Former Saints LB Jonathan Vilma
Can you believe it's been five years?
"Time flies. I do remember it like it was yesterday. We had a hell of a run. It was a lot of fun. I still remember the week, the preparation. We were always hoping to do it again and unfortunately we couldn't get it done."
You guys were close that's for sure. There are plenty of people around who know how hard it is to put together a Super Bowl campaign.
"It definitely is. It's very hard. You have to be one, good. You have to be cohesive. You have to be functional. And then, of course, you have to get a little lucky sometimes. Look at that Washington game, who would have thought that that guy misses the chip shot, we go into overtime and win the game. We needed that game to get the one seed and play Minnesota at our home instead of playing up in Minnesota. Little things like that, when I reflect on the season. You always wonder, what if the ball had bounced this way? What if we had done this? Fortunately everything worked out well for us and we ended up winning it all."
Did you guys believe in luck?
"We didn't believe in luck. We really just believed in routine. We kept the same routine week in and week out. Even when we got to the playoffs and we got to the divisional game, the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl. We believed in trusting in our routine. Trusting in our preparation. We thought that was what was providing us the "luck" if we needed it throughout the season. We worked hard. We practiced hard. We had a lot of fun together and we ended up winning a lot of games."
Regarding your pre-pro career, what was different about that routine that you're speaking of?
"Well, at Miami we were so talented. Our routine was to go as hard as we could in practice against each other because the game would be a lot easier. We had the talent level to do that and we faced other teams that weren't as talented as we were. When you get to the NFL, every team is talented. You have a few standout athletes but for the most part it's about who prepared the most, who studied their opponent the most or who didn't make the mistakes. For us, our practices were hard but it was more the mental aspect of fine-tuning the opposing team. For me understanding the opposing offense. Being about to make the checks on time. Making sure that everyone was on the same page. It was the mental portion that was a lot more rigorous, getting to the NFL. Especially on that run, it was a lot more stressful, really, to be honest with you. When the season was done, I had a mental relaxation or a mental break more than a physical break."
You had three Pro Bowl seasons. One was the Super Bowl season. Looking back, would you say that was your best season as a pro?
"No, actually. I think one of my best seasons came the first time I went to the Pro Bowl. I led the NFL in tackles. The unfortunate part was that we went 4-12 that year. I was with the Jets. It was my second year. We went 4-12. I had a tremendous season. It was very, very bittersweet. That was actually a great realization of how much I cared less about individual goals and stats and cared more about team goals and stats and winning. Even when I went to the Pro Bowl that year, I didn't really enjoy it. Every one there had been to the playoffs. Every one there was talking about how they were so close to getting to the AFC championship game or getting to the Super Bowl and all I could talk about was going 4-12. That's not fun to talk about. I think that was probably my best year but the most fun and most productive was probably 2009 because my production equated to a lot more wins and a lot more victories."
It seems like there was a unique mix of guys on that roster from guys that started out with Coach Payton to new but you seemed to mix real well. Can you remember why that happened?
"I think it was a great job of the guys who had been there. They were all in their prime. They all set the tone. Guys like myself, coming in, that wanted to not only fit in but lead and lead in a productive way and be a positive influence in the locker room. I think it was also the coaching staff knowing when to back off. Knowing when to push the issue. Relying on the veterans and the leaders of the team to kind of gauge the practices, gauge the preparation for whatever it was, a big game, not perceived a big game, a NFC championship. I think it was definitely a nice mix. It was a fine line where we know what to do and how to do it. We had the guidance from the coaches and on top of that, the coaches knew when to back off a little bit."
How did you handle media day?
