BOZEMAN — For the past 14 years, the Super Bowl has been the most watched television broadcast in the United States. When Super Bowl Sunday rolls around in February, millions of Americans attend parties and tune in to watch the big game.
But only a select few actually know what it feels like to play on the world’s biggest stage. Even fewer know what it feels like to win. Every February, Bozeman’s Matt Ulrich gets to relive that.
Born in the Chicago area, Ulrich started playing football in high school. He shined as an offensive lineman and eventually played football right in his hometown for Northwestern University. He ended up being the heart of the Wildcats, being named a captain on the 2004 team.
In 2005, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. He played two seasons in Indianapolis, winning Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears.
MTN Sports sat down with Ulrich during the week of the Super Bowl LIII to relive his playing days on the world’s biggest stage and how he ended up in Montana.
MTN Sports: In that run when the Colts won, you guys went through Kansas City, Baltimore, you beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. What was your feeling when that clock hit zero, it was 38-34 and you guys were going to the Bowl?
Matt Ulrich: “One of the best days outside the four of my four children births and my wedding. One of the best days of my life was just knowing we punched the ticket to the Super Bowl and we beat our arch nemesis, the Patriots of course. And here I am 12 years later and still watching Brady knock it down. It’s impressive.”
MTN Sports: What was that feeling like when it’s every football players dream to go play in the Super Bowl and you got to go to Miami and play in one?
Ulrich: “It’s an incredible feeling. You see the confetti drop from the ceiling and I still think I have a handful of that left from back in 2007. Definitely one of the best memories, just being on the field with your teammates, especially that game. I think we were down 20 points at one point. We were down at least three scores in the game. And I remember in the back of your head you just started thinking, ‘Looks like I’m packing it back up,’ and after the season you go home and there was just no quit in that team. In fact, I remember (coach Tony) Dungy saying we are going to come out and we are going to get one score. And football, like life, is a game of momentum. And once you get that momentum back you can just chip away at it. That year, in particular, the Patriots were a little bit back on their heels. I think already in their mind they had thought they had punched their ticket to the Super Bowl and, of course, the game went our way. And it gave me the opportunity to go to Miami and face my hometown Bears.”
MTN Sports: What was that like? You’re a kid from Chicago and months ago you told me that if lost that Super Bowl, you would’ve never been able to go back, so what was it like squaring off against the Bears in Miami?
Ulrich: “Well, if anyone knows anything about Bears fans, they are still celebrating 1985 and the Walter Payton era and The Fridge. If we had lost that game in Miami, I don’t know if I’d be able to show my face there again.”
MTN Sports:And what was Super Bowl week like, just those two weeks leading up? You had a week of preparation and you get there and you have all the media and every eye is on the Super Bowl. What is that prep like?
Ulrich: “It’s surreal, it’s quite the week. You know that all eyes are on and hats off to the coaching staff who treated it like any other game. The way that Coach Dungy and his staff prepared us, and we prepared like you would a preseason game, it was just about the routine and those habits and getting in those grooves. So when the gravity of the game was very big on that platform, everyone was cool and calm.”
MTN Sports: So on the first play of the Super Bowl, do you remember what happened?
Ulrich: “Absolutely. Who could forget Devin Hester taking that thing back? I remember coach Dungy having this no fear, we are going to kick it right to them and we are going to show them we’re not scared. And I think for the rest of the game we avoided that. But I remember the lights flashing, 92 yards of blazing-fast Hester taking it to the house. Probably one of the most memorable sports moments in Chicago history, if not Super Bowl history. And I remember thinking, ‘This is not the way we want to start the game.'”
MTN Sports: So you win the Super Bowl, 29-17 at the end of the day. Confetti. What was going through your head? How great was it when that clock struck zero and you were a champion?
Ulrich: “Again, seeing the confetti come down Colts colors and be able to hold the Lombardi Trophy, everyone being on the field, I had to remind myself to take one moment for myself – it was good advice I got from someone that if you do win it take that last moment to look back at the tunnel and just look at the scoreboard, look at the field, and just know you’re at the pinnacle of sports. And that’s quite an awesome feeling.”
MTN Sports: You were just telling me a funny story while we were off camera about what happens after the Super Bowl win. What does a team do when they win the biggest game of the year?
