Medical staffs are used to being overlooked. Everyone knows Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, but almost no one in the stands at Super Bowl LI will know Jim Whalen and Marty Lauzon.
Fewer still know Mark Price or Spero Karas, though Karas is easy to pick out on the sidelines. These are the head athletic trainer and team physicians for the Patriots and Falcons, respectively. While the players will be the ones on the field, often the medical staff will have more to do with who wins the game than you can ever know.
The Super Bowl is no normal week for the medical staffs. Sure they’ll have all the normal maintenance, rehab and preparation, but they also have to deal with the same kind of pressure the players and coaches do. This game is all or nothing. Players needing an extra week of rehab time? It’s out of the question.
Sometimes, the medical staff will find it harder to say no. The risk of an injured player going out on the field has to be judged with both the short-term and long-term effects for the player and the team. Players will obviously want to play — and coaches will want them to play — but the doctors often have to balance their care of the patient with the needs of the team, an inherent conflict.
The biggest change teams have to face isn’t that it’s a road game. They’ve had a number of those and they have those trips down to a science. Instead, the biggest difference for a Super Bowl is one that both teams hope doesn’t come up.
During the rest of the season, the home team is always in charge of catastrophic care. They’ll have the relationship with EMS and local trauma, and they’ll handle the emergency action plan for a serious injury.
In the Super Bowl, there is no true “home team” when it comes to emergency care. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a host. On Sunday night, the Houston Texans medical staff will be on hand to handle many of the things they normally would in terms of a catastrophic injury, setting things up, and even handling their training room and medical facilities.
Both teams also will have an assigned camp, which will have medical amenities as well. Teams will travel with needed supplies and often will contract with a local clinic to get access to equipment they deem necessary but that doesn’t pack well. Think pools, tables and the like.
In fact, once the team settles into their assigned hotel, that too will become a medical facility. The medical staff will often set up in a small meeting space with as much of their equipment as possible. In some cases, they’ll also set up things in players’ rooms, just for convenience. This is most often seen with leg injuries similar to the one Falcons center Alex Mack is dealing with, an injury where he will need nearly around-the-clock treatments like ice, compression, and other modalities.
Once the game starts, everything goes back to normal. The teams will have essentially their normal road setups, with the only real difference being the presence of the host team in some manner and a whole lot more people on the sidelines at times. While doctors normally travel with teams for games, the Super Bowl guarantees that every single one of those doctors will be available.
One difference for this year’s game will be the presence of more concussion personnel. The league will have independent neurological consultants on the sideline, likely the ones used for Houston games, as well as concussion spotters watching from the press box. The same system used during regular season games will be in place for requesting concussion checks.
A Super Bowl week is full of long hours, as well, much like the regular season. The doctors and athletic trainers are used to 18-hour days and many have been working those since camp opened in July.
There’s plenty of time for sleep in the offseason.
At least until the rehab starts.