Former NFL Coach Finds Super Bowl LIV a Win-Win Situation

Special teams expert Eric Sutulovich has numerous Chiefs and 49ers connections.

Eric Sutulovich is pictured as part of the June 2017 roster of the Atlanta Falcons NFL football team.
Eric Sutulovich is pictured as part of the June 2017 roster of the Atlanta Falcons NFL football team. (photo: 2017 AP photo)

Eric Sutulovich knows a lot about both participants in this year’s Super Bowl. While his familiarity with the Chiefs’ history is strong, his knowledge of the current status of the 49ers is probably stronger. The 45-year-old former special teams coach worked with many of the current 49ers coaches, including Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, when they were with the Atlanta Falcons.

In fact, their shared experience of losing Super Bowl LI to the New England Patriots, despite being well ahead in the third quarter, just might be the push the 49ers need to seal the deal against the Chiefs. Regardless of who emerges victorious, though, Sutulovich expects this year’s Super Bowl to be high scoring because of both teams’ powerful offenses.

Sutulovich also commented on current and former Catholic players and his own willingness to speak in person about the faith at various events. In fact, he gives a one-stop Catholic perspective on various aspects of Super Bowl LIV, set to be played in Miami this Sunday.

 

You grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, which is only about 3 and a half miles from Kansas City, Missouri, so I assume you were a Chiefs fan growing up.

I was a die-hard Chiefs fan, admiring players such as Neil Smith, Christian Okoye and Derrick Thomas. They were great individual players, and the Chiefs have had some good seasons with trips to the playoffs, but it’s been half a century since their last league championship.

It’s also been about the same amount of time since Arrowhead Stadium was built. In an age where new, billion-dollar stadiums are the in-thing, Arrowhead is still one of the best stadiums in the league.

There’s nothing like the atmosphere at Arrowhead. Even before you actually get into the stadium, the parking lot smells like heaven, with scents of barbecue filling the air. This is fitting for the city that has been called the barbecue capital of the world. Barbecue seems be the cultural thing that draws everyone together in Kansas City, which has people with various European, African, Hispanic and Asian backgrounds.

 

Sounds too bad the Super Bowl will be in Miami instead of Kansas City, but what do you expect from it?

Both teams have great QBs and great offenses overall, so I think it will be a high-scoring game — possibly the highest ever for the Super Bowl. The victor might be the team that can keep the other one under 30 points, and, because of the scoring power they both have, the game just might come down to whoever has the ball last.

One thing I can say for sure, since I know from firsthand experience, is that it ain’t over until it’s over. I was with the Falcons for their Super Bowl loss three years ago, and it looked like a win until late in the game, so I’m sure Kyle Shanahan and his staff, many of whom came from the Falcons, will remember that.

 

You almost ended up with the 49ers, as well, since you interviewed for the special teams coordinator position.

I got to talk with Kyle in early 2017, and we knew each other already, so that went well, but Richard Hightower, a coach I also knew from our days with the Houston Texans, ended up getting the job. That worked out for the best, and I can see how so many of the other guys on the coaching staff have done so well this season.

In addition to Kyle and Richard, I worked with Mike McDaniel, Bobby Turner, Mike LaFleur and Robert Turner, all currently part of the 49ers staff. When you take them on the one hand, and my other friends and family in the Kansas City area, I don’t want to see either side lose. Yet you can also say that one of them is guaranteed to win, so the positive way of seeing it is that it’s a win-win situation.

 

Elvis Grbac has a win-win situation somewhat like yours, since he played for both the 49ers and Chiefs.

I remember Elvis’ playing days with the 49ers, which included a Super Bowl, and his days with the Chiefs, which included a trip to the Pro Bowl. He couldn’t be on both sides as a player, but he sure can in retirement.

More importantly, his reversion story, which now includes speaking at Catholic events and studying for the diaconate, is incredible. It’s a reminder of what matters most. Sports can be lots of fun and even instructive on how to live a good life, but for the many of us tempted to take sports too seriously, Elvis is another NFL player who points us back to God, like Philip Rivers does.

