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Zach Strief: Wild Card week through the eyes of a Saints player

Zach Strief
January 05, 2019 - 1:36 pm

Playoff football is different.  It’s much closer to what I think my perception of professional football was going to be like when I was 8 years old...intense, pressure ridden, almost overwhelming. So, getting to miss a weekend of that is a benefit to everyone, including the fans. Winning a top two seed puts you in position, not only to play at home, but also to get a break from the realities that are playoff football. Well, playoff football is here.  Even though no games have been played, the intensity of the playoffs has already begun.  
The first thing you notice immediately in the course of one of these successful seasons is that the distractions elevate. Where in week 1 you had 8 people asking for tickets, now you have 80. It’s the same for really everyone in the organization.  Executives, coaches, players, trainers, equipment staff, everyone is suddenly a ticket agent.  It’s understandable.  Shoot, I’ve only been out for a year and I’m already asking guys for tickets.  It is something that Coach Payton is always aware of, and always makes a point to say, handle that early in the week.  When you are really an NFL veteran, you just blame someone else.  “Oh, my mom handles her.”  Then there are the hotel rooms.  Everyone wants to come in town for the big games, so you spend a lot of time trying to coordinate who is staying where, with whom, and on who’s wallet.  Again, call Mom.  

Now that your rooms and tickets are handled (for now anyway), it’s on to some more conventional issues like media requests.  For many of us, this isn’t necessarily a huge issue.  For players like Brees, Thomas, Jordan, Kamara, Ingram, etc… it can become a massive intrusion.  The Saints have a great staff of media coordinators, who do an amazing job trying to filter out the majority of these requests into a manageable number, but ultimately requests get through those filters to the players themselves and sorting through them can be a headache.  

Now that the players have worked through some additional work required for the playoffs, they face Wild Card weekend and the unusual opportunity to sit down and watch football with their families.  Mostly, we play, they watch.  This weekend we sit down with our loved ones and watch to see who the next opponent will be.  

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can explain to you how this would go for me.  I would spend the day sitting anxiously, trying my best not to react to a comment made that I didn’t agree with. For someone who is generally laid back, few things made me more tense than watching football on tv.   Never worse than in the playoffs. I would always do my best not to snap at anyone, but if there is one thing that happens during this time of year for an NFL football player, it’s a heightened level of tension.  Once the game is over, it’s back to appreciating the extra time spent with family and loved ones.  After all this has ended, it’s on to game week, and that is where the real excitement begins.  

Playoff football is one of the most intense experiences I ever had as an athlete. It begins the first day you walk into work with an opponent.  It’s amazing how different you can feel in week one of the playoffs, compared to week 17 of the regular season.  Suddenly, the aches don’t ache quite so much, the bruises aren’t as dark.  Your body responds to your mind almost immediately.  If there was ever an argument for mind over matter, it’s how a worn-down athlete finds another gear for the playoffs. It’s not something you have to take my word on.  It will be very clear watching this weekend, that the NFL is a different animal when the tournament begins.
For some young players in New Orleans, they believe that the past two years will continue on like this forever.  They think that every year of their career will end with such excitement and anticipation.  I know that’s how they feel, because I felt that way in 2006.  What you realize very quickly as a player is that years like the one the Saints are in right now are strange and precious.  You learn quickly, that simply getting to the playoffs is an accomplishment, and winning during them is even more difficult.  What nearly all of this team knows is that it will take their very best to win in January.  That is very clearly understood, after experiencing what most of them experienced last year.  When you put the world’s greatest athletes all over the same field, amazing, and sometimes terrible things can occur.  

The Saints have a chance to do something very special this year.  They had that chance last year and had it taken away from them.  They know how fickle winning at this point in the season can be.  The Saints are battle tested over the past two seasons and proved time and time again in 2018 that they could find ways to win games.  They will need to do just that again.  

2009 was one of the greatest years of my life.  We won together, and we walk together forever. These Saints have the same opportunity awaiting them.  I think it is their season to lose; they will have the strength of the Who Dat Nation at their backs.  We are about to embark on an amazing journey, and I can’t wait to go on it with all of you.  Just as 2010 was the topping on the 2009 cake, so too, could be 2019.  Welcome to the new year…

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