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Special Bond On Special Teams


SAN JOSE, Calif. – Bruce DeHaven has never watched the broadcast of the four consecutive Super Bowl losses he was a part of as special teams coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, only quickly viewing the coaches' film of the games and then setting them aside.

Yes, being so close so many times in such a small time frame is hard to deal with, but he can joke about it with his closest friends in the business – even those who have been more fortunate than him.

"He's 2-0 and I'm 0-4, and he never lets me forget it. It's a topic that comes up almost daily," joked DeHaven about Russ Purnell, his special teams assistant with the Panthers who sports the best record among Carolina's coaches and players with Super Bowl experience. "What do you think I got him here for? He can't coach, so he's got to be here for some reason. He's a good luck charm."

Quickly, lest anyone doubt that DeHaven is joking about Purnell's coaching acumen, he shares what he really thinks about a man he's known for 36 years and the man who came out of retirement to help Carolina when DeHaven was diagnosed with prostate cancer last offseason.

"I tell you what, Russ Purnell is one of the great special teams coaches in the history of this league," DeHaven said. "I always thought that and he had always been a good friend, and it was great when I was finally able to sit down and talk to him and not have any secrets. I thought, 'Holy cow, I wish I was as a good a coach as this guy is.'

"He's been such a tremendous asset for our team. A lot of our game plan that's in for this game is Russ' ideas rather than mine."

"This game" is, of course, Super Bowl 50, and DeHaven and Purnell will bring 55 seasons of special teams coaching experience in the NFL to the proceedings. Purnell also brings two Super Bowl rings with him – one from the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and one from the 2006 Indianapolis Colts.

He doesn't mind at all being viewed as a good luck charm, even though he's the one who feels truly lucky.

"When I got here, I told Coach (Ron) Rivera that I'm 4-0 on Thanksgiving Day. Now I'm 5-0," Purnell said. "To have finished my career but then all of a sudden to have a chance to go 15-1 and win two playoff games and do this again, this is special."

Purnell, who met DeHaven in 1980 when Purnell was coaching at a California high school and DeHaven was recruiting some of the school's players for Kansas University, last coached in the NFL in 2011. But when DeHaven, shortly after becoming the Panthers' special teams coordinator after assisting for two years, was diagnosed, he asked his longtime friend if he'd fill in.

As it turned out, DeHaven didn't technically need all the help he received. Since the start of the season, he has missed just one meeting to receive treatment in Buffalo, but the two have helped turn around Carolina's special teams units.

"You can't go 17-1 and not have all three units purring," punter Brad Nortman said. "They work really well together. You can tell that they're good friends. They share endless stories that are hilarious.

"They have a wealth of knowledge behind them. I don't think there's a coordinator duo that has as much experience as they do. They're a joy to play for."

And it's clear they enjoy working together.

"They have a ton of respect for each other and their ideas, and I don't think that either of them has a huge ego, either," Nortman said. "They're able to objectively look at each other's ideas and pick the best one."

DeHaven said they'll need good ideas and execution against Denver's impressive special teams units.

"We're going to really have to be at our best to break even with these guys," he said. "Our guys know their roles and are playing better than they did earlier in the season as a result. We're headed in the right direction."

For DeHaven, there's only one direction he wants to move Sunday – toward the podium with the Lombardi Trophy, with his good friend at his side.

"I've told Bruce, 'You're going to get yours this year,' " Purnell said.

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