Monday January 28th, 2008

PHOENIX -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as the circus known as Super Bowl XLII cranks to life ...

• It has been the elephant in their locker room all season, but now that the task of completing their perfect season and winning a fourth Super Bowl ring is one in the same on their to-do list, the Patriots are actually acknowledging that this is more than just another trip to the NFL's championship game.

It took continuing my line of questioning to a third query, but I actually got New England defensive lineman Richard Seymour to admit Sunday night that a football team can't possibly go into a game with more on the line than to be playing in the Super Bowl at 18-0. What scenario could possibly hold more significance than that? The Patriots' perfect-season storyline makes this game far more historically meaningful than arguably all but one of the previous 41 Super Bowls. That's just the fact of the matter.

"We've written a story, and it's a story that's never been written before,'' said Seymour, finally dropping the pretense that this just happens to be the next game on New England's schedule. "It's about closing it out the right way. We all know that these next few days of preparation for us can have a life-long impact on our legacies. Each Super Bowl is different in its own regard, but this one is extra special for us. We understand what's at hand. This would be mentioned in history, and that says a lot in itself.''

There, that wasn't so hard. Bill Belichick might still be side-stepping every perfect-season question with a variation of "There will be a time to reflect on everything, but this isn't it,'' but his players seem to realize that talking about it only underlines the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at hand.

Even Tom Brady, who normally blands down everything to make sure it passes the Patriots' censors, is open in discussing the sense of history that surrounds Sunday's game. "We've talked as a team that for the rest of our lives we'll all remember this week, win or lose,'' he said. "I told everyone that whatever you may think may be important this next week, it's really not that important, because this week will have an impact on the rest of your life.''

That's what I'm talking about. That's what makes Super Bowl XLII more than just another Roman-numeraled affair. It could be another 35 years before another team puts itself into the position the Patriots are now in. The ring isn't the only thing this week. The ring of perfection is.

• If the Patriots do finish the job, there won't be anything cheap about their accomplishment. Think about this: New England has won five games against four of their fellow divisions champions (at Dallas, at Indianapolis, and home against Pittsburgh and San Diego, in the regular season and the playoffs).

The Patriots also beat three wild-card playoff teams: Washington, Jacksonville and the Giants. And if they defeat New York again on Sunday, they'll have beaten a conference champion and own nine different wins against teams that won at least 10 games this season (including the 10-6 Browns). Can't knock that.

• Valley of the Sun my butt. There were day-long rains and flash flood warnings here on Sunday, and at times it was absolutely monsoon-like during the Patriots media session Sunday night at their team hotel in Scottsdale. Who packs an umbrella when they're headed to Phoenix? Not me, obviously.

We're in the desert, but I'm thinking the sand will still be drying out until Wednesday or so. I asked a waiter at dinner Sunday night how often they get a rainy day like Sunday: "Maybe one every six months or so,'' he said. "Maybe.''

They led with the story of the rain and the floods on the local TV news here Sunday night like it was end-of-the-world, wrath-of-God-type stuff. Said one local TV weather guy: "You don't understand folks, we don't get weather here in Phoenix. This is big.''

Great. When I left home in Boston Sunday morning, it was snowing. When I landed six hours late in Phoenix, it was raining. Could we just move the Super Bowl to San Diego and leave it there in perpetuity?

• Forget Brady's bad wheel. Did you see No. 12 tempting fate by standing coat-less and with a scarf-less open collar in the sub-freezing chill Sunday morning at the Patriots' Super Bowl send-off at Gillette Stadium? Tommy Terrific looked a little too cool for his own -- and his team's -- good if you ask me.

I wonder how Belichick would classify a case of pneumonia on the injury report?

• You know it's going to be a tough week on the head coach news conference front when up-tight Tommy Coughlin passes for the whimsical, glib half of the Super Bowl matchup of sideline bosses.

Actually, Belichick seemed to at least be trying hard in his first Super Bowl media session Sunday night. When asked about Tom Petty playing the coveted Super Bowl halftime gig, Belichick, a noted rock fan, said he wished he could stand out there on the field and catch it, and then he quipped that he'd have to make do with playing some Free Fallin' while he prepared this week.

• I know the Patriots have morphed into the team that America loves to hate because of their monopoly on success, but here's one silver lining that we all have to look forward to if they beat the Giants on Sunday: No more reason to hear from Mercury Morris, Don Shula and the rest of those merry 1972 Miami Dolphins for the foreseeable future. You had a good long run, boys. Thirty-five years of being a singular entity sounds like plenty to me.

• I don't mean to intimate that the Patriots team hotel in Scottsdale is a long way from downtown, where most of the media is being housed this week, but I think we crossed the California state line at one point on our trip there Sunday night. It's a 35-minute bus ride when there's little or no traffic, and that will only get longer now that the work week has started and the Super Bowl hordes start descending.

• If it's Chargers-Saints next October in London, that's a big-time matchup that NFL fans can get interested in. Drew Brees against his former teammates. LaDainian Tomlinson and Reggie Bush on display. Shawne Merriman doing his "Lights Out'' sack dance for a bewildered Brit audience.

Nice job, NFL. Should beat the heck out of Dolphins-Giants in the rain and the muddy soup of Wembley Stadium this past season.

• If the average ticket price at this year's Super Bowl really is going for a mind-boggling $4,300, as I read on Sunday, then it's got to be close to a $12,000-$15,000 investment for two people to fly in this week and stay in Phoenix for the game. Recession anyone?

• He may be Mr. Perfect to the rest of the world, but I love the way Brady catches some unholy crap from his Patriots teammates, who love to mock his glamour-boy image.

"You never have to call him or text him now to see where he is,'' Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "You just turn on the TV.''

Brady recently gave his teammates a freebie of Stetson cologne, after he started modeling for the outfit. Apparently it wasn't the biggest of hits in the locker room.

"The Stetson. The flowers [Brady was carrying in New York last week],'' Vrabel said, sneering. "I put some Stetson on. It didn't work for me. My wife got sick.''

• Baltimore's new head coach John Harbaugh has to be feeling good knowing he kept Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan from leaving town after Ryan interviewed for but didn't get the top job. Ryan is one of the best D-coordinators in the business, and him being on board with Harbaugh's program sends a very strong message to all those independent thinkers that populate the defensive half of Baltimore's roster.

• If you're Gregg Williams, you have to be feeling a little like you just got broad-sided by a truck. I never completely bought the idea that the former Redskins assistant head coach was the leader in the clubhouse to replace the retired Joe Gibbs as head coach, because I heard that he and owner Daniel Snyder really didn't have much of a relationship these past four years.

But Williams probably thought it would help him to have the support of both Gibbs and the Redskins players. Guess not. From what we hear, Snyder kind of soured on Williams starting when Washington's defense slumped in 2006. And it also didn't aid his cause this season when Williams decided to have just 10 defenders on the field for the first play of the Buffalo game as a tribute to Sean Taylor, but then forgot to inform Gibbs, his boss, of the gesture.

• I covered Turk Schonert when he was a Bucs quarterbacks coach under Sam Wyche in the early-to-mid-90s, and if there's something that Bills fans should know about their new offensive coordinator and play-caller it's that he's never been afraid to take chances. If my hunch is right, boring will no longer be a word used to describe Buffalo's attack.

Schonert is convinced that Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards can win in this league, and he thought the ex-Stanford star was one of the steals of the 2007 draft when the Bills took him in the third round.

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