ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To get ready to face Richard Sherman and Seattle’s ear-piercing 12th man, the Denver Broncos turned to Lil Wayne, Jerimih, Ozzy Osbourne and Pharrell Williams.
Like many other teams, the Broncos have dialed down the old jet engine noise that roared through their concert-sized speakers at practice. Now, like so many teenagers, they crank up the jams to body-shivering, brain-rattling volume.
Led Zeppelin. Nicki Minaj. Ariana Grande.
Teams have long used piped-in sound to make it harder for players on both sides of the ball to communicate. Adding songs — some that players may want to dance to, others that make them cringe — makes them have to concentrate even harder.
Tight end Julius Thomas casually mentioned to Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase this spring that it’s harder to concentrate to music. Denver ditched the crowd noise and joined the growing list of teams piping in melodies to mess with their players’ minds.
“The white noise is easier to block out,” Thomas said. “I think when they play music, it makes it a bit tougher. Just noise isn’t as distracting as maybe a song that you recognize. Say you’re hearing a song that in your off time you enjoy and you sing along to, when you’re able to block that out, then you’re able to do your best to block out crowd noise.
“I think it’s much better than just AAAHHH! After a while you just stop hearing it,” Thomas added.
NFL coaches are sure listening.
Sixteen NFL teams now pump music into their practices and another eight use a mixture of songs and the old crowd noise. Seven still use just the white noise and one team — the Rams — doesn’t use any form of noise.
In St. Louis, sometimes players not in formation are told to stand behind the quarterback and shout and jump around.
“I think if you make a big deal of a crowd noise then it becomes a big deal during the game,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher explained. “So in camp, we had a few drills in the back of the end zone and that’s all we do.”
The rest of the league believes practicing in the cacophony is just as important as running plays.
“There’s some songs out there that you might want to bob your head to, but you have to stay focused and know what we’re doing out there,” Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said.
The Jets use both music and crowd noise, changing the mix depending on the upcoming trip. If it’s a particularly tough place to visit like, say, Green Bay, they’ll go with more jet engine noise.
For home games, they’ll even pump in some “J-E-T-S” chants for their players’ benefit.
Broncos coach John Fox can’t even name today’s top artists but he’s a big fan of the blaring music.
“It’s not as big a headache as the jet engine noise,” Fox said. “I mean, at least it’s something that has some semblance, and there’s words. I mean, noise is noise. Music is music.”
New Orleans center Tim Lelito likes the mixture of music and noise the Saints use.
Players are “more efficient in practice when they play music, but they don’t play (just) music when they’re on the road,” Lelito said. “So you get into the rhythm of the music while you’re practicing but there’s no rhythm to a fan screaming their lungs out.
Broncos linebacker Nate Irving said if you’re going to get your head rattled with decibels, it might as well have a melody. “The noise is irritating already,” he said. “But I think the music actually helps you have to focus a little bit more because you know songs. It’s a continuous focus.”
As anyone who’s been to a club or a concert can attest, the energy can rise with the racket, and that also happens when the jams get cranked up at practice, Cowboys center Travis Frederick suggested.
“Some guys like having something different. And when the music’s going, they have something else to focus on, something different. Sometimes they use that to try and distract you. Sometimes it’s just to keep the energy up,” he said.
Thomas said the Broncos use songs from every genre and mix it up so there’s no chance of tuning them out.
The only song selection that made him cringe was when “Rocky Top” was cranked up during warmups once and Peyton Manning did a dorky dance to the unofficial anthem of his Tennessee Volunteers while receiver Wes Welker added a hokey hoedown. “I love it,” said Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson, a former Vol. “They need to play it every day.”
“That’s a terrible song,” countered Thomas, evidence that one man’s tune is another man’s torture.