When Drew Brees picked up a basketball and started to shoot around during a break in last week's preparation for the Pro Bowl, the Saints' quarterback was surprised to suddenly have a 68-year-old coach in his face playing some aggressive defense.
With Pete Carroll and the rest of the Seahawks staff coaching the NFC Pro Bowl team this year, there was indeed a basketball hoop in the team meeting room, and Carroll being the competitor that he is, he wasn't going to let a future Hall of Famer get easy buckets on his hoop.
"I was kind of out there shooting, and he came up to me and started D-ing me up, and I was like, 'Oh, OK, I'm going to work coach Carroll here,'" Brees said. "He's fouling the heck out of me, but the bottom line is the guy competes, he loves it, you can see it, man, he makes it a joy to play."
For most of the players taking part in the Pro Bowl, last week was their first experience working with Carroll and his coaching staff, and the reviews of playing for one of the most energetic, positive coaches in football were very positive.
"They've been phenomenal," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "They've been bringing a lot of energy, a lot of juice. It's been a fun week and they've been making it fun for us."
Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones, who plays against Carroll's Seahawks twice a year, was surprised by the energy in team meetings.
"That was my first time experiencing it, and it was quite the experience, but all in a good way," Jones said. "It was fun for sure."
In particular, Jones enjoyed having shooting competitions on that aforementioned hoop, which was ordered and sent to Orlando specifically for this week.
"The basketball, you get everyone's attention, it's a good icebreaker, especially in a room full of guys who don't really know each other," he said. "It was fun, it was a good team bonding experience for all of us to go through for sure."
Added Packers receiver Davante Adams, "It's been awesome, we're having fun, a lot of vibrance. I love coach Pete, so it's always good to get around him. It's been awesome. Obviously, his son (Nate) is the one coaching the wideouts, really easy going. It's been a lot of energy, which is good, especially some of these mornings, guys are half asleep. It's perfect having a guy like Pete here coaching us."
For Brees, the Seahawks' presence at the Pro Bowl meant a chance to catch up with Brian Schottenheimer, who was his position coach in San Diego early in his career.
"Coach Carroll is awesome," Brees said. "He's awesome, and Brain Schottenheimer, he was my quarterback coach in San Diego, I've had a great relationship with Schotty. He's been a mentor of mine and a great friend for a long time, so having a chance to be with him again has been great. Coach Carroll, listen, you can see why so many guys love playing for him. He creates a great culture, he's obviously won a lot of football games, and I think it's a result of that. He's got a great staff around him, he's got great players on that team, but at the end of the day, I think he gets them all believing, in the scheme, in each other, in the system, and then just their ability to have fun doing it."
As Brees notes, the fun culture Carroll creates, both over the course of a decade in Seattle and during a week in Orlando, is a lot of fun, but it's about more than that. The way Carroll sees it, if players are loose and can be themselves, then that will help them be at their best.
As Carroll put it last month, "You play football. I like to go back to that thought. You don't 'work' football. You don't 'drudgery' through football. You play it. These guys love to play this game. They've grown up as kids loving it. I don't ever want them to lose connection with that. If having a good time doing it, figuring out how to lighten up the atmosphere while we work really hard and maintain standards, I'm going to find a way. If we're not having fun, I feel like I'm screwing up, to tell you the truth. It should be a good time. We should be practicing with great energy and juice and hauling butt around here in everything we're doing, but you can have a good time doing that, too. It's just the way we do it."
And as is so often the case when people learn Carroll's age, NFC players had a hard time believing their coach last week was 68.
"Sixty-eight? That's unbelievable," Brees said. "Because the guy's so full of energy."
Kelce knew the "how old is Pete Carroll" question might be a setup, and said, "I'm sure he's much older than I think he is based on this leading question. Based off his energy, I'd say he's 42 maybe."
Only Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan had an idea of Carroll's real age, but that's because his dad, Steven, played for the Vikings in the 1980s and early 90s when Carroll was an assistant in Minnesota.
"He coached my dad," Jordan said. "My dad played in the early 80s to the early 90s… He's seen a lot of legends."
Jordan then added sarcastically, "If my son is 4, and I'm 30, and my daddy is 58, Pete's gotta be 87."