BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles began settling in Monday for a hectic and chilly week of Super Bowl preparations.
The Patriots, seeking their sixth Super Bowl title in eight appearances in the big game with Tom Brady as their quarterback and Bill Belichick as their coach, were greeted by frigid temperatures and snow on the ground when they arrived in the Minneapolis area Monday. The Eagles, in pursuit of their first Super Bowl triumph, landed Sunday.
Both teams are scheduled to participate in media night activities later Monday, when the excesses of the Super Bowl buildup usually are on the most vivid display. From there, the Patriots and Eagles will make themselves at home in hotels near the massive Mall of America, where the media center for the week has been set up in reclaimed retail space alongside stores and restaurants.
The 52nd Super Bowl will mark the end of what was a turbulent NFL season in which attention often was diverted from the field. The NFL Players Association went to court over the six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott under the personal conduct policy. President Trump criticized players protesting during the national anthem, intensifying an already simmering national controversy. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance accusing NFL teams of collusion. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones attempted but failed to block NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s five-year contract extension.
As one controversy gave way to another, the sport’s leaders said they were eager to return the public’s attention to on-field matters. But that was an elusive task. There were major injuries to high-profile NFL stars such as Carson Wentz — the Eagles’ starting quarterback who gave way to Nick Foles after a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season — Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr., J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman. Scoring was down, and TV ratings sagged. The quality of play was scrutinized. The potential story line of the Patriots chasing an unbeaten season didn’t make it even through opening night as they lost at home to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now, the NFL certainly could use a compelling Super Bowl to make fans forget all those things that didn’t go quite as scripted this season.
The presence of the Patriots certainly helps. They are the team most everyone either loves or loves to hate, and they will attempt to add more on-field glory to their complicated legacy that weaves together championships and scandals. They are back in the Super Bowl a year after erasing a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime in Houston. Now they seek to win a third Super Bowl title in a four-year span for the second time during the era of Brady and Belichick.
Their dynasty already ranks among the NFL’s greatest, at the very least. It could be considered the greatest, given that the franchise’s run of success spans nearly two decades at a time when the sport has become more defined by parity and change, with free agency and the salary cap. The debate now becomes where the Patriots’ dominance ranks alongside the dynasties in other sports, such as UCLA’s in college basketball and that of the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
Brady’s legend looms larger than ever, coming off an AFC championship game in which he led the Patriots to a comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Foxborough, Mass., despite playing with a dozen stitches in his throwing hand following a practice field mishap. The stitches have been removed, but Brady remained in the news Monday, cutting short his weekly appearance on Boston radio station WEEI after one of the station’s hosts made a comment last week about Brady’s 5-year-old daughter.
“I’ve tried to come on this show for many years and showed you guys a lot of respect,” Brady said on the air earlier Monday. “I’ve always tried and come on and do a good job for you guys. It’s very disappointing. … My daughter or any child certainly don’t deserve that.”
Brady said at media night Monday that he didn’t want to see the radio host fired for his remark, and he was being protective of his daughter and family.
“Life’s too short,” Brady said. “I focus on this game and all these great opportunities we have. I’ve got my family here. I mean, what could be better than that?”
The end of the Patriots’ run is in sight. Belichick is about to turn 66. Brady turns 41 before next season. Belichick’s top assistant coaching lieutenants are headed to head coaching jobs. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will take over the Indianapolis Colts, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will lead the Detroit Lions. There have been reports this season of internal friction and speculation that this could be the last season together for Brady, Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
But Belichick remains under contract and has said he plans to coach the Patriots next season. Brady famously wants to keep playing despite the urging by his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, that he retire. And the Patriots, after trading away Brady’s backup and successor-in-waiting with the trade deadline deal of Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers, seem to be in the position of desperately needing Brady to keep playing.
“I just love the sport,” Brady said Monday night. “I love the competition. I always say I think there’s a lot of inner drive that I’ve been very lucky to be born with. I don’t think that was something you can clearly work on. I think a lot of times that’s just in you and God blessed you with that. … I’ve broken a lot of remote controls in my day when I was a kid playing video games. I’ve broken ping pong paddles…. I’m very happy I have it.”
Their near-term concerns focus more heavily on the playing status of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left the AFC championship game in the first half after suffering a concussion on an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit by Jaguars safety Barry Church. Gronkowski must receive medical clearance to play Sunday.
The Eagles arrive in their now-familiar underdog role even after being the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and overwhelming the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game in Philadelphia to prevent a Super Bowl first of having the local team playing the game on its home field. Quarterback Nick Foles, thrust into the starting role in December, will attempt to recreate the magical passing touch he had against the Vikings.
But this time, the opponent is the Patriots. Belichick and Patricia will have had nearly two weeks to get their defense ready. For Foles and the Eagles, the task is daunting.
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