"I'm surprised no one gave you a good media day story because we almost didn't make media day. We come down to Miami, Coach gives us the normal one night off during the week. We're in Miami so of course we go out and we have a hell of a time and we shut the city down. We had about 60 percent of our teammates out and about. We had a great time. We didn't get back to the hotel until three or four in the morning. We had a wake up all at nine o'clock for media day. That clearly didn't happen. We had half the team waking up at 9:30 a.m. the other half getting to the bus by 10 o'clock. We had a group of guys who didn't even make the bus and had to be driven to Sun Life. It was a great start and a horrible start at the same time. We knew what to make of it because we had fun all season. Our coaches didn't really know what to make of it. They didn't know if we were taking it seriously or if we were having too much fun or if we needed to be on lock down for the rest of the week. That's what we did. We had fun. We had a good time. When it was time to work, it was time to work. But media day almost didn't happen for us. We almost had a couple of no-shows."
You were probably the Pied Piper of that night since you played your college days there?
"I will say that I enjoyed myself that night out. I believe I was about five minutes late though. I can't even lie and tell you that I was on time. I definitely wasn't. I was about five minutes late. Frankly, I did not care. We just wanted to go and get media day over with and move on."
You moved on and you got to game day. When you close your eyes and you think about the game, what's first in your mind?
"First in my mind is that God I had two week to prepare for Peyton Manning. I'll never forget that. I watched every game of his. Memorized every check. I asked everybody I could that played against him that season to learn his checks and his dummy checks. To learn when he was going to snap the ball. His favorite routes with Dallas Clark because that was who I was going to be covering. Thank God I had so much time to prepare for Peyton."
What translated into that game itself?
"The game was slowing down and I would say I got a bead on him by the second quarter. Kind of on his checks and his snap count and when he was going to throw the ball but you never really have Peyton (Manning) figured out. It was more about getting a bead on him. Because of all of that preparation I felt more comfortable with my checks and making them quickly and aggressively as the game went on. I think that we did a pretty good job. He had a lot of passing yards but we expected that to happen at the time. But they didn't put points up on the board."
Didn't you tip one of his passes as well?
"Yeah, I tipped one in the end zone and I think the next play they actually missed the field goal. That was huge."
I think you were about 27 years only when you won?
"That is correct."
So you're 32 now. A Super Bowl champion. I'd love to see you play football again. What do you think being a Super Bowl champion in combination with three Pro Bowls and a great career, how do you think you will handle those?
"It'll definitely be with me the rest of my life. You never forget those times. I'll never forget that season with my teammates and how much fun I had winning it all. That's what I worked for my whole career. I was one of the fortunate ones to do it and not only get to the Super Bowl but win it. It definitely won't define the rest of my life. I'm too smart for that. I have way too much fun and way too much ambition for other things. That was a lot of fun and I really did enjoy it. Frankly, I enjoy doing it for not only myself and my teammates but for the city of New Orleans. From the time we won it to even now when I'm not playing football and I go out on the town and I'm eating at a restaurant, at the airport, it's nothing but love. I can feel the genuine respect and genuine admiration from the fans for everything I put out on the field. I put out my blood, sweat and tears on the field and they appreciate it. That I will always remember and that I am always appreciative for."
I'm glad you brought that up. Nobody here says that the Saints won the Super Bowl. Everyone here says that we won the Super Bowl and that seems to be OK.
"That's a-OKwith me. It's true. You have to have good fans, good energy and good people behind you. Especially when the times get tough. We lost three in a row to end the season. You didn't hear once, the fans start to complain or rumble or say we should make changes. Everyone had faith in us. Everyone believed in us. That's refreshing. You don't get that often. You don't get that in a lot of other cities. For us, we really appreciated that season. We appreciated the fans as well."
What does it take for you to put the Super Bowl ring on?
"The routine was when I was playing, to hide it and fight hard as hell to get another one. I didn't get it. I actually pulled it out one time to take a look out of it. I never really pull it out too often unless its kind of a special occasion or I'm going to meet people that kind of want to see the ring. Outside of that, I kind of just leave it there. I don't need the ring. I like the ring but I have a lot of memories. You can't take that away from me. That's what I do with the ring."
Former Saints OT Jon Stinchcomb
Our Super Bowl conversation continues with one of our best friends on the Black and Blue Report. Jon Stinchcomb joins us to talk about things five years ago. Can you remember Super Bowl XLIV vividly still, Mr. Stinchcomb, at your advanced stage?
