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5 things I never knew about the Super Bowl until I played in it

Mike Haynes, one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history, starred in Super Bowl XVIII: a 38-9 rout of the Washington Redskins by his Los Angeles Raiders. He is currently a spokesman for the NFL's Know Your Stats campaign, a partnership with the Urology Care Foundation to raise awareness of prostate cancer. He still looks back on the Super Bowl as one of the high points of his NFL career — and says there's a lot about the game that you don't learn until you get there. He recently shared his thoughts with Joseph Stromberg.

1) The week before the Super Bowl is truly insane

It's completely different from the week leading up to a regular season game. There are so many reporters everywhere, and even though coaches try to keep you away from them apart from media day, you're still very aware of it.

This was true even back when I played. But nowadays, the size of the media is probably 10 times what it was then. There are more than 5,000 media members at the Super Bowl this year.

The other thing that makes it different is the huge number of people who come out of the woodwork leading up to the game. So many friends and family members and people I grew up with were calling, asking for tickets. And I was really fortunate that the Super Bowl was in Tampa — if it'd been in Arizona, where I went to college, or California, where I'm from, it would have been even crazier.

I didn't know better, so at first I personally tried to handle it, and it was a bit of a distraction. Then a week before the game, I started telling people that I wasn't doing any of it — I needed to focus.

mike haynes

Haynes starred for the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

2) But coaches try really hard to treat it like a normal game

We tried to prepare for it just like any other game, which is a huge challenge. If you look at it as the biggest game of your life — which it is — you're putting pressure on yourself, and most people do not perform well under pressure. So the secret is trying to make it just another game.

I vividly remember our last practice we were going to have before the game. Our coach, Tom Flores, pulled the whole team together like he did at the end of every Saturday practice, and I expected him to give a big, dramatic speech: "Tomorrow is one of the greatest days of your life, we worked so hard to get here," that kind of thing.

Instead, he said, "Guys, this is just another big game. We've played in a lot of big games this year. I'll see you at the hotel at 6." That's it.

3) The game itself feels really, really long

For the most part, the game itself is pretty normal, not too different from other games. You have your preparation routine before the game, and then there's a start time, and that part is all standard.

But the thing that's really different is how long the halftime is. In the regular season, it's 12 minutes — just enough time to run into the locker room, talk to your coaches for a minute, maybe go to the bathroom, and run back out. But in the Super Bowl, it's about a half-hour, which really changes things.

Then the post-game stuff goes on forever too. Normally you run off the field, shower up, get dressed, and go home. After the Super Bowl, there's a big trophy celebration, cameras in your locker room, everyone's asking you for an interview — it's total chaos.

raiders super bowl

Raiders coach Tom Flores is carried off the field after Super Bowl XVIII. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

4) The feeling of winning is overwhelming

We won 38-9, so well before it was over we realized we were about to win. And there is nothing like that feeling. It's something you accomplished that year that no one else accomplished. I wouldn't quite say it's life-changing, but it's close.

Everyone's trying to win the Super Bowl. Teams are making financial investments, and players are making physical investments with their bodies. But very few people get to say they've won it. It's something very, very special.

5) It's very hard to realize you might never be back

I won the Super Bowl at age 30, and I'd been in the league for eight years by that point. But it was still hard to appreciate how rare that opportunity was. And I never got back.

If I were to talk to the guys playing this year, I'd tell them that what's about to happen is incredibly special and may not happen again. Enjoy it. Do not take it for granted.

Lead image: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

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