PHOENIX -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the fire hazard that was Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, at the jam-packed -- and I mean JAM-PACKED -- U.S. Airways Center downtown (and it bears noting that I’m just here so I don’t get fined, or fired). ...
• Have to admit, Richard Sherman might be on to something here. Imagine this: Weekly mandated dueling news conferences, conducted side by side, by Marshawn Lynch and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Now that’s something I’d sign up for.
On a day known for its over-the-top and meaningless blather, the All-Pro Seattle Seahawks' cornerback said one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard at a Super Bowl Media Day gathering, namely, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. If you want to make the reticent Seahawks running back Lynch talk on command, why have a different set of rules for him in comparison to Goodell, who doesn’t exactly have to abide by the same standards? And who can forget the commish going underground for about 10 days at the beginning of the league’s ugly Ray Rice scandal in September?
Lynch, of course, again made a mockery of the league’s stricture that "Thou shalt converse with the media on Super Bowl Media Day," showing up and taking a seat at his riser on Tuesday only to immediately announce to the assembled throng: "I’m just here so I don’t get fined. So you all can sit here and ask me all the questions you want to, I’m going to answer with the same answer. So you all can shoot, if you please."
Some optimistic types among us did indeed shoot, and Lynch, as promised, shot back with "I’m just here so I don’t get fined," using that or a slight variation a reported 30 times, before his phone alarm went off, and he exited the stage to his left at just under five minutes of elapsed time spent with the media. For the record, I stayed on the horse long enough to hear Lynch repeat his newest media mantra about seven or eight times, before realizing that he would not use the Super Bowl Media Day stage to deliver his own personal version of the Gettysburg Address.
Which is just fine with me. I really don’t care to listen to someone talk who clearly doesn’t want to talk, especially to me. But that said, Sherman’s point was an excellent one, and if a player can be fined for shirking his duty to discuss his job with reporters, why shouldn’t Goodell be at least that accountable to the press?
"I don’t think they should be obligated any more than the commissioner is obligated to speak to the media," Sherman said, in between a brief display of salsa dancing on his riser stage with a dancer from the audience. "I think that if players are going to be obligated to speak to the media then every one of the NFL personnel should be obligated to speak to the media weekly, and that’s not the case.
“It’s unfortunate, but I think that every team should be forced to present certain players, obviously a few of them. Obviously if someone is uncomfortable in front of the media and uncomfortable answering questions and things like that, then you have to find a way to accommodate the NFL. This is a game -- you find a way to accommodate everyone else who’s uncomfortable.”
Sherman has had a very good week so far. He can stick and jab with the best of them, making his points without coming across as a jerk. On Sunday he openly questioned whether New England owner Robert Kraft and Goodell might be too chummy to ever see the Patriots punished for their alleged ball deflation tricks, citing the duo’s active social relationship. And then Tuesday, he displayed the kind of common sense that is rare supply these days, in effect challenging the league to live up to the same media guidelines it asks the players to live up to.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got it Sherman 2, NFL 0 so far on my Super Bowl scorecard.
• Has anyone taken a more unlikely journey to Super Bowl XLIX than Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount? The veteran running back played for New England in 2013, signed a two-year deal with the Steelers in 2014, then returned to Foxboro in mid-November after being released by Pittsburgh after he left the sideline in the waning moments of a Steelers win at Tennessee in Week 12.
“I know during my journey I didn’t get a bye week," quipped Blount, who missed Pittsburgh and New England’s bye weeks this season. “I know that much. But it’s a dream to be here in general. I’m excited to be here. It’s a dream come true. And if I end it on the note I want to end it on, then it’ll be not comparable to anything else I’ve experienced."
What a long, strange ride it has been for Blount. He missed most of his senior season at Oregon after he punched an opponent in a postgame fight. And in his first five NFL seasons, he played for Tennessee, Tampa Bay, New England, Pittsburgh and the Patriots once again. This unexpected Super Bowl trip kind of fits his whole football experience. It has rarely been a smooth trip, nor a direct path he has taken.
"I think you could say that," Blount admitted. “It’s definitely been an amazing experience, coming back and being able to experience this whole thing. I’ve had my ups and downs, but right now I’m on the up and up."
Tough to argue with that. Blount was pretty much seldom-used in Pittsburgh, running for 266 yards and two touchdowns in his 11 games as a Steeler. But now he’s back in the middle of the New England ground game, gaining 281 yards in the last five games of the regular season for the Patriots, and pounding away at the Colts -- his favorite target -- for 148 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in the Pats' AFC title game blowout of Indy.
The Steelers also endured Blount and second-year running back Le’Veon Bell being arrested in August for misdemeanor marijuana possession after being pulled over on their way to the Pittsburgh airport, before a team flight to Philadelphia for a preseason game. There were reports the Steelers cut Blount in part because they viewed him as a bad influence on Bell, one of the team’s biggest stars.
Blount wouldn’t delve too much into his abbreviated Pittsburgh tenure and the messy way it ended, other than saying: "Things didn’t work out as planned." But he did say he had no regrets, adding: “Some of the things that were said about me after I left that team wasn’t true."
