Before the Super Bowl, you play the waiting game

NEW ORLEANS — Ever wonder what a player about to step on the biggest stage of his life goes through in the hours leading up to the Super Bowl?

It often includes a wave of emotions — joy, anxiety, fear, anticipation — sometimes all wrapped into one neat package as players try to make sure they’ve done everything they can to prepare.

For most, it’s all about relaxing — unless you’re former LSU tight end Brian Kinchen.

After playing 13 NFL seasons as a tight end and long snapper for four teams, Kinchen was retired for 21/2 years when the New England Patriots signed him out of the blue in December 2003 to be their long snapper. Two regular-season games and two postseason games later, Kinchen was living the dream and enjoying brunch — just seven hours before Super Bowl XXXVIII — when he sliced his right index finger on a steak knife while trying to cut a hard roll in half.

“I could feel it all the way down to the bone,” Kinchen said recently. “It was sliced pretty bad. I put a napkin over it, but it was bleeding profusely.

“I couldn’t believe I did that,” he added. “So I just kind of sat there looking around to see if anybody noticed it. Then, I started wondering what (coach Bill) Belichick was going to think.”

That’s because it’s not the type of injury someone who has to wrap his hands firmly around a football and deliver it with velocity to a punter or holder needs to have before any game — much less the Super Bowl.

After having the finger examined by the team’s medical staff, they decided to wait until after the game to stitch up the wound. They used a butterfly bandage and gloves players wear to get him through the game.

“It was the most anxious I’d ever been for a game in my life,” Kinchen recalled, “and there was this surreal existence about it.”

But it ended well for Kinchen and the Patriots.

Even though he had a couple of shaky snaps earlier, Kinchen was right on the money on Adam Vinatieri’s 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left that gave the Patriots a 32-29 win against the Carolina Panthers.

“I knew it was a good snap; it was perfect,” Kinchen said. “I looked up and it was right through the uprights. Then I looked around to make sure there were no (penalty) flags, because I didn’t want to do that again.”

Not all Super Bowl Sundays — at least the early part — are as eventful as they were for Kinchen.

Most players say it’s a matter of getting some rest before they go out to play, mainly because it’s such a long wait for the big game.

“It was just a normal game-day routine for me,” said former LSU running back Kevin Faulk, who went to five Super Bowls with the Patriots. “It didn’t matter what game it was; I was nervous. I just wanted to get going because of that competitive edge.

“You don’t sit around watching movies or anything because you’re thinking about everything you have to do to get ready for the game,” Faulk added.

While the day drags for some, the hours leading up to Super Bowl XXXVIII flew by for former UL-Lafayette and Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme.

“I wasn’t nervous in the least bit,” he said. “I slept well the night before, but I always did. … I remember getting to the stadium early, and when we did, it was kind of the way you always envisioned it. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”

Like Faulk, former LSU running back Charles Alexander said he was a bit nervous when he was preparing to play in Super Bowl XVI with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Before any game, I was nervous,” Alexander, a 2012 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, said with a laugh. “I always had butterflies and jitters, but I always thought that if you didn’t have those, you weren’t mentally ready to play.

“So it wasn’t a bad thing for me to be nervous because I always tried to keep the same routine.”

New Orleans native Marshall Faulk, who played in two Super Bowls with the St. Louis Rams and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had his own way of passing time before the game.

“I was laying on the floor (in the locker room), going through the plays, thinking about what they were going to try to do to us,” said Faulk, who helped the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV. “I was thinking about the looks.”

Soon enough, he said, it was time to hit the field.

“I was there, man. I was there,” he said of walking through the tunnel and seeing the lights. “I was there, and I enjoyed it. I didn’t try to minimize it, and I didn’t try to exaggerate it. I was in the moment … and I lived it.”