How a 'total mistake' at USC shaped Pete Carroll's approach to prime-time games

Seahawks too much to handle for Colts, Brissett (0:52)

Herm Edwards and Tedy Bruschi expect Seattle to win at home over Indianapolis despite the strong play last week from Jacoby Brissett. (0:52)

RENTON, Wash. -- Heading into their Sunday night matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Seahawks have a 12-1 record in home prime-time games since coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010. They've gone 19-3-1 in all prime-time games during that stretch, outscoring their opponents 581-298.

It's an exceptional success rate that might lead you to wonder if it's the product of some sort of altered approach. Do the Seahawks place more importance on those games? Do they ramp up their preparation and find some extra gear for when the lights come on and the whole country is watching?

Actually, no. Carroll continually preaches the importance of not doing any of those things.

He learned a lesson at USC about the danger of making a bigger deal out of a so-called big game.

"My first Notre Dame game," Carroll said Wednesday. "I can remember it as clear as a bell. ... When you go to USC, there's two games that they talk about: It's the Notre Dame game and the UCLA game."

This was 2001, Carroll's first season at USC, which meant this was his first taste of the Trojans' rivalry with the Fighting Irish, among the most storied in college football. Being new to it all, he had heard from former coaches who were eager to apprise him of all the history involved.

The annual meeting between the two programs was at Notre Dame that season, and when the Trojans arrived in South Bend, Indiana, Carroll pulled out all the stops.

"I took the players on the tour and we went to the [college football] hall of fame thing that was in town and then we walked campus and saw the whole thing and went to the Grotto [of Our Lady of Lourdes]," Carroll recalled. "It was so overblown and we got our butt kicked and that was the last time they beat us. I realized we had focused so much on all of the hoopla. I wanted it to be rich and represent the heritage of the program and all. It was a total mistake. So really, from that point, I’ve never been the same."

After losing that game 27-16, USC won its next eight against Notre Dame. Carroll drew upon the 2001 experience during a return trip to South Bend a few years later.

"They decided to wear the green jerseys," he recalled of the Irish. "They had had Joe Montana come in and talk to the crowd the night before. A guy posed as Jesus talked to the crowd and got them ready, and I just tried to make our guys believe that Joe wasn’t playing and Jesus wasn’t going to be on the field that day and we had a chance even though they were wearing the green jerseys. It was a really fun thing to kind of grow through and learn about. It was pretty crazy."

And so throughout his time as Seattle's coach, Carroll has referred to every week as a "championship opportunity," which is his way of getting his players to approach each game as though it were the Super Bowl. That way, they only have to maintain their level of preparation and performance, whereas others might be inclined to try to step things up when playing in prime time.

"I think most teams are like that, where if you've got a prime-time game, you kind of make the game bigger than what it is, especially for teams that don't get too many prime-time games," said defensive end Cliff Avril, who spent his first five seasons with the Detroit Lions before joining Seattle in 2013. "Guys get excited and try to amplify the game to be more than what it is, and I think it messes with you a little sometimes."

Carroll acknowledges that it can be harder to ingrain that message in some NFL players who are older and sometimes less persuadable than those in college. But based on the results, it seems to be working with his team. It takes constant reminders.

"There's a real discipline about that," Carroll said. "We're on it all the time."