 

Then there’s the story of the Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker.

Since he’s in my specialty of special teams, I worked him out when I was with the Falcons and he was at Georgia Tech. He ended up with the Carolina Panthers and is now with the Chiefs, but he has a solid family and a neat conversion story.

It’s so important to reach young people in high school and college to let them know about the Catholic faith, and once Harrison really grasped the fullness of it, he became a new man. Georgia Tech seems to have something special going on, not just with the football team, but with Catholic campus ministry in general, since former punter Grant Aasen has a story to tell, as well.

 

Do you miss coaching in the NFL?

I’ve always enjoyed playing and coaching sports, and I do have good memories of the NFL, but I don’t miss the NFL. That’s because now I get to be around my family a lot more — and this specifically includes coaching my sons’ football and basketball teams.

Sports are still part of my life, and my family is a bigger part of my life. I’m more balanced overall, whereas before I would work 100 hours a week from July to January. If you’re single, that might be okay, but with a wife and four kids, it’s tough.

Not to mention, I have a different relationship with the kids I now coach than I did with the men I coached. I find there are more opportunities to help out in ways aside from football or basketball specifically. There are more teaching moments where I can pass along things that were given to me by my coaches or my parents or grandparents.

One thing I’d like to see materialize one day is bringing CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] sports to Atlanta. It’s definitely a large enough city to have CYO, and I’ve been part of some of the talk to get it going. In the meantime, I can still coach, but not for Catholic teams in a Catholic league.

 

Now that you’re a partner at Rapid Response Roofing and Restoration in the Atlanta area, do you belong to the Catholic business organization Legatus or have you looked into the faith-and-free-market Acton Institute?

I’ve been busy with actual workday decisions, so haven’t had time to really look into those groups yet. I have been reading from more business books, which have helped to round out my MBA studies at Louisiana Tech, but for the most part, it’s been mostly work itself, instead of groups outside of work — even if they are business-related groups.

Maybe I can speak at one of their events one day, though. I am signed up with the Catholic Speakers Organization, so I’d be happy to talk about faith and finances or faith and football, or apologetics, or other topics.

Knights of Columbus events would be good to speak at, too. I enjoyed reading Parish Priest by Douglas Brinkley, which is about the Knights of Columbus founder, Father Michael McGivney. Even though I’m not normally into full-length biographies, I did like that one.

I also liked How to Share Your Faith With Anyone by Terry Barber and A Biblical Walk Through the Mass by Edward Sri. There are lots of great Catholic books out there, if you take the time to look.

 

Maybe you and former Bears’ punter Maury Buford, also a Catholic with Super Bowl experience, could start a company with the acronym SBR, standing either for Super Bowl Roofing or Sutulovich-Buford Roofing.

That’s funny, but I’ll have to meet Maury first. Maybe we will end up working together one day, but his Bears’ team finished out their Super Bowl better than my Falcons’ team.

It’s not a sin to lose a football game, but there is an analogy between being ahead in a game but then losing and being a good Catholic but then falling out of the state of grace. It’s not how you start, but how you finish, so we should all be aiming for a great death to cap off a great life.

I knew a Catholic apologist who died fairly recently and unexpectedly, so that was a reminder that we all have to be ready to go at any time. Kobe Bryant’s more recent death is an even bigger reminder, since he was about 20 years younger than the apologist who died.

The grace of final perseverance is something we can all receive by living each day as if it were our last. It’s essential to worship God at Mass every Sunday, make confession a regular part of our lives, forgive others when they’ve mistreated us, teach the faith to the next generation, help the poor, and so on. The only way we can do all this is to keep asking God for the help to do it.

Basically, perseverance is about living a life closely united with Christ. His life is the prime example of what ours should be. There will be sufferings, but he has all the strength for us to endure them — or even to transform them into blessings. All we have to do is keep asking for that strength and make use of it every day. The victory is ours if we accept it.

Trent Beattie is the author of Fit for Heaven, available from Dynamic Catholic,

which contains many sports interviews, most of which have appeared in the National Catholic Register.

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