Not only do Athletic Trainers save lives, but they also help to win Super Bowls

By Steve Kennelly and Eric Nussbaum

March is Athletic Training month and the theme this year is “Athletic Trainers Save Lives”. It is a time to recognize athletic trainers and highlight the many roles athletic trainers play in the care of athletes. 

The Athletic Trainers Society of New Jersey recently visited with the athletic training staff of the New York Giants to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the Giant’s Super Bowl run through an athletic trainers perspective. 

The Giants Athletic Training staff is led by Ronnie Barnes who is the Head Athletic Trainer and Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs.  He is a member of the National Athletic Training Hall of Fame and he oversees the medical staff and healthcare of the Giants.  Barnes has been with the Giants for 31 years and will be receiving his fourth super bowl ring in May.  He notes that he “ is extremely lucky to work for the NY Giants organization and to work with such a great staff.” 

Barnes is assisted by Steve Kennelly, Associate Head Athletic Trainer, Byron Hanson, Director of Rehabilitation, Lee Weiss, Assistant Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist, Mike Dunn, part time athletic trainer/physical therapist, and Justin Maher, intern athletic trainer, from Montclair State University.  This group of athletic trainers provides the day to day care for athletes of the New York Giants.

Working as an athletic trainer for a professional team requires a lot of time, dedication and frequently some personal sacrifices.  Their typical day starts at 6am and usually ends at 5-6pm, 7 days a week for 6 months.  It’s a very tough season for someone who doesn’t love what they do.   A few minutes spent with any of the Giants athletic training staff quickly reveals that they are very knowledgeable, professional and really enjoy what they do.  Each plays a vital role in keeping the Giants players healthy and functioning at a world championship level.

All members of the staff noted that to win the Super Bowl, they felt that you needed to have great leadership, coaching,  players, health and a little bit of luck.  Whether by chance or design, the Giants organization seems to have put together all these pieces to make a successful Super Bowl champion.

Byron Hanson noted that “we had a great run. There were so many great plays along the way.  Winning the Super Bowl is a culmination of all of hard work you put in for the season and is an indescribable feeling.  It’s an honor we don’t take for granted."

Leigh Weiss noted that “being part of a great staff and organization made the journey very special. When the final whistle blew, I took a couple of steps onto the field and then headed to the stands to share it with my parents and sister.  It was special to be able to share it with them.”

When the scoreboard hit :00, Kennelly noted that “it was a feeling of pure happiness and elation.  I celebrated with the staff for a couple of seconds before sprinting to the corner of the end zone to share it with my family.  The confetti was coming down and the kids were in heaven running around gathering it, throwing it and enjoying the moment with me.  We didn’t want it to end.”

We asked Steve Kennelly to keep a journal of his activities during Super Bowl week.  His entries provide a comprehensive look into an athletic trainer’s perspective of the journey.


Monday,  January 30, 2012

I reported to work today at 7:00 a.m. for treatments.  We will have a short treatment followed by team meetings before we board the buses that will take us to the airport and the team charter plane for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. We do not board the plane through the main terminal, as the buses take us to a separate hanger where we have our security check and ground based boarding. As we board the plane, there is definitely a sense of excitement among the team members with most of our players videotaping the trip. 

I feel very fortunate to be part of the Super Bowl experience once again. This will be my third Super Bowl and the feeling of winning the NFC Championship and getting the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl is just as exciting as the first one I participated in. This is my 20th season with the New York Giants and I count my blessings every day that I work for this great organization. The Giants are truly a family who takes care of their employees. My family will join me on Thursday when two charter planes with the rest of the Giants employees and their families depart Newark for Indianapolis.

After landing and stepping onto the tarmac to a sea of reporters and cameras flashing we boarded the buses for the hotel. We’re staying at the Marriott Downtown in Indianapolis which is located in the heart of the city next to the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium. We receive a police escort for every away game, but for the Super Bowl they take it to another level. We have approximately 10 police motorcycles and cars escorting our 5 team buses to the hotel. It’s a unique feeling and experience. As we entered the city, there were already many fans cheering us along our route to the hotel.

