Sunday? What Sunday? Packers reveal when game day really begins
Donald Driver bursts out of the tunnel and onto Lambeau Field as he's introduced over the public address, the flexing of his arms and kicks of his legs belying his 14 years in the National Football League.
During the national anthem, his Green Bay Packers teammates rock to the side, or bounce their knees – leading to a climax of a flyover or the roar of the crowd drowning out the final notes.
This is the start of game day.
Or is it?
"When the lights come on, you're just having fun," Driver said with a smile. "It's almost like you're a little kid in a candy store – you get to go out there and pick everything you want."
By the time the television audience and the ticket holders see their favorite players take the field, the "game" had long started – anywhere from 36 hours to days ahead of the time the football is lifted off the 35-yard-line.
To many players, the game begins the night before the game - travel day for a road game, or when they leave their homes to stay in the team hotel before heading to Lambeau Field. It's the last day of the week, the time to tie up loose ends in your personal life and turn the focus to the opponent and your job on the field.
"You just want to get all your distractions, things that aren't having (anything) to do with football out of your mind," linebacker D.J. Smith said of the day.
M.D. Jennings begins to feel the game a bit closer to kickoff, following the team meal Sunday morning.
"That's when it's all serious business from that point on," the defensive back said. "It all starts in your mind. Coming out the tunnel is for game time is when you really flip that switch and it's full go."
Because "game day" isn't so much about the actual day of the game anymore.
In high school, and even at the highest college level, emotion and physical superiority can mask lack of
"You've got to be dialed in at this level," Smith said. "You've got to be really focused in because the game, at this level, is more mental. It's a lot more mental than what people think it is."
It's one the reasons why Driver, so many years ago, chose to begin his game day on Wednesday.
"It's kind of how I've always prepared myself. It always starts on Wednesday and what you do in practice is basically what you do in the games," the 37-year-old receiver said. "If you're successful throughout the week and you prepare yourself that's exactly what you're going to do."
So what of all the emotion we see just before kickoff? Does that do anything to get a player ready for the actual game?
"By the time Sunday comes around, it's just fun," Driver said. "That's all that is – just the adrenaline going. Now it's time, now everything counts."
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