Former W’bago coach catches dream in Dallas
He lived and breathed football, and he always talked with his hands.”
This is how Winnebago Councilman Scott Robertson remembered his former high school assistant football coach, Michael “Mike” Eayrs – who is now the research director for the Super Bowl winning team, the Green Bay Packers.
“Mike was in love with the game. And I was surprised he could even teach his geography class. He couldn’t wait to get to practice, because all he wanted to do was play football,” Robertson went on to recall.
“Yeah!” adds Craig Thompson, Robertson’s former teammate and also a classmate to Eayrs’ wife. “We always knew if we could just get Eayrs talking football,” Thompson tacks on, “we could get out of lots of class work. Eayrs used to tell us he worked with the Vikings when he was young, and I wasn’t sure I really believed it. But, now I have to eat my words.” Thompson laughed. He was excited for his former coach’s big day last weekend.
Eayrs phoned in from the Packers’ bus just two hours after the big game, where his team was on their way to the Super Bowl victory party.
“It exceeded everything I could have ever dreamed of,” described this football enthusiast. “We have been to five championship games since I came to Green Bay, and this is the first time we have reached the Super Bowl.”
He said receiving the famous Super Bowl trophy amidst a stadium full of falling confetti and experiencing the locker room victory post game were “just surreal.“
Eayrs – who’s job for the Packers is to study all the moves, habits and tendencies of team opponents in order to make suggestions for game rebuttal plays – is married to Winnebago graduate, Mary Jo Theuer. He first was with the Minnesota Vikings for 16 seasons, but now has been with Green Bay for 10.
At the very moment his team stood on the tarp for the trophy ceremony, Eayrs says, “I was standing there with my entire family while the confetti was falling, and it was simply unbelievable!”
He and Mary Jo were flanked Sunday night on the Dallas field by their three children; daughter Elizabeth (30) and two sons, Brian (29) and Matthew (32). And, Eayrs’ three-year-old granddaughter, Ashlyn, was present – she was born on Valentine’s Day in Edina only days after Green Bay lost the Pro Bowl Championship (2008) in a New York Giants overtime game.
The coach then went on to reveal the ‘inside scoop’ about what it’s like to prepare for pro football’s most coveted event.
There are two weeks in between the final championship and the Super Bowl game, and according to this inspirational football fanatic, the first week is a “very normal week.” People are working in their offices and using the team facilities just like in preparation for any other Sunday game playoff.
But, the second week is the spectacle. Green Bay players and coaches got up to a short and modified Monday morning where players lifted weights and then cleaned up and loaded everything onto a plane. And, when the Packers arrived Monday afternoon at the Dallas Airport, there were at least three helicopters videotaping from the sky along with approximately 250 video cameras and still photo photographers capturing the affair.
“This is the Super Bowl’s Red Carpet,” Eayrs says. “We then pulled into the four-star OMNI Mandalay Hotel and moved all operations inside. But what awed me the most, was that the NFL had office space and fitness rooms set up for each of us to work, and all was laid out just like back in Green Bay. They’d brought in the same computers and set up all our network and servers; and it was just like sitting back in my office at home except I was now looking out over Dallas, Texas, instead of Lambeau Stadium.“
Monday was set apart for Eayrs’ team, coaches and staff to acclimate, with an orientation to the city laid out and all security details highlighted.
“For me, I went to my work space and finished up items for our head coach,” he says. “I was adding additional game info to our scouting report, so I never left the hotel. But Tuesday a.m. was the real beginning.”
This was Super Bowl Media Day. It was about this occasion that the small town Minnesota victor seemed to marvel the most. The team tutor couldn’t get over the sudden presence of a 5000-member press core with NFL credentials to obtain ‘full access’ to every person on both teams.
“What impressed me so much was that this was when I realized just how incredibly global the Super Bowl game really is,” stressed Eayrs.
He cited hearing members of the media speaking languages from all over the world, including Japanese, French, Spanish and German, as well as English accentuated by British and Australian accents, just to name a few. Eayrs was also quite impressed by the numerous cable company stations set up with costumes, cue cards and scripts who were all ready to capture players and coaches on entertaining video clips that would last a lifetime.