After arriving at the Marriott we set up our athletic training room. We’ll bring as many supplies as we can in order to simulate our own athletic training room. Leigh Weiss, our assistant athletic trainer and physical therapist is in charge of our travel packing and set up.  He has packed 9 different trunks with various  supplies  including 100 cases of tape for this week long journey.   However, Leigh and Justin Maher our season intern went to the University of Indianapolis to set up the athletic training room at our practice facility for the week.  Ronnie Barnes, Senior Vice President Medical Affairs / Head Athletic Trainer, Byron Hansen our Coordinator of Rehabilitation, Mike Dunne our part-time athletic trainer/physical therapist and myself set up the athletic training room in the hotel which is where we will spend most of our time.  We don’t have the luxury of hot and cold tubs at the hotel, but we’ll bring a variety of modalities with us in order to provide quality treatment.

Treatments were scheduled from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. this evening. We are fairly healthy at this point and had no major injuries during the playoffs, but after 23 games recovery is always an issue. We have a larger staff as we do a lot of manual therapy with our players. After treatments, the players have more meetings to get ready for Super Bowl week.

Ronnie decided to take the staff to P.F. Chang’s for dinner. We are very familiar with downtown Indianapolis as we spend one week each February here at the NFL Combine. Our travel staff for the week consists of Ronnie, Leigh, Mike, Justin, Byron, Kameno Bell, MD, Rob DeStefano, DC, two orthopedic fellows from the Hospital for Special Surgery: Bryan Warme, MD and Travis Maak, MD and myself. Later in the week we will be joined by our orthopedic team physicians: Russell Warren, MD, Scott Rodeo, MD; Bryan Kelly, MD; and Robert Hotchkiss, MD.

We had a fun dinner sharing stories and laughing before heading back to the hotel just before meetings were over. We check on a few of the players before the night is over. I call home and check up on the day’s events with my family before going to sleep.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday is normally a day off for the players, but not today. Tuesday is Media Day. We will not practice today. Treatments are scheduled for 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. We boarded the buses for media day at 10:30. After arriving at the stadium, we walked to the visitor’s locker room and dressed for the team picture. We had to wait in the locker room for about an hour for the Patriots to finish their media day. The mood was festive among the players and staff who were taking videos and pictures. The locker room was adorned with Super Bowl logos and Giants banners. Walking through the tunnel onto the field really gets you excited about playing in the Super Bowl. The stadium is all decked out in Super Bowl logos and banners. Lucas Oil Stadium is a magnificent facility and it showed. Once on the field we were allowed to peruse through the media and watch the interview process. There are hundreds of credentialed media on the field. I ran into someone from high school that I hadn’t seen in 30 years. I made my way to my family’s seats which were in the lower tier of the end zone. This is where most of the Giants staff seats were located.  I took a lot of pictures and emailed them back to my family. I felt privileged to be a part of it.

Following the media portion of the day we lined up for the team picture. Player numbers and staff initials dictate where you stand for the team picture. Again, it’s a special feeling being able to partake in the team picture for the Super Bowl. After the picture we made our way back to the locker room, changed and returned to the hotel.

We finished treatments at 4:00 p.m. I caught up on record keeping and administrative duties. We invited approximately ten physician consultants to the game so I needed to make sure all of their flights, hotel, tickets, and family passes were taken care of. Following that I went for a five mile run with Frank Mara who is our Director of Promotions and an owner of the team. We ran through the canal section in downtown Indianapolis. It’s actually a nice city to run in and I enjoy it. On the road, I usually run with Peter Giunta, our defensive backs coach, but he cannot join me on this day. I really enjoy getting out and seeing the different cities and places to run when we are on the road.

