The early pregame warmups that NFL teams go through are usually pretty routine.
Players and coaches usually spent the time loosening up, touching base with old friends who are with the other team. A few minutes chatting up an old buddy or college teammate and then its back to the matter of hand.
But when it comes to this afternoon’s game (4:05. p.m., CBS Sports) between the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, the normal pre-game rituals may last a bit longer.
That’s understandable. With former Colts interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians now running the show in Arizona, it will take some extra time to get all the handshakes and hugs in from former coaching associates and Indianapolis players that he helped develop, including quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Arians won the NFL’s Coach of the Year award last season after filling in for Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano, who was battling leukemia. He led the team to a 9-3 record and an 11-5 overall mark, earning an wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs.
The affable Arians — who had long hungered for an NFL head coaching job but never seemed to get an opportunity — moved on to Arizona when given the opportunity. Not because he didn’t like working in Indianapolis or with Pagano or with the players on the Colts roster. Far from it.
After waiting for 21 years for the opportunity, working as an assistant for several NFL teams, Arians now gets a chance to be a head coach.
“From re-fired, or excuse me, retired to this? I don’t think anybody would have ever dreamed it. It’s a fairy tail. It truly is. I hate that to get an opportunity to be a head coach we had to go through what we had to go through last year. But it was the only way,” he said late last week.
“Winning Super Bowls and getting to Super Bowls [while the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh] wasn’t good enough. I’m glad that [Arizona executive] Michael [Bidwell] gave me this opportunity. I thank him every day to have this chance. But this never would have happened without last year.”
Arians went through a forced retirement with the Steelers after the 2011 season before landing on his feet last season with Pagano and the Colts. The rest, as they say, is history.
“It will more emotional pre-game [today], seeing the guys for the first time [since he left last January]. Especially a lot of the younger players that we coached last year. And all the guys, I hate that Reggie Wayne is not playing. I hope that he makes the trip. And Chuck and the coaching staff. It was a very tight group,” he explained.
“You don’t accomplish what they accomplished last year without holding each other accountable and having a common cause. It was very special.”
Arians knows that the Cardinals task won’t be an easy one. Indianapolis is coming into this afternoon’s matchup with a 7-3 record and a three-game lead in the AFC South.
His knowledge of the Colts roster and how the Indianapolis coaches think gives Arians a pretty good insight of what to expect.
“I’m not going to fool with our scheme, our scheme’s too good. What we know about some of their players can help us, especially with their skills sets,” he said. “They’re using a fullback because [tight end] Dwayne Allen’s out. And a lot more power O running game. We did a lot last year also. Different sets. It’s closer to the 49ers running game and our passing game.”
Arians also knows a lot about Luck.
“He can throw three interceptions and he’s going up and down the sidelines telling everybody, ‘Hey, I got this. Don’t worry about it. We’re going to win the game.’ I think that’s why they’re so good at overcoming these halftime deficits because he never loses confidence or his poise,” he said.
“He learns every time you do something to him. You’ve got to have enough stuff that he doesn’t see the same thing the second time around. Very much like [former Colts quarterback] Peyton [Manning].”
Arians chuckled after he was told that Luck said that the coach “had an incredibly young soul.”
“I don’t feel like I’m 62. I feel like I’m 22,” the Cardinals coach smiled, adding that facing his former team will be tough. Well, at least at the beginning. Then it’s business as usual.
“They’ll be a lot of hugging and high-fiving. It’s just like playing your brother in the backyard. Then I’m kicking your ass,” Arians grinned.
His former quarterback in Indianapolis, of course, has other ideas.
“I feel very fortunate to have played under him for a year, very happy. I matured a lot football-wise, outside of football largely because of him. It’s hard to sort of reminisce now. I don’t know if this is the time,” Luck said.
“Hopefully after I’m done playing this game, I’ll look back and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fond memories of playing under B.A.”
He’s not getting caught up in all the hoopla either.
“I don’t think you worry about it. At the end of the day, it’s football. You got to go out and play the game. [We] can’t worry how well he knows our personnel or we know him. I think that’s sort of thrown out the window,” Luck voiced.
“I don’t think guys get too caught up. I know I haven’t. The emotions of seeing someone come back, or going somewhere, or going up against a buddy or an old coach, I think football is an emotional game as it is. I know I haven’t had a problem. I don’t think guys in this locker room have, putting aside those other emotions. We realize every game is a big game. You focus on that. You focus on the opposition, not the side stories. We leave that for you guys [the media] and the fans.”