There are a lot of perks to being an NFL football player – the fame, the money, the adulation.
But, if you ask players, there is one thing that means more than anything else – winning a Super Bowl ring.
Both played for the 2011 Giants and both have the strong recollections of what it took to win a championship. The Giants were far from a dominant team, but they had the talent in them and brought it out at the right time.
“In the NFL, obviously every win is important – early or late – but it’s all about being hot at the right time,” Trattou said. “When we won, we were actually playing pretty bad at the beginning of the year. We had to win our last two games even to get the wild card. I think for our team, we just need to keep getting better and improving like we have in the first few weeks, we can make a real run. But we can’t look ahead at 3-0, because that means nothing. We need to keep building so we can be twice the team we are in Week 17 that we are now.”
One advantage the 2016 Vikings have is not only a strong start in which they have taken out NFC title favorites Green Bay and Carolina, but that the organization decided to keep the band together. Not only are all 11 starters back, but of the 25 players listed on the defensive depth chart, 21 of them were on the roster last year.
Having that continuity has helped the team pick up where they left off last season, showing that familiarity can breed success.
“We’ve had guys here long enough that everybody is comfortable with their job,” Trattou said. “Once you know what you’re doing, you can play faster. I think we’re seeing that on Sundays.”
Trattou sees some similarities between his championship Giants team and his teammates with the Vikings. There is a good mix of veterans and young players, but, as it is with most successful teams, when it comes to defense, it all starts up front.
“I definitely think there is a common thread among Super Bowl teams,” Trattou said. “If you look at them, the vast majority of them have defensive lines that were one of the strong points of the team. It was that way with the Giants in 2011. I think we’re a strong point this year on the line and that can help carry us a long way.”
One of the things Trattou learned early in his career was that job security is never guaranteed. He was an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has been fighting for his NFL life ever since. He got his ring as a rookie and, while it is a source of pride, he takes more satisfaction in keeping his job every season.
He has been on practice squads. He has been cut and re-signed. He has had his career thrown into jeopardy by being placed on injured reserve twice during his career.
Part of his longevity has been attributed to changing up his offseason workout regimen. As a young player, he typically just hit the weights and tried to build up bulk. Now he mixes things up with a focus on staying in football shape and working out with game days in mind.
“Every year you have to learn from what you did before in terms of keeping yourself in shape and trying to improve yourself from the workout standpoint,” Trattou said. “If you do the same thing every year expecting different results, it’s not going to happen. I adjusted my training to way more football-oriented stuff – movement drills, more running, D-line drills, special teams drills. You can’t just lift weights and expect that to translate to football. Now that I’m getting older, I’m trying to fine-tune a lot of technique things and it has served me well.”
He sees the improvement of the Vikings defense running on a parallel track to his own career. If you don’t change things up and improve, you go stagnant and take a backward step.
The Vikings defense has displayed consistent improvement in the time that Mike Zimmer has installed his defense and there is a comfort level the players have that continues to move the needle pointing in the right direction.
“The one thing that is true about this game – you either get better or you get worse,” Trattou said. “Our goal is to get better every day and we keep pushing ourselves to do that. I haven’t seen any letup in that over the last two years and we aren’t slowing down or moving away from that goal.”
When Trattou meets his former team Monday night, he will have family from New Jersey in the stands and, for one night anyway, they won’t be cheering for the Giants.
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When they head back to New Jersey, they will return home, where Trattou keeps his Super Bowl ring. He doesn’t flash it around his Vikings teammates to show them what one looks like up close and personal and he has his reasons.
“That thing is in storage until retirement,” Trattou said with a laugh. “I’ve got to get another one if I’m going to wear it around.”