That evening, Tim Walsh the head athletic trainer for the New Jersey Nets was in town to play the Pacers, so he graciously offered us tickets. Leigh, Justin, Mike and I went to the game. There were a number of our players as well as Patriot players at the game. The Pacers arena is located on the backside of the Super Bowl village. The village stretched over several streets downtown and was alive with bands, bars, parties, and people. It was a unique atmosphere as all of the Super Bowl venues were close to our hotel. The city was definitely buzzing and it was great to see all of the Giants fans excited about the game. Following the game we walked around enjoying the moment before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our normal practice days are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. During the season we start treatments at 6:30 a.m. and practice at 11:30 a.m. However, we’re on a different schedule for the Super Bowl dictated by the NFL. We started treatments at 9:00 a.m. Due to media commitments and team meetings we didn’t leave for the practice facility until 2:45 p.m. which gave us a lot of down time. During this time we handled our administrative duties, Super Bowl preparations, and other various needs and staff requests. We also had time to run or workout. After lunch we had a quick treatment session before heading to our practice facility at the University of Indianapolis.

Our practice site is approximately 15 minutes from downtown. The University of Indianapolis is a Division II school that recently upgraded their facilities which were impressive. We had use of a brand new athletic training room, locker room, equipment room and indoor full length football field. The students were excited to see us as a large crowd formed upon our arrival. We hurried off the bus to begin taping and light treatments before practice. Leigh, Mike, and Justin went earlier to make sure we were ready when the team arrived. We had approximately one-half hour to tape and treat the team before practice. Most of our guys get some form of ankle taping, with the majority of them favoring a light elastic wrap. However, taping is not mandatory.

We met with the athletic trainers at the school: Head Athletic Trainer Ned Shannon, and his assistants Brian Gerlach and Scott Lawrence. They were excited to help us and be involved with the Super Bowl. They did a great job in assisting us with our practice routine.

Today we had everyone available for practice. We normally rehabilitate and recondition our injured players during the first half of practice on the field. Coach Coughlin likes to have everyone present for practice so they spend the last half of practice with their position coaches and teammates. We practiced from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and fortunately no one was injured.

After returning to the hotel we finished treatments at 7:00p.m., and were invited to dinner by the Gatorade Sports Marketing team.  We ate at Mo’s Steak House in Indianapolis. Gatorade has been a very been a tremendous supporter of PFATS over the years and we are very appreciative of them. They invited all ten of our current medical staff for a nice evening out, and once again it was a lot of fun. Following dinner we made our way back to the hotel.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The family planes are due to arrive this afternoon.  I’m looking forward to having my family join me as they have been excited to get here all week. We’ll have a full day of practice prior to their arrival. Our day begins at 9:00 a.m.  Justin Tuck reports with a sore shoulder. It’s been a tough year for Justin as he has battled minor injuries all season. He has had one previous surgery on his shoulder and currently is experiencing inflammation from the long season. Ronnie and Justin agree that it would be best for him and the team if he doesn’t practice today.

During the meetings I got my last chance to work out before my family arrives and went for a five mile run out by the river. I worked on some administrative tasks, and made sure our injury and treatment logs are updated for the day.

After meetings, we had another treatment session, ate lunch and boarded the buses for practice.  There was a larger crowd today as the buses pulled into the university. We’re on a tight schedule so none of the players are able to stop and sign autographs. In fact, most sprint to get inside so they can get in the tape line.

It was another uneventful practice. Justin Tuck was the only one who did not practice. During the last portion of practice Eli Manning successfully drives the team downfield and scores during the 2 minute drill. Hopefully this is a good sign to come!

My family arrived during practice and got settled in our room. My wife Rita and I will be married 20 years this summer and have three children: Ryan (16), Lia (12) and Mary (10). This will be Rita and Ryan’s third Super Bowl as well. Their first was in 2000 when we lost to the Baltimore Ravens.  Ryan was in Kindergarten then but remembers it well. He is now a junior in high school. For my girls, this will be their second.  Rita took the girls swimming at the hotel pool while they waited for me to finish. We finished treatments around 7:00 p.m. once again.

