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Woicik now conditioned to Super Bowl success

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The National Football League? Thanks, but no thanks.

Mike Woicik was perfectly happy coaching college athletes, you see.

"Really had no aspirations to do anything else. Moving up to the NFL was, in my view, a negative," the Patriots strength and conditioning coach revealed during a conversation at the team's Super Bowl hotel this week.

The Westwood, Mass. native and Boston College grad began his professional career at his other alma mater, Springfield College, where he'd earned his master's degree in phys ed in the late 1970s. He then spent the entire decade of the 80s as strength and conditioning coach at Syracuse University in upstate New York, where he also coached track and field.

In 1985, Woicik even wrote a book, "Total Conditioning for Football: The Syracuse Way." Pro football couldn't have been further from his mind.

"I had been to a couple of NFL camps and watched guys working out," Woicik went on to explain. "And it didn't look like there was much structure. It looked like the players did whatever they'd want. I really didn't want to be part of that. They looked like a bunch of prima donnas."

So, what changed his mind? In 1990, then-Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, previously a national championship coach at the University of Miami, made him an offer.

"He was in his second year in the NFL, but he was still kind of a college coach, trying to run a college-type program. So, that's what he did."

That sounded appealing to Woicik, so he accepted. Three years later, he was being fitted for his first Super Bowl ring – one of six he now owns (three with the Cowboys in the 90s, the other half with the Patriots in this decade).

In interviews, players from both teams have been known to praise Woicik's work with them. Woicick appears grateful for the sentiments, though reluctant to accept them.

"I think any part that I play probably is overrated," he said in his deep, methodical voice. "I tell people that when I was in Dallas, I was a great coach because we won. I was in New Orleans for three years [after that] and I was a bum, because we lost … but we did the same things [as in Dallas]. I think you win because of the players and the coaches. You don't win because of the strength coaches. We're just supporting roles behind the scenes."

Woicik does acknowledge that his work has had a positive impact on many of the players on his six previous Super Bowl champion squads.

"Well, obviously, how they take care of their bodies will have a role in how long their careers are, how well they can play if they stay healthy. But still, those people are the ones doing the work, so the credit goes to them."

Woicik finds himself in the unique position of having worked for two of the most recognizable and successful franchises in NFL history, two of the most celebrated coaches the league has ever known (Johnson and Bill Belichick), and two of pro football's more visible and forward-thinking owners (New England's Robert Kraft and Dallas' Jerry Jones).

With such rare insight, he sees many similarities between the '90s Cowboys and '00s Patriots.

"Well, those head coaches are obviously smart, very organized, don't leave any stones unturned. The two owners are very present. I don't want to say hands-on, but they're around, they get to know the people, the players in the organization. I really enjoyed Jerry Jones, and I really enjoy Mr. Kraft.

"Both owners really want to win," Woicik continued. "They provide us with everything. I know in my area I've had everything I've ever asked for here in New England, and it's the same way in Dallas. It's kind of nice knowing that if you feel you need something that will help the team win, there's no question. You just ask for it."

One thing Woicik hasn't had to ask for is a regular appearance in the Super Bowl. The opportunities just seem to keep coming his way. Yet, Woicik isn't tiring of the routine.

"I think it's exciting every time because it's different every time. It's a different group of players, a different group of people. But, obviously, the first time is the most exciting."

And what does Woicik remember most about his first Super Bowl experience, 15 years ago, when the Cowboys played the Buffalo Bills in Pasadena, California?

"I remember checking my parents into the hotel and Gene Hackman was next to me. I mean, there were celebrities in the lobby … it was a real Hollywood Who's Who."

Today, Woicik is part of the NFL's Who's Who, with six Super Bowl rings, and possibly a seventh on the way after Sunday's title game against the New York Giants.

"It just tells me how lucky I am, how blessed I am, to have the opportunity to be with two great organizations like this and a great group of players," he noted. "I'm perfectly content doing what I'm doing."

And to think, he felt the same way before he acquired all that jewelry.

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