NFL Playoffs 2001 NFL Playoffs 2001


Taking a dip in the pool

Posted: Friday February 01, 2002 1:16 PM
Updated: Friday February 01, 2002 2:45 PM

Peter King - Inside the NFL - Super Bowl
Sports Illustrated's Peter King will file daily reports from Super Bowl XXXVI. Check back tomorrow through Sunday afternoon to, as King himself once said, "Find out about the good, the bad, the ugly and the latte during Super Bowl week."

NEW ORLEANS -- Other than the fact that I've spent most of this week feeling like I've been steamrolled by Gilbert Brown, it's been an interesting time down here. I've gotten to know how bad daytime TV is, how bad nighttime TV is. I've gotten to know how good the room-service chicken soup is here at the Hyatt. I've come to appreciate my New Jersey physician, who has prescribed seven drugs from 1,100 miles away. And I do believe this morning, finally, that the death fog is lifting.

The flu hit me at 3 a.m. Tuesday, when I woke up shivering uncontrollably. The 72 hours since have been a highwire act between being awfully sick and feeling decent enough to do my Super Bowl week job as the Patriots' pool reporter, which really has been interesting.

That's what I'm going to tell you about today, the job of a pool reporter at the Super Bowl. The Pro Football Writers Association picks one for the AFC team and one for the NFC team at the Super Bowl. There's not usually a long line for these jobs because they take away four hours in the middle of the day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during Super Bowl week, and most daily reporters are working. In fact, this year there was a line of two: Howard Balzer from St. Louis and me. Howard wanted the Rams, so I took the Patriots.

The Patriots' practice site is at Tulane University, on a nice, new artificial surface with give (AstroPlay). I passed through three gauntlets of yellow-coated security Wednesday just before 2 p.m. and had the gate to the field unlocked for me. There was a set of bleachers on one side of the field and a row of homes on the other. This is the place the Patriots practiced five years ago when they last were in a Super Bowl, and I asked owner Bob Kraft if he remembered it well. He said he did, and he recalled the houses adjacent to the field being covered with huge sheets of brown paper so their tenants couldn't watch the practices. Parcells paranoia, it seems.

The Patriots got right to work. Business-like team. After calisthenics, fullback Marc Edwards yelled, "Let's shake the rust off!" All eyes were on Tom Brady, of course, and his sprained left ankle. What sprained left ankle? He never showed a single sign of weakness. Five minutes into the first 11-on-11 drill, I knew Brady would get the nod. Then, for two hours, it was just a matter of watching him carefully, making sure that all 53 Patriots were practicing, and catching some of the color surrounding practice -- like the Fox crew watching from the sidelines, Howie Long and John Madden being impressed with Bill Belichick and how the Patriots practiced.

I waited for Brady to walk off the field afterward. "Nice to finally meet you after we've talked on the phone," he said to me. And I asked him how he made it through the afternoon. "I feel normal," he said. Then I asked Belichick a few things, before heading off into the Tulane athletic building to write my report. Here's how it began:

NEW ORLEANS -- Quarterback Tom Brady, practicing with a sturdy plastic brace on his sprained left ankle, took part in all of New England's first Super Bowl XXXVI workout at Tulane University Wednesday afternoon and showed no signs of being hindered by the injury in any of the full-speed drills.

"I feel normal," Brady said, walking off the field after the two-hour, two-minute workout, held under mostly sunny, 73-degree skies on Tulane's artificial AstroPlay surface.

After practice, Patriots coach Bill Belichick would not divulge who his starting quarterback would be for Sunday's game with St. Louis. He said he and the coaching staff would return to the team's hotel, watch the practice tape, make a decision on the starter, and inform each quarterback -- Brady and Drew Bledsoe, who came off the bench Sunday in Pittsburgh to spark the Patriots' AFC Championship Game win when Brady went down with the sprained ankle -- who was getting the starting nod. Belichick said he would release the decision tonight through the team's director of media relations, Stacey James.

Belichick was pleased with the practice of Brady and Bledsoe. He asked that the identity of who took the most snaps, or who practiced with the first team or scout team, not be disclosed.

That last part was interesting. I asked Belichick if I could write that Brady took the vast majority of the first-team snaps, with Bledsoe working mostly with the scout team. "No, I don't want you to do that," Belichick said. And in this case, he had the power to overrule what I wanted to do, because the team, and the NFL, get to make the rules about pool reporting.

There you have it. Today's the last day of my duty and it's been fun. It would have been a lot more fun if I wasn't playing hurt.

Meal of the Day

The room-service breakfast -- two glasses of orange juice, Special K with strawberries, toasted bagel -- hits the spot each day. Wish I could say something clever about it, but there's not much clever to say about Special K, except that the hotel charges $5 for a half-bowl of it.

Media Note of the Day

I forget where I read this, but the best question of the week had to be from some foreign correspondent to a couple Rams linemen: "Is it true that the linemen in the NFL take steroids to get so big and strong?"

Five Things I Think I Think

1. I think you should try to catch HBO's Real Sports this week to see Frank Deford's powerful story about Leonard Tose, the former Eagles owner who gambled and drank his way into bankruptcy. Dick Vermeil is paying Tose's living expenses now at a modest Philadelphia hotel. In the piece, Deford asks if he gave Tose $1 million, would Tose go to Atlantic City to gamble? "Would you give me $2 million?" Tose replies.

2. I think everyone here seems to be adjusting pretty well to the airport-type security at all NFL functions. And I think we'd all better get used to it, for the rest of our lives.

3. I think I like the Rams to win, 30-26. It'll be a game at the two-minute warning. The Rams will make a few too many plays, but the Patriots will make it hard for Kurt Warner to get into any kind of rhythm.

4. I think if I'm Rich McKay and I'm picking the next coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, I go to Al Davis and not only offer him my first-round pick this year for Jon Gruden, but also offer next year's No. 1 as well. Two picks in the bottom half of the first round for the offensive version of boy-wonder Belichick? It's a no-brainer.

5. I think, though, McKay plays it safe. I wouldn't be surprised if he settled on Mike Mularkey, the Steelers' offensive coordinator.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and appears regularly on CNN/Sports Illustrated and CNN's NFL Preview.

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