The Super Bowl is a hyper-real moment in time that can turn the most well-trained athlete into a quivering mass of nerves and self-doubt.
Former BYU wide receiver Austin Collie, a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts, will take the field in Miami on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in front of a world-wide television audience of millions. Not wanting to be overwhelmed by the pressure of playing in his first Super Bowl, Collie turned to someone in the BYU family: former Cougar and NFL All-Pro tight end Chad Lewis.
Lewis was involved in two Super Bowls in his NFL career, with the St. Louis Rams in 2000 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. Lewis didn't play in the 2005 Super Bowl because of an injury suffered in the NFC Championship game, where he caught two touchdown passes.
Collie reached out to Lewis by phone this week for advice on how to prepare for the biggest professional opportunity of his life.
"He wanted to keep his routine, business as usual, and I encouraged him to do that," Lewis said. "I told Austin this is a special week and it requires you to take a minute to smell the roses. One way do that is to take some extra time with your family. Let them know how much you appreciate them because they've supported you for a long, long time. When you do that, you take the pressure of the Super Bowl off your shoulders for a few minutes, a few hours, whatever."
Lewis said Collie admitted it would be difficult for him take his mind off of preparing for the game.
"Someone like Austin, who's a workaholic and a perfectionist, he might be quick to say, 'OK guys, I've got to go back and study,' " Lewis said. "You can still go back and study during Super Bowl week, but you can also take a little bit of extra time to be with your family. You can accomplish both things. You can still get as much film study in as you ever get."
Lewis said the emotions of playing in the Super Bowl are stronger than anything he's ever experienced as an athlete.
"You can't quantify that pressure," he said. "You can try to describe it, but it's impossible."
Collie has had a superb rookie season, catching 60 passes for 673 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season. He's continued to excel in the playoffs, catching a touchdown pass in the Colts' 20-3 win over Baltimore in the divisional playoffs and setting a career best with seven catches for 123 yards and a score in a 30-17 come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.
"That game was in absolute question," Lewis said. "Peyton Manning is maybe the best quarterback in NFL history, and he stared down Austin on a key drive in the second quarter. Austin caught three balls for 80 yards and a touchdown on that drive. That's what re-ignited the Colts and got them going. For Manning to have that kind of confidence in a rookie tells you everything you need to know about Austin. It shows how much trust he's earned from his coaches, teammates and quarterback."
Collie told Lewis that with as much as the media and fans rave about Manning, he's even better than they know.
"He told me the most underrated story in the NFL is how smart Peyton is," Lewis said. "Austin said Peyton knows defenses and breaks them down for the other players. He's a genius."
Lewis said he was working out in Provo during the NFL off-season when he got his first look at Collie back in 2004.
"It was the summer before Austin's freshman year," Lewis said. "He came straight out of high school with a work ethic I've never seen before and a determination to dominate. He caught the ball with a chip on his shoulder. He was physically relentless, competitive and had excellent skills. I just looked at the other NFL guys we were with and said, 'That guy is something special.' It turned out he would be the greatest receiver in the history of BYU, in just three seasons. It's no surprise to me or anyone close to him that has watched him work that he's dominated with the Colts."
"(Eagles head coach) Andy Reid said a player needed to be hungry and humble to be successful in the NFL. I've seen that in Austin. His drive to be the best is relentless and he doesn't stop. He's never satisfied and always wants to improve."
Lewis said he told Collie to remember his training when emotions run high on Sunday.
"When your heart is beating so hard you feel it in your ears and the pressure is like two mountains on top of your shoulders, it always comes back to fundamentals," Lewis said. "Your mind starts to catch hold of what you've been trained to do. Your body takes over instead of letting the pressure take control."
• Daily Herald Sports Editor Darnell Dickson can be reached at 801-344-2555 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.