My family was eager to see the Super Bowl sights so we ate dinner at one of the local restaurants and walked around Indianapolis and through the Super Bowl village taking videos and pictures. The streets were becoming crowded and there was definitely energy in the air. It was a great night as the temperature was in the mid 50’s and I felt very fortunate to share this experience with them. We made our way back to the hotel around 10:00 p.m.

Friday, February 3, 2012

When I reported to the athletic training room at 8:30 a.m. Ronnie informed me that approximately 10 people on the family plane have contracted a stomach virus, most were children.  In the past we would take care of the extended families, but with such a large travel party, the NFL provides a physician network for us. We set up the families with our NFL Physician liaison and they were taken care of.  This also helped keep the team healthy during the week as the number of illnesses grew each day.

We’ll have a shorter day today than the previous two, finishing up around 5:00 p.m. After treatments were finished we had a medical meeting with Elliiott Pellman, MD, the NFL’s Medical Director and a few of the physicians on the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Medical Committee. We went over protocol in the event of a head or neck injury. Following that meeting we met with Gatorade again to go over final details regarding the game.

We had another treatment session before eating lunch and heading to the practice facility. Justin Tuck’s shoulder was feeling better and he was able to practice. During practice Tyler Sash suffered a contusion and laceration to his foot when he was stepped on by another player during the team portion of practice.  The injury was not serious but we held him out of the remainder of practice as a precaution. I was able to bring my son Ryan to practice. Ryan has served as a ball boy during training camp and assists us for our home games. It’s a real thrill having him help us out and I know he appreciates it as well.  Following practice the team had a barbeque at the practice facility before heading back to the hotel.  We finished treatments at about 5:30.

The Giants held a Welcome Party for all employees and their families Friday evening at the hotel. Trying to secure tickets for all of our medical personnel and their families proved almost as difficult as getting them Super Bowl tickets. In the end I was able to take care of all of them. It was a great evening for the team and their families. The mood was festive yet relaxed. There were games and events for the kids, great food, and a few bands. It was another fun night.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

We reported to the athletic training room at 7:30 a.m. for treatments. Our normal Saturday routine includes treatments, team meetings, and a walk through. The players are free until they report to the hotel in the early evening for home games. For away games we board the buses and head to the airport following the walk through. Today will be similar to a home game schedule. We’ll finish around 1:00 p.m. and the players will be off until team dinner at 6:00 p.m.

Following the walk through our backup quarterback David Carr’s father was experiencing back pain and spasm so we brought him to the athletic training room and gave him treatment.  After treatments, I was free for the rest of the day.

I met my family at the NFL Experience. The NFL experience was located across the street from our hotel in the Indiana Convention Center and is one of the main attractions for the fans. It includes football games, displays, events and shows. I had not had the opportunity to go to the NFL Experience in the past so it was a lot of fun watching my kids run through all of the football games and drills. Not thinking I would lose - I bet my son Ryan $50.00 that he couldn’t throw the ball 50 yards, but he proved me wrong and threw it about 60. Needles to say I was impressed. He also kicked a few nice field goals.

Following the NFL Experience I tried to talk my way on to the Zip Line that was set up through the streets of Indianapolis. The waiting list to get on the zip line was several days but I figured I would give it a shot. It didn’t work as the “manager” told me I needed to get approval from our host committee liaison – whoever that was!