“I have never been in a place to see that kind of diversity in my life,” shared Eayrs. He is a rural town boy who says his “whole world has been football.” In fact, Eayrs called this Super Bowl win a victory for the small towns in America everywhere.
He was so amazed that it took the whole Texas stadium to accommodate the media happening.
“There were just rows after rows of cameras,” he says. “It was incredible.”
Eayrs summarized Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week as like normal team practices, but said the first ‘change’ of 2011’s football extravaganza took place during those days. Because of uncharacteristic snowfall blanketing the city before the sports spectacular, Green Bay’s ‘regular team’ practice was moved from Southern Methodist University’s outdoor stadium to Highland Park – a high school indoor facility.
“The place was very good for any level of the game, and we could do anything there except kick the ball,” he says. “The roof was just too low,” he added. So Green Bay’s “kicking team” was shuttled to Texas Stadium.
On Thursday, the NFL chartered a plane to bring all the team’s immediate family members to town, and then after continued practice on Friday and a ‘short day’ for team business on Saturday, the Green Bay entourage and their families were given time to see the sights of Dallas.
However, beginning at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, the Packers’ hotel was on ‘lock down.’ Security allowed no one in or out, and everyone had security badges with them at all times in order to ensure that everything was completely focused on ‘business’ from that point onward. The players were shown video highlights of their season and encouraged by a “secret motivational speaker” before retiring to their beds on Saturday eve.
When Sunday morning’s 9 a.m. ‘wake up call’ arrived, a final address by the Packers head coach motivated Green Bay to “play better than ever!” And everyone got off their feet for a ‘little rap.’ At 1 p.m., a pre-game meal was scheduled with a 2 p.m. bus boarding for the Dallas Stadium. After warm ups, Super Bowl XVL’s kick off was set for 5:30 p.m.
The rest is history.
“The hospitality of Dallas and the NFL administration and security has been outstanding,” remarks Eayrs. “Believe it or not, you visualize this way back in school. How neat this moment would be. When I was playing high school football, my brothers and I were huge football fans. I envisioned how it would be to be involved in any way at all. But this has exceeded anything I’ve ever dreamed of. This is the pinnacle of football, and I have to say I’ve had as much luck as skill. I’ve been in the right places at the right time.“
When asked how he was feeling throughout the game, but more importantly what his thoughts were as the game clock wound down to near 30 seconds – when a frustrated field goal score was banked by the Packers versus a desperately desired ‘last touchdown’ – Eayrs didn’t even hesitate for one second when he answered.
“I was just observing and observing all the way through, making my suggestions to all the coaches. It became a nail biter for sure. And I was very nervous, of course,” he explains. “It was like we always say in this game, ‘A six-point lead is the most dangerous of all.’”
At this point, Eayrs mentioned the pre-game motivational message his players received from Pittsburgh sports psychologist, Kevin Elko.
“He talked about making your name outlive your life,” details Eayrs. And on Sunday night, February 6, 2011, the Green Bay roster all reached that star.
But, Winnebago’s former resident finished his personal observations by expressing his deep gratitude for both his faith and for so many positive role models throughout his life. He stated that his parents took him to a little country church where he grew up in West Concord, and then he specifically honored his father.
“My dad had so much integrity. He was incapable of anything dishonest or negative in either his personal or his professional life. He was probably the most positive role model in my life, and my wife and I have tried to teach our children to be true to a similar compass,” concludes Eayrs.
When probed for what that compass was, he was clear.
“There are things my children just didn’t want to do at times while they were growing up,” Eayrs illuminates. “But, my wife and I always told them: ‘We are just going to do it because it’s the right thing to do!’”
And this Green Bay research director truly lives by the motto.
As this ‘dream catcher’ ended his comments, he drew attention to his wife’s father, former Winnebago neighbor, George Theuer, whose lengthy life reached its close last summer.
“Mary Jo’s dad loved the game of football, too, but he couldn’t stand a game where one team held a huge lead. He would get up, walk out and go do something else,” recalls Eayrs. “We all know he was watching this game from heaven, and he got the kind of game he loves. The kind where one team wins by a kick or a touchdown in the final play.”