ARLINGTON, TX—As the Super Bowl approaches, veterans returning to football's most high-pressure event have been doing their best to prepare their teammates for the mental stresses, unique physical demands, and quasi-supernatural nightmarish manifestations that only those who have played in the NFL's championship game before have experienced.
"There's really no way to describe it," said Steelers linebacker James Harrison, whose 100-yard Super Bowl XLIII interception return through clouds of whirling razors and past millions of grasping prehensile tongues to score a crucial touchdown is the longest play in the game's history. "The second you walk out for the national anthem, the crowd is roaring, there's more TV cameras than you've ever seen, the turf becomes an undulating field of red-hot pustulant nipples, there's the flyover… Until you've been there, you can't really know what it's like."
Added Harrison, "And during the second quarter, when you start having hallucinations of your teammates having sex with historical figures, well, nothing can prepare you for that."
Players with Super Bowl experience have been telling newcomers that, as soon as their planes touch down in Texas, they will enter a realm unlike any they have ever known. Charles Woodson, one of only two men on the Green Bay roster to have played in the title game, told reporters he will attempt to ensure the Packers are ready for everything from the first practice to the moment they run down the dimly lit throbbing pink tunnel to take the field.
According to Woodson, if rookies can get through the tunnel without the leeches vomiting blood on them, they will be off to a good start, but he said that's only a fraction of the panic they may face during the coin toss when the referee spontaneously bursts into flames and the two-headed coin begins arguing with itself.
"We just came through the NFC Championship against our biggest rivals, and these guys may think they're ready for what's coming," said Woodson, who had eight tackles and an interception in his first trip to the Super Bowl with the Raiders, but wound up watching the loss from the bench when a gash on his injured left big toe transmogrified into a lamprey-like mouth in the third quarter and attempted to eat his right foot. "But they haven't been there. They have no idea. The atmosphere is far more intense than anything they've ever seen."
"And I'm not just talking about the acid fog," Woodson added.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he struggled during his first Super Bowl because, while he had heard that the game was like no other, and that moaning whispers would somehow infiltrate the earpiece inside his helmet, he had not realized they would be as horrifying as they were or would know so much about the unspeakable sins of his ancestors.
"That's the Super Bowl for you," Roethlisberger said. "It's certainly not just another football game with four 15 minute quarters and a halftime."
Players who have been to a Super Bowl agreed that no amount of preparation is ever enough to counter the overwhelming fan expectations or the sight of one's own flesh melting like candle wax and recasting itself into the horrifying shapes of monstrous boars and extradimensional lobsters.
"You wonder why it took me so long to get a ring?" said former Denver Broncos QB John Elway, who lost three times on the NFL's biggest stage before winning twice in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. "It wasn't just that the NFC was so much better in the 1980s. It's simply hard to perform after you've had microphones in your face all week, microphones that turn into moist blood-drinking penises when you look away for just a second and then become just microphones again when you look back."
The veterans are reportedly trying to convey the creeping tension as best they can. At one early meet-and-greet between the two teams, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, a two-time Super Bowl veteran, attempted to give young Packer linebacker Clay Matthews some advice on dealing with the 24-hour onslaught of Media Week and the usual third-quarter inversion of the rules of sane reality.
"He just laughed and said that, yeah, he'd heard about the pits of suppurating human offal that erupt between the 40 yard lines, but weren't the field conditions bad for everybody?" Polamalu said. "And I was like, man. That was me in Super Bowl XL. But I learned. God help me, I learned."
While no two Super Bowls are alike in either the flow of the game or the way in which the rational world seems to become perverted, experience does seem to help those who make it back.
"My second Super Bowl was a lot better," Roethlisberger said. "You're never really quite used to it, of course. You can't be and still call yourself human. But in Super Bowl XLIII against the Cardinals, I tried to remember what the game was like the first time, so I wouldn't be overwhelmed. Sure enough, on the first snap of the game, the football turned into a woman's head that wrapped a thorny tongue around my wrist, where it began to dissolve my flesh, but it was all somehow…familiar."
Roethlisberger finished the game with a touchdown, completed 70 percent of his passes, and earned a respectable 93.2 quarterback rating. He said the jagged dark welt on his wrist only hurts when he wakes up from "certain dreams."