We made our way back to the hotel. On a normal home game Leigh and Ronnie stay with the team at the hotel on Saturday night. Byron or I will cover in the event one of them cannot make it. I’m grateful as it allows me to stay at home on Saturday night. However for most of our road games I cover the hotel. We need to be available at the hotel in case any of our players or coaches need anything from a treatment or medical standpoint. The team eats at 6:00 p.m., then goes to meetings from 7:30 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. followed by Mass or Chapel (we have both) and team snack at 9:00 p.m. Bed check is at 11:00 p.m..  On this night, Ronnie informed me that he and Leigh will cover the team so I was free to go out to dinner.  My wife and I went to a small Spanish restaurant while Ryan watched the girls. After dinner we walked around the city before going back to the hotel.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

We finally arrived at game day. It was a great week but I believe everyone was ready to play the game. We had treatments from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. The mood was calm as I felt the team was ready to play. We had to break down the athletic training room following treatments as the entire second floor of the hotel would be used for the post game party following the game. Leigh, Mike and Justin had set up our athletic training room at the stadium the day before so we were ready to go. The staff bus left at 2:00 p.m. for the game so I had we had a few hours before we left. I walked outside with my family for a little while before I returned to the hotel to get ready. The streets were filled with Giants fans and there was definitely an energy I hadn’t experienced before.  Rita texted me that she was able to get on the zip line with the kids – and Mary my youngest was too light and got stuck and had to be rescued down - too funny!

We boarded the bus and were escorted by the police to the stadium. The fans were everywhere and it was a special feeling as the bus drove to the stadium. Once we arrived at the stadium we changed into our game attire and made sure we were ready to go. The first players’ bus arrived at 3:15 and we began our pre-game ritual of taping and treatments. Again, we do a lot of hands on manual therapy prior to the game so we’re very busy until we went out for warm ups an hour before kickoff.

I love being on the field for warm ups prior to the Super Bowl. It all sinks in that its game day and we’ll be working in the biggest game of our lives. It’s hard to describe the feeling but it is definitely special. We were able to take a staff picture on the sideline, and I waved to my family in the stands.  “This is it!”

Following the warm up we returned to the locker room, and finished up taping those players who needed something. We went over injury protocols. For this game Leigh and Ronnie will cover the injuries on the field and Byron and I will cover the sidelines. Ronnie likes to rotate each assistant on a game by game basis for covering the field and it was Leigh’s turn so he got the duty. Coach Coughlin gave a great speech before we headed out for introductions. Although we don’t play, running onto the field prior to the game is a great thrill that I will always remember.  “Here we go!!”

We had a few injuries and were kept pretty busy in the first half.  Unfortunately, two of our tight ends suffered non-contact knee injuries running the same play, at almost the same spot on the field, two quarters apart.  We all know what happened during the game. Once again, we couldn’t have asked for a better finish.  It was almost identical to 2007. When Tom Brady’s Hail Mary fell in the end zone incomplete, I ran onto the field jumping and screaming with everyone else. What a moment! We all hugged each other in excitement and felt a huge sense of joy and relief that we won the game. The confetti was flying everywhere as I made my way to the corner of the end zone to get my family. I helped each one of them down the wall to get on the field to join in our celebration. It was another great moment for my entire family as the confetti fell down and the team celebrated. We took a lot of pictures and videos. We stayed for a while before Ryan and I went back to the locker room.

There was a lot of celebrating in the locker room but not the craziness that you often see in baseball.   We got Super Bowl hats, players trickled back into the locker room. Joy, relief, excitement and hugging; lots of hugging.   We soon began the clean-up process, and taking care of our injuries.  We packed up the training room, showered, and got on the bus for the short trip back to the hotel. There was a large post game party at the hotel. The buses pulled up and hundreds of fans were outside cheering as we got off the buses. Inside the hotel was just as crazy. We took the escalator to the 2nd floor where the party was and a sea of people were cheering us. It was quite a feeling. Ryan and I went up to the room to change, and returned to the party to meet the rest of my family.  The party was great and I think I made it back to the room around 3:00 a.m.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I was up by 7:30 a.m. as we were scheduled to leave early. It looked like some of the players hadn’t even gone to bed yet and obviously everyone was still in a great mood. We ate breakfast, checked on our injuries, assisted our athlete’s with knee injuries with their bags and got them on the buses. We got to the airport at the same time as the Patriots whose plane was right next to ours. We boarded at the same time, which was ironic. On the plane I had time to reflect how lucky I was to have this opportunity to work in the NFL and how fortunate I am to have another Super Bowl experience in my life. It was a long season as I had exactly two days off since the end of July (Saturday and Sunday of our bye weekend) but it was well worth it. We make a lot of sacrifices for our family working every weekend, holiday, etc. But the same can be said for most athletic trainers. It’s what we do.  I am grateful to have this in my life. Tomorrow we have the parade and celebration which will be another amazing experience

