AN EMOTIONAL MOMENT

The early moments of the Super Bowl are emotional, heady moments, and Colts players said this week staying calm and playing through them is critical.

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Staying Calm in Early Moments Key in Super Bowl, Colts Players Say

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – Dallas Clark would have sworn he was in the right.

Clark, the Colts' All-Pro tight end, is now a seven-year NFL veteran preparing for his second Super Bowl. Asked recently to recall the first, frantic moments of his first Super Bowl three seasons ago, he smiled. The memory wasn't overly pleasant.

But he said it was vivid, and he said it definitely illustrates the bigness of the game the Colts will play Sunday, and the imance of dealing with emotions of the moment.

The Colts were behind 7-0 in what became a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears. Bears returner Devin Hester had just returned the opening kick for a touchdown, and the pregame emotions – the flyover, the national anthem, the flashbulbs – were fresh in the mind.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning called a pass play. Clark ran a route.

The wrong route.

The pass was incomplete.

"I thought I was as calm as anything, but for whatever reason, I ran the wrong route on the first play of the Super Bowl," Clark said as the AFC Champion Colts (16-2) prepared to play the NFC Champion Saints (15-3) in Super Bowl XLIV Sunday.

"Peyton looked at me and I couldn't give him anything. He was like, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I have no idea what just happened there. I was smiling for a camera in Row 2. I don't know.' "

That's what you're dealing with in the early moments of the NFL's biggest game, Colts players said this week: an energy level and emotion unlike anything else they've experienced.

"The energy level is crazy," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "You've got the kickoff, the national anthem, the planes going over, the cameras flashing. You have a lot of adrenaline built up. That's one thing – you can try to tell yourself before the game, 'I'm going to try to keep it cool; I'm going to calm down.'

"But it's not something you can control. When you get out there on the field, you're going to lose your breath a little bit, but then after that, you have to settle down. It's one of things you have to deal with."

Among the most memorable clips from the Colts' Super Bowl XLI appearance is of Freddy Keiaho, now a fourth-year veteran and then a rookie linebacker, shedding a tear in the moments after the national anthem/pre-game flyover.

Asked to recall the moment this week, Keiaho smiled.

"I just remember being on the kickoff, and they were singing the national anthem," Keiaho said. "I remembered all those moments, and all those people you remember from your football life – your whole life, really. As a kid, all you can think about is playing football, getting to the next level. Same thing with high school – all you think about is getting to college. When I got drafted into the NFL, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Here I was, a year before I was watching the Super Bowl, and now I'm playing in it – it was just a really overwhelming moment. It's one of those flash-before-your-eyes moment. It's a really special day.

"Just remembering your first football moments, and all the people who have influenced you – you're on the biggest stage and they're watching. You think how proud you are of your family and how your family is of you. It's really overwhelming."

The key? What happens next.

The Colts, who have made the post-season eight consecutive seasons, have 19 active players from the team that beat Chicago three seasons ago, and while most players said experience will guarantee nothing come Sunday, they did say how the early moments are handled are critical.

"It's really important," Colts running back Joseph Addai said. "In big games, a lot of people tend to do more than they are supposed to do. I think the team that has the least distractions – that goes about it in the same way – they have a better chance."

The process, players said, doesn't take forever. Addai said he felt the energy early, then relaxed when Hester returned the kickoff for a touchdown.

"For me, the first play calmed me down," he said. "It made me realize that this is just another game. Once we got in there we kind of calmed down, so actually, I was calm. I don't know how I'll feel this game, but that time I was calm. That was more of a wake-up call than anything."

For Bethea, the moment came as it does for many players in many games.

"Once I got out there and got my first hit," Bethea said. "Once I got my first hit, I said, 'OK, we're back.' It's a regular game. Get my feet up under me and let's go rock.'"

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, playing in his sixth Super Bowl, said when he speaks to younger players about the game, that's what he emphasizes – that getting calm and approaching the game as a football game and little more is a key.

"At the end of this thing," Vinatieri said, "it's two teams playing against each other. The lights are brighter. The people are louder. The commotion is greater. But at the end of the day, it's just a football game with two teams."

Clark, who caught four passes for 36 yards in the game, said he couldn't agree more, said the key to the game will be thinking of the game as a game against the Saints and nothing else.

"We're playing the Saints," Clark said. "It's tough to explain, but that's so true. You're just playing another team. It's just another game. It's obviously a lot bigger, but if you can focus on it just being another game, teams can execute more quickly and get into their game plan a little quicker and a little better."

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