside his players' minds; even if that person lives in Pittsburgh.
"It's all about trying to create the same message of keeping the mind clear as many different ways as you can possibly communicate," he said. "I think motivational speaking at the right time is a very useful tool to get your team ready to perform."
Elko's resume includes NFL teams Dallas, Philadelphia, Miami and New Orleans, as well as ING, Tyson Foods and Merrill Lynch. He has written four books, including The Pep Talk, which is being made into a movie.
He said his role is not to fire up the Packers. It's primarily designed to enhance performance through mental disciplines.
"It's really like mental preparation, getting completely locked into what you're doing and then getting your mind free of clutter so you have nothing on your mind but the execution of each play," Elko said. "I teach them about focus and process. It's not like, 'Let's go climb that mountain, let's go slay that dragon."'
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin relies primarily on emotion when speaking before games. There's no space in his locker room for psychologists or rehearsals.
"I don't do a lot of preparation," Tomlin said. "I want it to be authentic. I want it to be real. I don't give a lot of thought to it. I kind of go with the flow, and if it overcomes me, it does. And usually it does."
Veteran linebacker James Farrior also serves as an inspirational pregame speaker for the Steelers. Teammates selected him to replace Joey Porter, who was released for salary cap reasons after the 2007 season.
"We needed somebody to get the group up because he was gone," Farrior said. "He had always done it when he was there, so after he left, I got anointed to be the one. Nobody wanted to do it and they were like, 'You've got to do it."'
Casting oneself as the underdog has been a big player in the motivating game. Nobody thought they could do it. Somebody proved the naysayers wrong. They -- whoever they are -- are fictional characters who spring to life before big games.
Us against the world
Coaches find negative stories, or make them up, to light matches under their players. Somebody must avenge being disrespected, a word that has been used so much in the sports world that it has been shortened to dissed.
Even the Steelers, despite their rich playoff heritage, have resorted to disrespected underdog status. After they beat undefeated Philadelphia in 2004, receiver Hines Ward proclaimed, "Nobody ever thought we'd do this."
And Jerome Bettis said, "Everybody assumed Jerome Bettis couldn't get it done any longer." With that victory, the Steelers' record was 7-1, same as the Eagles.
Ed "Too Tall" Jones said players of today are motivated mostly by anger and name-calling.
"I see some stuff now that I can't believe," Jones said. "Their approach is so unlike anything that I experienced in my 15 years. They're very vocal to the media. During my era, everybody kept to themselves. There was rarely any bulletin board material. I think that's a lack of internal leadership. We had players that wouldn't allow that."
Jones and other former Cowboys of the Tom Landry era said that Landry's teams were a reflection of the quiet coach. His pregame talks were about X's and O's. Emotion was rarely seen. But they said he had a special way of motivating.
"I remember one speech when we were struggling against the Redskins," former receiver Tony Hill said. "At halftime he said, 'Just stick with it. I believe in you guys. If you believe in yourselves, good things are going to happen.' It had a lot of substance. In this instance he was verbal about it in terms of what he wanted to see and what he thought we could do as opposed to being negative to us. Coming from him it seemed emotional. It was out of character. It was emotional for the players."
Hill capped Dallas' comeback with the winning catch.
Today's pregame speeches run the gamut from emotional coaches to players' desire to prove their imaginary critics wrong. The Packers are bringing in an outside motivational speaker for the Super Bowl, while the Steelers will rely on Mike Tomlin's from-the heart passion.