Blount may only be the second-most celebrated running back in Sunday’s Super Bowl, behind Seattle’s beast-moding Lynch, but he doesn’t sound too intimidated by the Seahawks’ well-known defensive swagger.
"I think they get a lot more credit than they deserve," Blount said. "People act like they’re immortal and can’t be beaten, and they can be. They’re a good football team. They deserve to talk, they’re the champs. But ... let them talk. They like to hear themselves talk, so let them talk. They’re good enough to be here. But again, they’re not immortal. They can be beat."
• There’s not really much news made on Super Bowl Media Day, but I have to admit my ears perked up when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked what he first thought when New England head coach Bill Belichick dropped that exquisite "My Cousin Vinny" reference on us during his surprise Saturday afternoon science lecture .... I mean, news conference?
"I didn’t understand it first of all," McDaniels said, echoing my own reaction to Belichick’s Mona Lisa Vito line, which recalled Marisa Tomei’s character in that 1992 comedy. "I really hadn’t seen the movie in years. I did not know he had [that kind of recall], but nothing surprises me with him. He’s tremendous, in a lot of areas, and I thought he did a great job with our team this week dealing with everything that was out there in the media."
I asked McDaniels if Belichick is known for working movie references into his team speeches or coaching techniques? "I’ve never heard that before [a movie reference]," he said. "Never before in a team meeting."
But Belichick is known for his ability to nail a good line from time to time in front of his team, and actually does have a sense of humor.
“He’s got a great sense of humor and he usually knows when to pull it out," McDaniels said. “He usually has a great dry sense of humor."
• Lynch wasn’t about to open a vein for us on media day, so I made sure to find Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable, the former Raiders head coach who has done a superb job with the Seattle running game. Cable doesn’t see the same side of Lynch that the media and the public sees, and he wishes that story was different.
"He’s brilliant, one of the most brilliant players I’ve ever been around," Cable said of Lynch. "I think he’s special that way. He sets himself apart in that way. But he gets it in every way. He understands his role, who he is, and what his abilities are, and plays the way he plays because that’s who he is."
And what of Lynch’s anti-establishment persona?
“I think people handle [the media] differently," Cable said. “He’s not anything like that around us. He’s uncomfortable with that microphone and under those lights, and he’d rather be with his teammates and out on that football field. People see his persona, but he really does care so much about his teammates and he does have a warrior’s mentality for them. People who know him know how truly important his teammates are to him and that’s why he plays so hard."
• Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner, the former Seahawks secondary member, drew some criticism this week for saying he’d target the injured shoulder of Seattle Legion of Boom safety Earl Thomas and the injured elbow of cornerback Richard Sherman in the Super Bowl, but he tried to clarify those comments on Tuesday.
"I’m not a dirty player," Browner said. "I play aggressively. But I won’t hit you after the whistle, and I won’t go after your legs. But I will give everything I’ve got. ... What I said, that wasn’t coming from a bad place. I’m a competitor, those boys are competitors, that’s why we have that bond and we connected because I knew that they were going to lay their bodies on the line for me just like I would for them. I love those guys, I wish those guys the best, but ultimately I want to win this game.”
Browner said he doesn’t always mean to sound the way he does, but he can’t communicate as well as former Seattle teammates Sherman and receiver Doug Baldwin.
"They’ve got that Stanford education," he said. "They’re very outspoken and they like to use big words. Like I was telling them earlier, I’m not a doctor or a lawyer. What I do is play football. Some of the stuff I say might sound like I’m a barbarian or what not.
"But I’m trying to clean up my image a little bit. The reason I say I want to clean it up a little bit, not more so for the media, but for the kids and elderly fans that watch the game. Just change up some of what they think of me."
• Other than the hyper-repetitive Lynch, Browner probably had my favorite quote of the day. When asked how Belichick and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll are alike:
"Besides what you see from TV, I think they are the exact same. Their football IQ is the exact same. Belichick this week broke down some of the philosophies that Pete Carroll likes and sitting back I felt like I was listening to Pete talk to me. Over in Seattle he talks about the ball and that was one of the things Belichick said to us and he said it in the exact three words in order, ‘It’s about the ball.’ Just the same Pete Carroll says it."
I counted four words there, maybe even five with the contraction. But I didn’t want to stop him, he was on a roll.
• Vince Wilfork broke into the NFL by winning a Super Bowl ring with New England in 2004, the last time the Patriots ruled the football world. So with a win on Sunday, and a matching bookend championship, would the 11-year veteran consider calling it a career and going out on that high note? There’s a certain appealing symmetry to that kind of first-year, last-year accomplishment, and he and Tom Brady are the only remaining members of the ’04 champions.
But Wilfork was having none of it on Tuesday, dismissing my supposition.
"I try not to think about how I want to go out," he said. "I play a certain way and [when] I can’t play the game that way, then it’ll be time for me to call it quits."
But that’s not now, Wilfork implied. Even if he is 33 and his play started to slip a little toward the end of the 2014 regular season, after his strong comeback from an Achilles tear in Week 4 of 2013.