Legend has it the great movie director Alfred Hitchcock offered a stock response when any eager actor asked what his motivation was to play a certain character.
"Your salary,'' the master of suspense would reply.
It's supposed to be just that simple in professional sports. But when it comes to a violent game like football, a chip on the shoulder is as important a part of the uniform as pads and a helmet. Just ask Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, who says he doesn't have any kind of pre-game procedure other than mentally working himself into a frenzy.
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"I don't have any routines, I just try to find something that pisses me off and go from there,'' Peppers said. "That is how you have to play the game. So whatever it takes you to get into that state mentally, I will do it. The game is decided mentally more than physically. You have to have a mindset that you are going to tear everything in front of you.''
Peppers was responding to questions about watching defensive tackle Stephen Paea perform a haka, the traditional war cry dance of the Maori people of New Zealand. Paea was born in New Zealand, but moved to Pacific island chain of Tonga as a baby and grew up there. He has taken to performing a haka as a pre-game ritual to fire up teammates.
"It's tiring sometimes,'' Paea admitted. "There is a lot of yelling and all that.''
Draining as it might be, you don't have to be Ray Lewis to understand that a little tumult and tremor is exactly what a football team needs on occasion. Lance Briggs, who has served as director of pregame hysteria in past seasons, had no problem handing off the duties to Paea this year.
"I do more of a Northern California fire dance,'' Briggs laughed. "This one is better.''
Wins and losses come down to talent level more than fighting spirit, but the game is certainly one of constant emotional surges, especially on the defensive side. There is a sophistication to blitz packages and games and stunts on the line of scrimmage, but as essential are a couple of other fundamentals known as toughness and aggression.
Motivation beyond the monetary often has been a key to successful teams. Rod Marinelli, the Bears former defensive coordinator, is considered a master motivator. His defensive linemen were Rush Men, a name prominently displayed on their meeting room door. Like head coach Lovie Smith, Marinelli was obsessed with "loaf' statistics, a measure of instances where a player dogged it on a particular play.
Marinelli, now the defensive line coach of the Cowboys, was known for mixing in shark videos with game tape or showing nature films with vicious attacks as reminders of how players need to go about their business. Some of it was silly stuff perhaps, but players are geared for that type of coaching and it certainly broke through in many instances.
Marinelli always has been regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the game. Aside from motivation, he's a master at working on hand placement technique and teaching tricks that help pass rushers shed blockers.
It was always going to be difficult for the Bears to replace the leadership void on their defense when you combine the departures of Smith, Marinelli and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. There is no telling if things would be different this year if some or all of them were still around. But there has been a loss of toughness, both mental and physical on this year's defense. There seems to be a lack of successful aggression, especially in terms of getting after the quarterback.
The suspicion is that the Bears are going to have to manufacture a pass rush now with more blitzes because it is fairly obvious they aren't getting home enough with their front four. The Bears are the only team in the NFL with fewer than 10 sacks and one of six with fewer than 15. A total of 18 teams have more than 20 sacks, led by the league-leading 36 of the Chiefs, the only unbeaten team left in the NFL.
Peppers was asked if anger is needed, how does a guy with little to be angry about get himself fired up? He laughed.
"I am not necessarily an angry or an emotional type guy,'' Peppers said. "It is kind of hard for me to get to that level. (But) each week I will be racking my brain to find something that is going to make me angry.
"It's mental. This game is mental.''
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.