"Yes sir, it's not a blur. Many great memories, one right after the next. It doesn't seem like it has been five years, but I believe it."
When you speak to people formally about Super Bowl XLIV, or just in casual conversation, what's the story that you tell the most?
"The story I tell the most is probably starts before the Super Bowl. We had gone, for some of us, that was actually the year I made the Pro Bowl, so we actually flew out early and got to go in the locker room and see all of the Vikings players – they were getting ready for the game. They were still, for lack of a better word, pissed, from the outcome of the NFC championship game. I guess it was Monday or Tuesday, we all went to dinner. It's usually later in the week, but we thought with Super Bowl, everything was crazy so the offensive line and quarterbacks all go to eat. Well, Super Bowl week we ended up going early and it was almost the entire offense and we went to one of the nicer restaurants in Miami. It just, for me this was the quintessential, the Super Bowl is more than just a game moment. Franco Harris was sitting at the table next to us and he came and spent some time. Jared (Fogle) from Subway came and he sat with us with Joe Rogan. It just showed the circus of the Super Bowl as a week-long event. Subsequently, they also play a football game in the middle of it."
How did you guys balance the euphoria of delivering New Orleans its first Super Bowl appearance, and yet still have to go win a football game against a pretty good football team?
"Well, it was so cool to have won it for New Orleans, with New Orleans just because of its relationship with the city and the fans and the team. Now, when you talk about the Super Bowl what's really cool is around New Orleans, after we won it – you go around and obviously you see the fleur de lis and the Saints shirts and the jerseys and bumper stickers, but what fans realize is if you're a Saints player, the first thing they'd say to you is 'thank you'. It wasn't 'congratulations.' It wasn't 'hey, we're glad you won.' It was 'thank you' for the loyalty of the fans. It was a win just as much as for the guys on the team, which was a really unique and cool deal to be a part of."
Think back to the week itself. I guess I'm trying to remember the calendar. I think that everyone speaks to the media for the last time on that Friday and then it gets real quiet until kickoff on Sunday.What happened between Friday's last public appearance and Sunday afternoon that you remember most?
"I remember watching "Space Balls" in my hotel room waiting just to get to that locker room. The nerves get pretty high. At least for me it did. As you start approaching that game you start realizing that millions and millions of people are going to be watching this game. And for us, playing right tackle, for Jermon (Bushrod) and I, we're going up against two of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the country and (Robert) Mathis and (Dwight) Freeney. The nerves of 'man, I really don't want to give up a sack in a Super Bowl with everybody watching and have it affect the outcome of the game.' You're trying to do everything you can to keep your nerves in check. So that's my memory, watching "Space Balls" in my hotel room just watching this clock barely tick by. What was nice was once you get to the locker room, for me those nerves kind of subsided. This is something I have done since I was nine years old – getting your ankles taped and putting your pads in your pants, and putting the shoulder pads in the jersey. It had kind of just become a routine that becomes so familiar, but that two week period leading up to the game and that normal routine was stressful to say the least."
You're not the first guy to say exactly what they watched on television that day. It's amazing.
"Yeah, well, I mean it's a night game, obviously, so there are just all of these hours. There are only so many meetings that you can go through and go to. I remember one of the meetings leading up to it, Coach Payton asked, 'does anybody remember the runner up to a Super Bowl?' It was only a handful of years before and nobody could pull it up and it was just highlighting, nobody remembers the runner up in this race so it is amazing – all that goes into and leads up to the game."
Jon, in the game itself – this is a game, just like Sunday's game, between the Patriots and the Seahawks. It's the game of all games in that everybody has something they want to say about how they want the game to transpire, their analysis of it and everything else. When you think about Super Bowl XLIV and how the game played out, what's something that was never touched on or something that was never understood about what you all wanting to accomplish and what you did accomplish in that win?
