ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Tom Brady wore a black wool stocking cap and a big smile. Bill Belichick sported a full suit.
The guy in the shark costume, well, he was just trying to not wear out his welcome.
The New England Patriots were the first team on stage Monday at Super Bowl opening night, the kickoff to the week of buildup to the big game. They gathered at Xcel Energy Center, the hockey rink and home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, for their first on-site media obligation after landing in Minneapolis in the afternoon.
The Philadelphia Eagles, whose charter flight arrived Sunday, had the second half of the NFL’s annual assembly of hundreds of reporters, camera operators and just-for-fun “journalists” surrounding players and coaches with a ticketed crowd looking on from the seats.
Brady led his team out of the tunnel in the set made to resemble a giant glacier in honour of the host state’s wintry climate. Swarmed by a 12-deep pack of media at his podium in advance of his eighth career Super Bowl, Brady was asked often about his family ties to the area and his desire to keep his children from criticism and scrutiny. He fielded a query about his most attractive teammate, nodding to Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.
And, of course, he fielded a few football questions.
As the Patriots filed out, Belichick met his Eagles counterpart, Doug Pederson, for a handshake and a photo op that produced a jarring juxtaposition of their wardrobe selections. Pederson had on a white polo shirt with jeans and a cap.
Belichick even flashed some smiles during his interview session, including questions from former figure skating star and lifelong Patriots fan Nancy Kerrigan. Working the room as a special correspondent for “Inside Edition,” Kerrigan later asked Amendola about his favourite Super Bowl party food.
“Nachos,” Amendola quickly responded.
Eagles centre Jason Kelce sported an Elmer Fudd-style wool cap with earflaps that the entire team was given as host-community gifts upon landing. He looked ready for an ice fishing expedition.
“If you’re in Minnesota, you might as well do as the Minnesotans do,” Kelce said.
Every player and coach on the team is required to be present, so they don’t get fined, as Marshawn Lynch reminded the football world during his appearance with the Seattle Seahawks three years ago . That includes the injured players not in concussion protocol, so ACL reconstruction patients Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and left tackle Jason Peters were part of the crowd, too, even though their knees won’t let them play in the big game.
“We’re all in the building every day. Carson, I think he shows up at 5:30 or 6, something like that,” Peters said. “We’re just all embracing it and trying to help our position out.”
The aforementioned guy in the shark costume, wearing a credential for “TYT Sports,” was attempting to dive into Patriots centre David Andrews’ deepest fears. Andrews readily called himself a “scaredy cat” and acknowledged a fear of clowns.
“Clowns are out,” he said. “Birthday parties. Circuses. Clowns are a no go.”
In the thick of the throngs of media on the floor was 39-year-old Patriots linebacker James Harrison, the oldest active defensive player in the league who’s at his third Super Bowl after reaching two with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He wasn’t interested in reflecting on that or much of anything else.
“I’m just blocking this out,” Harrison said, after declaring the questions from reporters the most annoying part of his Super Bowl week. “Football is always the focus in my head. I’m running through defences right now. I’m not really listening to what you’re saying.”
Wait, why such malignant thoughts about media night?
“Because it’s unnecessary. It’s useless,” Harrison said. “You ask me questions that don’t matter, that don’t have any consequence or nothing about the game.”
Patriots guard Shaquille Mason was more of a willing participant in the silly side of the event. Asked what precious metal Harrison reminds him of, Mason replied, “some kind of iron.”
Up in the seats was Patriots bushy-bearded defensive co-ordinator Matt Patricia, in blue jeans, a leather jacket and a pencil stuck behind his ear. Leaning back in a seat as if he were a hockey fan watching a game, Patricia complimented a reporter for his focus in asking a repeat query about his impending hire as Detroit’s head coach. Patricia predictably declined to entertain any questions about the Lions.
“I am very concerned right now about making sure our players have the best possible experience,” Patricia said.
He meant the Super Bowl itself. Media night, well, for most of the coaches, players and even some of the media itself, that’s one to get over and get through.
“Can we go home now, coach?” one player playfully yelled to Belichick as he walked by his podium.
To which Belichick replied, “I don’t know. We haven’t heard the whistle yet.”
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