Relaxed, self-assured and even charming, the coaches of the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos answered questions for 30 minutes Friday, joking with each other and the audience.
No grumpy one-sentence responses. No agitated reactions to edgy queries.
At one point, Fox wondered if he could say a specific crude word to the audience on hand. Watching on television, he then went ahead and used the word. Carroll immediately quipped: “You can’t say that, John,” eliciting laughs from reporters — and from Fox.
Neither man seemed overwhelmed or even antsy about the biggest game of his life coming up Sunday, even as they sat with the Vince Lombardi Trophy that is given to the NFL champion.
“I think it’s a pinnacle for probably everybody that does what we do,” said the 58-year-old Fox, who was with the Giants when they lost the 2001 Super Bowl to Baltimore, and led the Panthers there when they fell to New England in 2004. “It’s something you work really hard (for).
“As Pete mentioned earlier, you take individuals and try to paint a picture of where you want to get to. I think this is the pinnacle of it. Unlike different levels of football, there’s only one happy camper at that end. That’s going to be the team hoisting that trophy.”
Carroll has hoisted championship hardware, but in college with Southern Cal. This is his first trip to the big game — he had never even attended a Super Bowl before this one.
“The trophy really does symbolize the ultimate challenge and competitiveness in our sport and in our world of coaching or playing,” said the 62-yard-old Carroll. “To dream about being in this position as a kid and then working all through the years of coaching, battling and watching other guys do it and for the first time for us; it’s a tremendous honor.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity and it creates an extraordinary challenge to see if you can be the one. It symbolizes a tremendous amount to all of us. We all live with that, our players and our coaches. It’s great to be here, and (I’m) thrilled to be doing it, too. It makes for so much fun. The whole buildup, the whole following, knowing it’s a global event on game day just adds to the fun of this thing. The challenge continues to be out there for us to reach for, so it’s very exciting.”
Both coaches have defensive backgrounds, and they made note of that. Yes, the NFL has become a light-up-the-scoreboard league — and no team ever did it better than Fox’s Broncos, who scored 606 points this season.
But Fox and Carroll made their reputations as defensive coordinators before becoming head coaches. Carroll spent one season in charge of the Jets and three with the Patriots before heading to USC. Fox led Carolina for nine seasons.
“You’ve got a couple old DB coaches here, and it’s interesting that’s how it turned out,” Carroll said. “It is an offensive era that we’re in, and with all the passing game it’s gone crazy. Maybe it’s fitting that we’ve been fighting our whole life trying to slow this thing down, and we get a chance to do it here on the biggest stage.
“Really we have very similar paths and the fact that we’re defensive guys, maybe that gives the defensive guys hope that maybe we can hire one of those guys in the league soon.”
That already is happening, perhaps with the theory that strong defensive minds can slow down the points parade. Of the seven head coaching hires this year, four were filled by offense-oriented coaches (Bill O’Brien, Jim Caldwell, Ken Whisenhunt, Jay Gruden) and three by defensive guys (Lovie Smith, Mike Zimmer, Mike Pettine).
“I came up with a guy, Chuck Noll, who is a defensive guy, who I learned a lot from,” Fox said of the Hall of Fame coach of the Steelers. “I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of great people from ownerships on down to general managers, front office people, as well as coaches. You always take pride. This is a prideful thing to be in this position and play in a game like this with such great history.
“Don’t forget about those defensive guys moving forward.”