Westhoff still chasing Super Bowl dream

Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff has never reached the Super Bowl in 27 NFL seasons. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On Saturday night, New York Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff will address his players with a final review of Sunday's game plan for the Indianapolis Colts.

He will stress one sentiment in particular: Take nothing for granted.

Westhoff, one of the most respected assistants in the game, has been in the NFL for 27 years with the Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and Jets. He never has been in a Super Bowl.

The Jets are one victory away.

"I've had a relative amount of success as a coach," Westhoff said Thursday at the team's facility, "but that's something I have not had happen."

Westhoff is making his 13th playoff appearance. Yet despite serving under head coaches Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson, and being part of a team that featured Dan Marino at quarterback, Sunday will be Westhoff's second conference championship game and his first since 1992.

Marino "went his rookie year and didn't go back," Westhoff said. "He was pretty good. But there's something that was missing, something you don't have."

Westhoff has been to the Super Bowl as a fan, but not since he took his son to watch the Denver Broncos defeat the Atlanta Falcons in January 1999 at Pro Player Stadium.

He swore off attending another title game unless he was participating.

"I knew I would never, never go again," Westhoff said. "It was very frustrating for me for the fact that you start looking at it as a coach instead of as a spectator.

"The best is to be in the middle of it and to come into that stadium at 3 o'clock on Sunday and to see the atmosphere and the feel it and the practices and the meetings.

"I don't want to go unless I'm part of it. I'd give anything to have that opportunity. We have a chance."

Westhoff's units have been amazingly consistent over the years. The Dallas Morning News has compiled an industry-accepted special-teams ranking system since 1990, and only three times have Westhoff's teams finished in the league's lower half.

"We kid with him that he invented the game," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "He's seen it all at least 25 times."

All except one very significant thing.

Westhoff, however, claimed his inability to get to a Super Bowl after nearly three decades of coaching in the NFL (he also coached eight college seasons) doesn't gnaw at him.

"Knowing myself as well as I do, I'm sure if I were there and won I'd be looking forward to see what's next," Westhoff said. "I just can't help it. That's the way it is.

"It's just something you keep fighting for, but there are so many factors that come into play to make that happen. You only control a certain amount and you can't let that drive you crazy."

Westhoff also has the perspective that football isn't life or death. In 1988, he was diagnosed with cancer in his left femur, which was destroyed and reconstructed with metal, grafts and cadaver parts. He spent the 2007 season on crutches.

"All you have to do is get one of those wristbands on and be in the waiting room at Sloan-Kettering for an X-ray, and you get a total perspective for things," Westhoff said.

"To be in a situation like this and all the years I've had, to be coming into the final four and walk into that stadium? I love it."

That doesn't mean the Super Bowl isn't massively important to him.

He's confident enough in his players that he already has begun working on game plans for the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.

"I know for sure on Saturday night," Westhoff said, "when I stand up in front of that group that I have, my guys, and Rex is always in there, I'm quite certain that when I start my meetings that there will be no way I'm going to think this is the last time we'll meet."