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Greatest ever?

JACKSONVILLE -- Two snapshots from Super Bowl week tell you everything you need to know about the New England Patriots.

Tuesday night, at the set for HBO's Inside the NFL in downtown Jacksonville:

Wide receiver Deion Branch, HBO's Patriots player guest, was schmoozing with Cris Carter in the on-location trailer where the talent gets dressed and made up for the show. Branch was cute. He called Carter "Mr. Carter" (and me "Mr. King") and had no pretense of greatness about him. For 45 minutes, he and Carter just talked football -- pass routes, attitude, what makes players good. Carter, who never won a Super Bowl, felt the void when Branch talked about receiving his Super Bowl XXXVIII ring last spring from New England owner Bob Kraft.

"When we got the rings," Branch said, "we were just looking at 'em, admiring how beautiful they were. And then one of the guys was like, 'Gotta get another one.'"

Carter shook his head, tsk-tsked, and sounded like an old-timer when he said, "Kids."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You know how kids are," he said. "When they get something, what do they want? More."

Branch nodded. "With this team, the way we've been coached and brought up, we just want more."

Sunday night, Coaches' locker room, Alltel Stadium:

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, wearing a gray pinstripe suit, nodded in my direction and said to offensive coordinator Charlie Weis: "Tell him what you said to the team last night."

Sometimes Belichick allows Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to address the troops the night before the game. "They'd heard enough from me," Belichick said.

"Well," Weis said, "I just told them, with a few words added for emphasis, that it was the night before a big game, and all the families are here, and let's make sure we worry about the game. OK?"

In other words, don't let the families screw up your rest.

Belichick smirked. "Another compassionate moment from this warm and friendly coaching staff," he said.

Then Belichick got serious. "There's a lot of love between us -- me, Charlie, Romeo. We've been together with the Giants, the Patriots, the Jets and the Patriots again. For it to be able to end this way ... the only word I can think of is 'special.' "

Yes. Bill Belichick used the word "love." About two fellow coaches.

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