By now, most football fans know which side they are on for the big dance. Some will be donning red and blue, rooting for the Patriots. Others will wear red and black for the Falcons, and the rest will fall somewhere in the middle, leaning slightly to one side or another.
Susan Scarnecchia may be the only exception. Rather than choose one team, she is standing firmly in the middle, an island of neutrality.
With her husband Dante serving as the offensive line coach for the Patriots and her son Steve working as an assistant to the head coach for the Falcons, Susan isn't picking a side. In fact, she's doing her best not to think about the game too much before it arrives.
Replacing the elation of seeing a loved one come within arm's reach of a dream is a dominant feeling of worry. Yes, she is excited and proud of both her husband and son, but more than anything, she's anxious for the game itself and what she knows will come after.
"People keeping saying, 'This is your husband and your son. This is a win-win situation.' I'm trying to see it that way, but I think after the hurt of the person that's lost has passed, when enough time can pass, you can look back and say, 'That was amazing. What a blessing that was for everyone,'" Susan said. "But coming right up to it now, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. I care about them both, and I know how much both are invested."
This Super Bowl will be Dante's eighth with the Patriots. Up to this point, three have ended with the pure happiness and excitement that comes with hoisting a Lombardi Trophy into the air, but four of those appearances brought the anguish of making it to professional football's biggest stage and coming up short.
Susan knows the highs and lows of the game more than most.
"Both of them have the same love for [the game], and there's nothing left. They throw themselves into it. They give it everything they have, and so for me, I know one person is going to be happy and one person is going to be heartbroken," she said. "So what do I do with that? I've looked at it. I can't control it. There's nothing I can do about it, and if there was something I could do about it, I don't know what the heck I would do. All I can do is sit back and watch it play out."
To be sure, the Scarnecchia family is, overall, thrilled to watch both Dante and Steve get to work in Houston. She said neither is looking at the game through the same lens of worried anticipation. Neither is their daughter, Lisa, whose two children can't wait to attend their first Super Bowl to cheer on Grandpa and Uncle Steve.
"They're going to the Super Bowl. This is where you want to be in this profession," Susan said. "I'm probably the only one sitting back and going, 'Uh oh.'"
Before meeting Dante at California Western University, football wasn't much of a factor in Susan's life. She realized quickly that the game was a huge part of his life, and over the more than 30 years of her husband's career in the NFL, she has seen firsthand how difficult the lifestyle can be.
"There's always so much uncertainty that all you can do, and Dante's really good at this, is hold steady. If you rode the highs and the lows, you'd probably be a wreck," Susan said. "You just have to hold steady, obviously do your best and then let go of what you can't control. But doesn't that sound like a recipe for life?"
This stability, along with methodical decision making, is what Susan has seen Dante teach Steve throughout his life and career. This steadfast approach means that both put their heads down, get to work and don't look up until they reach the finish line.
"What I used to say to Dante, and this is what it'll be like for Steve, is to watch him head toward a goal, and in this case it's a Super Bowl, in my opinion they don't look left or right. They can't sit back. There's no luxury to sit back and think about if you're going to lose," Susan said. "They are straight ahead out to win, and so when they lose, it's like you hit a wall that you could not prepare for."
But for now, Susan is putting this in the back of her mind. She has to until Feb. 5, just as she has been since her family realized this matchup was a possibility. It wasn't until the Patriots pulled ahead of the Steelers in the AFC Championship that Susan even allowed herself to entertain the idea.
"Who would ever think of this," Susan said. "You couldn't even write a script of it."