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Today is the parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City, followed by a celebration at MetLife stadium. This is one of the most memorable experiences from the Super Bowl. We arrived at the stadium at 7:00 a.m. for post-season physicals. We boarded the buses at 9:00 a.m. for the parade. Fortunately, I was allowed to bring my family to enjoy the experience. There were a total of 14 charter buses filled with the team, Giants employees and families. Once again, a large contingency of policeman escorted us out of the parking lot, onto the turnpike, through the Holland Tunnel and into lower Manhattan.

The fans were lined up in the streets cheering us as we were escorted into the holding area. Ronnie, Byron, and I were on Float 2 with the tight ends, backup quarterbacks, and their position coaches. My family was on a double decker bus. As we rounded the first turn into the Canyon of Heroes the roar and energy from the crowd was amazing. Once again, it was a sea of cheering red, white, and blue Giants fans everywhere you could see. It’s an image I will never forget. Looking down and going through the makeshift canyon the streams of confetti and paper were flying everywhere. Additional fans were on rooftops and hanging out of windows cheering us as we went by.  I had a camera and captured most of the parade on video. The route continued for approximately 25-30 minutes before we concluded at City Hall. The parade was followed by a ceremony at City Hall where the players and coaches received a key to the city.

Following the ceremony we boarded the buses and returned to MetLife Stadium. Upon arrival the parking lot looked completely full so we knew there was a large crowd inside. We waited in the locker room beforegoing onto the field. The team was introduced to a raucous crowd. A video was shown highlighting the season and playoff run, followed by another ceremony. It was another memorable experience for me and my family. When the ceremony was over we returned to the locker room where we were able to take a family picture with the Super Bowl trophy.

With that, the 2011 season was officially completed. It was truly a memorable one. Tomorrow we’ll start working on 2012 as several players are scheduled for surgery.  We’ll begin their post-operative rehabilitations as soon as surgery is completed, prepare for additional player surgeries and follow up care, begin preparation for the Combine and draft, and plan for the upcoming off-season program.  It’s all part of the job and I’m grateful to have the opportunity! .  Who knows, maybe we’ll get to do it again next year – that’s the beauty of sports as each year brings new hope!


Some more reflections from the staff:

Byron Hanson –

  • "When the game was over, I ran into the locker room to check on the injured tight ends.  I couldn’t find them so I sat in the locker room waiting for them.  I didn’t see the trophy ceremony, but I enjoyed the moment.  Winning is much better than losing.  I was  relieved the season was over and we completed our mission.  It was a great feeling of satisfaction.”
  • “This will really sink in when we get the ring in May.”
  • “We were the worst team to make the Super Bowl and win it”

Lee Weiss - 

  • “This was truly an incredible experience. To celebrate a second Super Bowl Victory is indescribable!”
  • “It was a total culmination of all of the time and work you put in for the season. It is the best feeling in the world.”
  • “I will never forget the way the run happened.  Jets, Dallas, Green Bay, SF, NE..just an incredible run”
  • “Winning one Super Bowl is a blessing.  Winning a second is truly  incredible”
  • “Being part of a great staff makes it that much better and special.”

Photos from the Super Bowl run.  Click to see enlarged photo.