NFL playoffs provide a welcome escape

Assistant+Principal+Kelly+Foss+proudly+displays+her+Cleveland+Browns+pennant%2C+shirt+and+watch+band+on+Jan.+11+after+the+Browns+defeated+the+Steelers+on+Jan.+10.

Kaysa Flemk-Joli

Assistant Principal Kelly Foss proudly displays her Cleveland Browns pennant, shirt and watch band on Jan. 11 after the Browns defeated the Steelers on Jan. 10.

By Chase Baxter and Gianna Grieco, Jupiter High School

The NFL playoffs kicked off last weekend after a regular season like no other. The season started with 32 teams fighting for a playoff spot and ultimately for the chance to compete in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7 in Tampa, Fla.

Jupiter High Assistant Principal Kelly Foss is a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan.

“I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, went to college there and taught for three years before moving to Fla.,” Foss said. 

Foss fondly remembers her time growing up in Ohio and how her fellow Ohioans embrace their professional sports’ teams.

“Everyone is so sports minded in Ohio, so I grew up cheering for all the Cleveland teams,” Foss said. “People put yard signs out, posters in their windows and wear sports gear everywhere. It’s just what you do and what you know.”

Foss is excited to cheer on the Browns this Sunday as they face off against defending Super Bowl Champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 on Jan. 10 to advance to the second round of the playoffs to face off against the Chiefs. 

“I will undoubtedly be cheering for the Browns throughout the game on Sunday, and said that if they are to win, they must stop the Kansas City Chiefs on third down, win the turnover battle and make their field goals,” Foss said.

Even in Fla., Foss is able to bond with her fellow Browns’ fans who are hopeful for a successful run at the Super Bowl.

“Every single time I wear something with Cleveland Browns on it in public, it always catches the eye of another Cleveland fan, and it sparks a conversation,” Foss said. “It’s so cool to be in another county and have people approach you who are from the Cleveland area, and I can swap stories with them. The Cleveland fans don’t quit…I think our 0-16 season is proof of that. It’s truly an exciting time to be a Browns fan!”

John Day, an English teacher at JHS, is at odds with Foss over who will win Sunday’s game. He is a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan.

“They’re going to basically obliterate them,” Day said. “But they will need to stay healthy. Stay focused. Each of the starters needs to be on their game. No stupid mistakes.”

Throughout the week, Foss and Day exchanged jabs and a few gifts that promoted each others’ teams, like a Browns pen, since the team is “rewriting history,” according to Foss.

In an unconventional year, NFL games provide a welcome escape for fans. 

“Our players and coaches are so excited to provide an outlet and to help people in any way we can during this season,” Jason Tarver, linebackers coach for the Cleveland Browns, said. “The Browns are excited to make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, and we hope our fans have enjoyed the ride like we have.”

In addition to making the playoffs, the Browns pulled out an unexpected victory against the Steelers to advance themselves to the AFC divisional round.

“It felt great to win last week,” Tarver said. “We are so proud of our players and our organization. It was amazing to see everyone work together and play so well, especially early in the game against the Steelers.”

Tarver discussed how he and the Browns focus on one game at a time, one victory at a time.

“We’ve been approaching each week this season with a mentality of ‘1 and 0.’ We’ve got one game to prepare for and it doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past or what will happen in the future,” Tarver said. “We want to be at our best this week. Our goal is to go 1 and 0 this week.”

From the beginning of April to mid-January, teams trained both mentally and physically for the playoffs. Coaches and players spent countless hours on the field, in weight rooms, meeting rooms and film rooms to perfect their game.

On Jan. 10, the Chicago Bears faced off against the Saints in New Orleans. John Defilippo, the quarterback coach for the Bears discussed how the team prepared for the high-stake game in an unprecedented year and how he and his players focused on routine.

“Coaching and playing in the NFL is all about routine, and everyone feels comfortable in their routine. You try not to stray too far from that,” Defilippo said. “We have a saying around here to ‘not peak too soon’ in terms of the emotion of the game. I always tell our QB’s every week of the season at the beginning of the week of preparation that ‘this is the most important game of our season just because it’s the next game.’ If you keep your routine the same and your preparation the same as you would in any game it is going to do nothing but help you with your performance.”

Facing the same restrictions as the rest of the world because of COVID-19, coaches and players found ways to prepare for the payoffs and the rigors of the NFL season. 

“We’ve prepared by thinking about ‘finding a way’ in everything we do. We approach each day as a challenge and think about unique ways to practice and prepare each game week,” Tarver said.

The restrictions set in place for players and coaches have so far been successful enough for players to get to the postseason. 

“Everyone has been as careful as they can be. We have very strict guidelines that the NFL and the Chicago Bears have put into place, and thankfully we have been one of the least affected teams in the NFL,” Defilippo said. “That’s a credit to our GM Ryan Pace and his staff, the training staff, and our players for buying in. We wear masks, social distance, and meet in safe environments. The fact that no games have been cancelled this season is totally a credit to the league as well. It’s been a different environment without fans, but most everyone has done a great job.”

Tarver agreed with Defilippo, acknowledging the importance of keeping players and coaches healthy enough to be successful in the postseason.

“The NFL has done a solid job keeping protocols in place to keep all people who work in the league as healthy as possible,” Tarver said.

In a challenging year, football provided a positive outlet not only for the fans but also for the teams. It also allowed the bonds between coach and players to strengthen.

“My favorite part of coaching is helping a young man achieve levels of performance that they did not think they could get to by pushing them, finding out the right buttons to push in terms of what makes them go, and just the overall teaching of football I find very enjoyable,” Defilippo said. 

“There is no better feeling as a coach when one of your players takes something from the meeting room and applies it on the field. My relationships with my players is a coach/player relationship, but the one thing that I always try to get across to them is I will always have their back, be honest and open with them, and most importantly be the same guy everyday so they know what they are getting on a day to day basis out of me. I think when you do those things it creates a positive learning environment.”

With the playoffs underway in the midst of a pandemic, the coach-and-player relationship is more important than ever. 

“My favorite part of coaching is helping people achieve their individual and team goals by working together. Any relationship can be strong even in tough times by being honest and truthful,” Tarver said.

With the Browns going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the team and its fans are excited about their prospects.

This story was originally published on War Cry on January 16, 2021.