Ulrich: “You might think that everyone parties all night and that you party for three days and you hang out in Miami, but that’s not the case at all. As everyone knows, the Super Bowl starts at six o’clock (Mountain Time), which means the game ends close to midnight Eastern Time in Miami. So by the time you get done with media and the trophy ceremony, there’s actually little time to celebrate the win. So, they had a friends and family party at our hotel, where really everyone had to get ready to get up about 4:30 in the morning and head back to Indianapolis. And when you get back to Indianapolis, they give you a jacket and and a jersey and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to go out on this parade and, by the way, it’s 10 degrees outside.’ But I’ll tell you what was probably the most amazing part of it all is you turn the corner on these big floats and just see the thousands of fans outside and playing the celebration song “We Are The Champions” and then going into the old RCA Dome and seeing that packed with 50,000 people for the celebration in the dome. That was just priceless.”
MTN Sports: So from Super Bowl to Miami, a Chicago kid, you ended up all the way out here in Montana. How did that happen? How did you get out here to Bozeman?
Ulrich: “Really, really good question, Nick. My wife, Alison, actually grew up on a diary farm in Manhattan. She was working on the dairy farm and she was actually teaching in Alaska at the time. So we kind of did the long-distance thing from Alaska to Chicago. And I made her a promise when we got married that we would raise our kids in the mountains. And I didn’t know exactly what that meant. Is it Denver? Is it Anchorage? Is it Bozeman? Is it somewhere else? But the clouds parted and I had an opportunity too make a career shift and move the family out here.”
MTN Sports: And what was the thought behind that? You retire after two seasons in the NFL, why so soon? Was it because of that move?
Ulrich: “No. In fact, we moved much, much after that. I mean, I’d love to tell you that I could have played for another decade. But the fact of the matter is, and I’ve probably said this to you before, that the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” I was a guy who had to beat out a draft pick in 2005 and beat out another draft pick in 2006. We won the Super Bowl that year, the 2007 Super Bowl 41. Went on to have another season in NFL Europe, came on to training camp with the Colts and just knew those roster spots are so slim and I tell the athletes I work with, have something past football. That’s why I went to Northwestern University, it’s why I advise all of my athletes to think critically about what they want to do beyond athletics. I was fortunate to play at the highest level, be around a great Hall of Fame team. We had a 10-year reunion just a couple of years ago and that was a blast. To see everyone in their gold jackets, Bill Polian and Marvin Harrison and Tony, as well. That was an amazing thing to just take a step back and say, ‘Wow, I was really surrounded by the best of the best,’ and of course there’s going to be a number of other players that are going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the next couple of years.”
MTN Sports: You train with the Bozeman Hawks, you train with their football team. What do you do with them?
Ulrich: “Maybe my bigger passion outside of football is actually the training set of things. What I’ve always loved about that is that you put in the hard work and you get to reap the benefits at some point. In particular, I’m laser focused on the speed and agility side of things. I think it’s a big component that a lot of high school and collegiate programs are missing. And that’s just the ability to move in any direction you need to, to be able to start and stop on a dime. And I was fortunate enough to be asked by coach (Levi) Wesche to work with the Bozeman Hawk athletes this summer. Of course they had an amazing season and that made me feel great. Hats off to those athletes putting in the work and having a great season.”
MTN Sports: Almost went to the championship game at state. I don’t know if you’ve done any work with the college kids, Montana State had an amazing season this year. Did you ever get the chance to catch a Cat game?
Ulrich: “Yeah, absolutely. I went to Northwestern University, so I’m a Cats fan at heart and that’s the Wildcats out of Northwestern. But I love the Bobcats, too. I’ve been to several games. Great fans, great atmosphere, great program. I was fortunate enough to go to the playoff game this year and saw them get a ‘W’ there .”
MTN Sports: What about the FCS level? Obviously Northwestern is in the FBS, but with the Bobcats being in the FCS, is it a little more closer knit, a little different football?
Ulrich: “Yeah, yeah. So, I went to Northwestern, which is in Chicago, and it’s definitely not a college town, I mean, we are surrounded by the Chicago Bears, the Blackhawks and the Cubs. So you’re vying for everyone’s fandom. And what I love about Bozeman is that everyone rallies behind the Bobcats, so just the atmosphere on a game day is pretty epic. The effort and the tailgates by the fans, that’s a really fun thing to walk through and see.”
MTN Sports: Who is Northwestern’s rival?
Ulrich: “On paper it would be the University of Illinois. We played for what used to be the Sweet Sioux (Tomahawk) and now it’s The Hat, so it’s Abe Lincoln’s hat.”
MTN Sports: So have you been sucked into all this Cat-Griz rivalry? It takes over the entire state. What would you say about that rivalry that one day in November the entire state gets split in half?
Ulrich: “I’m a little jealous. I played in the Big 10, but the fact that the whole state is just rallying around two teams, that’s just a really fun thing to see. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a Cat-Griz game, but it’s something I’d definitely like to see. It was definitely fun to see the Bobcats come back from that deficit this year.”