Historically, Super Bowl week is a mockable target—a circus-like crush of media nonsense that mostly embarrasses everyone associated with it. But in 2019, how is it different than any other clown car pile-up in American public life? Is modern political coverage some sort of dignified enterprise when compared to football’s? Turn on cable news—everyone is croaking away like caffeinated bullfrogs. Every machination of Washington, D.C., is breathlessly hyped like destruction’s eve. Social media is a shoelace fire atop a tire fire atop a garbage fire.

Compared to all that, Super Bowl week is a relief. Classy, almost.

Besides, the NFL is trying to tone it down. Did you catch league commissioner Roger Goodell’s “State of the League” address on Wednesday? It was about as exciting as listening to someone tell you how to build your own clock radio. Fans remain mad about an officiating blunder nearly two weeks ago in New Orleans; they’re wondering what the league will do to prevent future referee bungles; there are umpteen other issues ranging from player safety to Colin Kaepernick to the Raiders needing to Airbnb a yurt in Marin for 2019. But Goodell, low-key all season, has no interest in driving or adding to any controversy. His address was a Snore de Force—a virtuoso performance in talking and saying almost nothing at all.

I understand the approach. The NFL possesses the most desirable product in American entertainment; Goodell doesn’t need to strut out like Vince McMahon and pump a Super Bowl like a barnyard wrestling match. The league didn’t even deliver halftime performer Maroon 5 for the customary halftime performer news conference. Maroon 5! A band about as edgy as the 11-year-old U.S. News & World Report in your dentist’s waiting room.

There’s still some goofiness to be found in this week’s Super buildup, however. To me, the funniest theme is the “Us Against the World Patriots”—the idea that somehow, a franchise which has reached the NFL’s title game nine times in 18 seasons is a plucky underdog that nobody thought would be here. If you rolled your eyes when Tom Brady stood at a Patriots pep rally the other day and chanted “We’re still here!” or guffawed when receiver Julian Edelman printed T-shirts before the AFC title game that read BET AGAINST US—you’re not alone.

Underdog Patriots? It’s like watching a billionaire fish around his or her pockets and protest they don’t have enough money for lunch. After all, the Super Bowl is basically a Patriots entitlement by now—and New England isn’t even the underdog in Atlanta, but a 2.5-point favorite against the Los Angeles Rams.

Still, there’s some useful motivational technique to Brady and the Patriots’ approach.

“What we’re witnessing is one of the best in the world, figuring out how to stay driven,” the performance psychologist Michael Gervais told me the other day.

Everyone knows that “Nobody believes in us” is fairly standard inspirational fare. Coaches do not stand atop chairs in locker rooms and tell their teams: Hey, everyone adores you—and believes you will emerge victoriously!

But getting to the Super Bowl repeatedly should diminish the ol’ fire in the belly. By now, negative talk—like the end-of-an-era chatter Brady and New England heard earlier in the season—should wash over them like a gentle breeze.

Not for the best, Gervais said. The best performers are expert at locating the signal through the noise, he said—finding that one tidbit of motivational material “to propel them to get to that signal.”

Gervais distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation is the ability to summon from within—doing it for the love and enjoyment it offers. Extrinsic motivations can be material—money, perks, very large trophies handed over by Jim Nantz.

“‘Tip of the arrow’ performers are phenomenal at knowing how to stay driven,” Gervais said. “They stay driven during times that are difficult, and stay equally driven when times are easy.” But even Brady doesn’t mind a little external motivation—as when his buddy, Edelman, was caught by cameras during the AFC Championship against Kansas City shouting “You’re too old” in Brady’s 41-year-old face.

The mental conditioning coach Trevor Moawad, who has worked with athletes including Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and Alabama football, notes that football teams are large, varied organizations. Brady is the only Patriot who was around for the team’s first Super Bowl title in 2002. An experienced player like him should be very capable of internal motivation, but this game is a new world for some of his New England teammates. When Brady is on stage chanting “We’re still here,” he’s not trying to drive Patriots haters bananas—he’s tugging at a thread that can inspire the whole roster.

“He understands the dynamics of a team, and how to influence it,” Moawad said.

I know: it’s tough to find charm in a franchise that has dominated football for most of a generation. Another victory for Brady or Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain Bill Belichick feels like piling on. (Though, unlike Maroon 5, the Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain has been downright chatty this week—did you see him expound on football history and the single-wing offense the other day? I think it’s the most he’s talked to the media since the Carter administration.) The “Nobody Believes in Us” New England Patriots are a hilarious construct, but motivation in sports is a peculiar thing, especially in the madness of Super Bowl week. It sounds crazy enough to work.

About The Moawad Consulting Group

The Moawad Consulting Group is a dynamic organization committed to delivering advanced mindset solutions to the driven leader(s) in the world’s most competitive environments. We have one focus for our clients, continuous improvement. Our engagements have been long-standing mutual commitments built upon added value and the ability to support and solve problems for Tier 1 organizations. We have a proven an elite capability to motivate the motivated, and serve this country’s elite, professional, collegiate, military and top business organizations with the end goal of both enhancing and improving present performance. Nothing happens by accident. Good or bad.

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