"Well, there are a couple things that come to mind. Obviously, everybody agrees the key play was that onside kick. We've talked about that – leading up to it, the right situation, the halftime is 30 minutes, so we all knew what we were coming into. But Dwight Freeney, the defensive end for the Colts at the time is coming off of an ankle or knee injury. I'm pretty sure it was his ankle, but he was questionable leading up to what we were expecting but with Indianapolis getting the ball in that long halftime, a big swing for us that we recovered that onside kick and Freeney still getting re-taped on his ankle and getting back out there, so it was almost like we were able to steal the series from them without one of their best pass rushers able to get back in the game with that quick of a turnaround. I'm sure he was expecting at least a few minutes with Indianapolis having the ball, so that was a big swing. I also remember in the fourth quarter - it's late in the game and we're up by seven at the time. Our offense is on the bench, I'm sitting next to Goody, Jonathan Goodwin, the center. For those folks who had told us and experienced playing in the game in that big moment, you have to find some moment during the game and just take a look around and take it all in. So we're in the fourth quarter and we're up by seven and Peyton Manning has the ball and you don't know how it's going to end. I'm sitting next to Goody and I say, 'Goody, there are six minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl and we're up by seven.' We're just kind of taking in the moment, looking around the stadium and watching the defense play and obviously Tracy Porter picks up the ball and runs it in for a touchdown and euphoria ensued. At that moment, we were sure. Anytime Peyton Manning has the ball, anything can happen. So just to take that moment and look around and realize that you're living out a dream you've had since you played backyard ball with the neighborhood kids was really special for us."
Did you sleep before you got back to New Orleans?
"No, I didn't. You can sleep later. After the game it was just such a cool deal. Kenny Chesney was up on stage in the hotel when we were having the team party and I'm sitting at the table with my family, just numb that we just won a Super Bowl. Harry Connick, Jr. is sitting at our table and we talk for 45 minutes to an hour like we're best buddies. I've got my cousin in town. She lives in Seattle and Harry, I don't know what he was doing – he went up to get more food or something and she asked me, she's like, 'how long have you known Harry Connick, Jr.?' And I said, 'well I met him about 40 minutes ago." It was just one of those deals, it was just a cool experience. No, what you didn't do was sleep until we got back from the plane flight and you realized that 'man, we just won a Super Bowl – really, really cool.'"
How many times have you talked to Harry Connick, Jr. since then, Stinch?
"That would be none, my good man. For some reason, I don't know if he lost my number in his Rolodex or what. That was the last one."
In all seriousness, how would you say Super Bowl XLIV has changed your life in the last five years?
"What's funny is that I was just talking to my wife about it this week. I feel very fortunate to have played for eight years in the league and a Pro Bowl and all of these things. I'm just really grateful for the game of football. But when I'm introduced or I go to speak to schools, or churches, or wherever I'm at, they introduce me as a former Super Bowl winner – Super Bowl Champion Jon Stinchcomb. That's the tag that I have been given and it's off of one game. I'm just thinking, how about all of those other guys, all of those other players that have played 10-12 years and played great, great players, great careers that don't have that attached to them. You're so grateful for that experience, but you just think, man, all those other guys that have poured into the game and really brought a lot to it weren't as fortunate as I was to have experienced such a cool life experience. It was really something special."
Take this with what you will. Every time I end a conversation with you, I'm smiling and I'm smiling again and I appreciate you coming on to tell me some of those stories.
"Well, it's good stuff. I would be remiss to say that one of the major highlights for me – and then I'll wrap it up, but after the Super Bowl there was a USO trip opportunity and obviously Drew is huge with USO, but he was already signed up to go on another USO trip to Djibouti and I want to say Dubai. I was fortunate enough to go on a two-week USO trip with James Gandolfini, Tony Sirico and Rose McGrowen to Afghanistan and Kuwait on the way back and we stopped at three major airport bases and the Ford operating base and that is probably one of my favorite memories in life of one of the coolest experiences. It was one once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after the next. In my mind, it's all because of the Super Bowl. So I'll throw that in on the list of really cool things."