It's interesting to note the various reflections of each of the three coordinators on Head Coach Mike McCarthy's staff – Joe Philbin (offense), Shawn Slocum (special teams) and Dom Capers (defense) – as they all prepare for their first trip to the NFL's ultimate game.
Getting here means a lot to all of them, but it also means something different to each one.
For Philbin, advancing to the NFL's title game invoked unsolicited memories during his press conference this week of his time at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., when the Gators played for and won the NCAA Division III national championship 20 years ago.
Philbin had just joined the Allegheny staff as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 1990 under head coach Ken O'Keefe (now the offensive coordinator at the University of Iowa, where Philbin joined O'Keefe's offensive staff in 1999). Philbin was fresh off of spending the past four years toiling in obscurity at Worcester Tech (1986-87) in Massachusetts and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (1988-89) in Kings Point, N.Y.
After a tie in their season opener, the Gators ripped off 12 wins in a row (nine regular season, three playoffs) to reach the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for the D-III crown against Lycoming College (Williamsport, Pa.).
"That's one of the great memories I have in coaching," Philbin said. "We were down 14-0 at half – nobody cares about this – but we're down 14-0 at halftime. We tied it up with about a minute to go, and we won the game in overtime."
That accomplishment, "1990 National Champions," is still prominently displayed on the Allegheny College football team's web page, and Philbin said he heard from some of his former Allegheny players (as well as some from the Merchant Marine Academy) while sitting on the team bus last Sunday following the Packers' victory in the NFC Championship. He also said three coaches from that Allegheny staff have gone on to become small-college head coaches as well.
It's remembering successes like that and others at many stops along the way – in addition to the locations already mentioned, Philbin also coached at Tulane, Ohio University, Northeastern and Harvard before making it to the NFL with the Packers in 2003 as an assistant offensive line coach – that adds to the special feeling of a first Super Bowl berth.
"It's rewarding, and hopefully, hopefully it won't be that close of a game in a couple weeks," Philbin said. "But hopefully the outcome will be the same."
For Slocum, the fact that the Super Bowl is in Dallas, Texas, will make it an even more emotional event.
Slocum grew up in Texas a Cowboys fan, played college football at Texas A&M, and then coached a total of 11 years at A&M in four different stints (the first as a volunteer assistant in 1989), all for his father, R.C. Slocum, the winningest head coach in Texas A&M's history.
Now Slocum will be coaching in his first Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium – not the same stadium of his favorite boyhood team's glory years, but that doesn't detract from much of the sentiment.
"It's awesome," Slocum said. "It's really neat.
"Watching their success during my childhood and then watching Super Bowls after that, particularly as I became a coach, it's something I always wanted to do. To be able to go do it in Dallas, Texas, means a lot."
A Super Bowl appearance is perhaps most gratifying to Capers, who came so close multiple times before.
After winning two USFL championships as a defensive backs coach under Jim Mora for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in 1984-85, Capers went on to appear in three conference championship games as an NFL coach in the 1990s.
He was the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1994 when they lost to the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship. Two years later he was the head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers when they lost to the Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship. And then he was the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1999 when they lost to the Tennessee Titans in another AFC title game.
"It's nice to finally get an opportunity to go, and hopefully we can take one more step," Capers said.
As memorable for Capers as those great teams are some of his great defenses and defensive players. He has coached three NFL Defensive Players of the Year in Green Bay's Charles Woodson (2009), Miami's Jason Taylor (2006) and Pittsburgh's Rod Woodson (1993), while Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is a candidate this season (the award will be announced during Super Bowl week).
Capers also has presided over highly ranked units throughout his career. The '93 Pittsburgh defense ranked third overall in yards allowed, and the '94 Steelers unit moved up to No. 2. The '99 Jacksonville defense was No. 1 in the league in scoring, while the '06 Miami defense was No. 4 in yards.
In Green Bay last year, Capers' defense ranked No. 2 in the league in yards allowed, and this year's unit was No. 2 in points allowed. Considering the injuries – some major, others nagging – that have cropped up all season long on Capers' crew, it makes the achievements of this year and the Super Bowl trip all the more remarkable.
"I've been blessed, I've had a lot of really good ones," Capers said. "I like this group. I really like this group because they've hung together and fought their way through adversity, a lot of player changes, and when a new guy has gone in, he's stepped up and produced. And that's been the case from early on."
Additional coverage - Jan. 27