• What would Super Bowl week be like without an ankle injury to obsess over? There always seems to be a Dwight Freeney or a Maurkice Pouncey to fixate on, and thank goodness New England tight end Rob Gronkowski's gimpy left ankle gives us something that warrants breathless updates and round-the-clock coverage, like a hostage crisis or maybe some celebrity divorce proceedings.
I couldn't be in two places at once Tuesday morning when Gronkowski took to the podium and fielded 27 questions about the state of his ankle in the first 3 1/2 minutes of his hour-long press availability, but I swear when he talked, only Bill Belichick's lips moved. It was a positively Patriot-esque performance put on by the second-year tight end, and New England's belief that no news is good news on the injury front was never more in evidence.
Gronkowski said the phrase "day by day'' so many times in so many different answers that I lost count. He threw in the occasional "I'm taking it step by step,'' but his go-to reply was of the "I'm just going day by day'' variety, which I think all of us can relate to on some level.
The most obvious piece of news didn't even require a question: Gronkowski has shed the walking boot he wore to town on Sunday afternoon, and that has to pass as progress. Gronkowski said the boot came off for good on Monday, and while he didn't say he'd be taking salsa lessons from Giants receiver Victor Cruz this week, he seemed to be moving around OK on his bad wheel.
"Gronk'' also deftly and repeatedly sidestepped the issue of his availability for the Super Bowl against the Giants, telling the media again and again that the only thing he was worried about is "Tuesday, which is today.'' The game, he helpfully reminded us, "that's on Sunday.''
Gronkowski again displayed his keen awareness of time when one reporter asked if he'd be receiving treatment on his ankle "24/7'' this week? "If it was 24/7, I'd be doing it right now,'' he correctly pointed out, to little argument. If this had been a Republican presidential debate, at that point the crowd would have jeered the reporter who asked the question and given Gronkowski a standing ovation for the grand slam he just hit.
Lastly, while his head coach is known for reiterating that he's not a doctor when meddlesome reporters ask questions in search of his team's injury news, Gronkowski did try to shed some light on his situation, describing his ankle as "nagging,'' and "sore.'' He went on to say "there is a difference between hurt, sore and banged up,'' without specifically telling us which category he's in. "In the NFL, you definitely have to play hurt,'' he said.
I happen to think Gronkowski could probably accurately list himself in all three categories, but it won't stop him from playing Sunday against New York. Whether he's his same effective self, and whether the Patriots' devastating two-tight end set does its usual amount of damage is the real question. That's the answer we won't find out until Sunday night. But I bet it won't stop anyone from asking about The State of the Ankle and how it might affect the New England game plan for the next four-plus days.
• The Giants may be a three-point underdog, but New York isn't trying to parlay that into some phony no-respect angle for motivational purposes, and I find that almost refreshing. After all, the Giants did beat the Patriots at home in Week 9, and there was that Super Bowl upset of New England four years ago to draw on. It sounds like the underdog role should be something the Patriots are willing to claim.
"Absolutely not. We don't feel like we're underdogs again,'' Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. "That's Vegas. They're going to do what they've got to do to make as much money as they can make.''
OK, that's just Vegas trying to get some action on the game started. I buy that. But Jacobs said this year's team and the 2007 Giants were in different positions, and it makes for a different mentality entering this game.
"The difference between this team and the 2007 team, the last time we made this run, the 2007 team was just playing,'' Jacobs said. "We knew we had a terrible season and we had a last opportunity that we took advantage of. We were just playing in the playoffs, because we didn't really know then. But this team knows we can come out and do this. We knew if we could make it to the playoffs, we could win once we got to the playoffs. We worked super hard to get here and we're going to try and finish this thing off.''
• I walked around the Giants media day session and tried to decide which little-known reserve New York receiver has the best possible chance to pull a David Tyree and help beat the Patriots with an improbable late-game catch, a'la Tyree's famous "helmet grab'' of 2008. I came to the conclusion that third-year veteran Ramses Barden, he of the 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame, was my best guess to go up and out-sky Patriots safety Devin McCourty or someone else in the New England secondary.
Barden found my theory interesting at least, and heard me out.
"Yes and no,'' he said, when I asked him if he ever let himself think of being the David Tyree of this game, with a catch that becomes a signature moment in Super Bowl history and maybe changes his life forever.
"You always want to be the guy, but you can never really foresee the exact circumstances,'' said Barden, who made just nine catches for 94 yards this season, with both totals representing career highs. "You don't plan for having the one particular catch. You plan for being the starter, being the guy, the go-to guy throughout the game.
"So throughout this week, throughout this season, throughout my career, I've always tried to train my mind to be someone who expects to be the starter week in and week out, regardless of whether or not that's the situation. Because that's the only way you're going to be prepared for it if it actually does happen.''
Barden was still in college at Cal-Poly San Luis-Obispo when Tyree made his iconic catch in February 2008 and helped the Giants upset the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But he said he knew instantly that Tyree had pulled off that mini-miracle.
"I stood up and said, 'He got it. He got it. That's a catch.' I knew it right away, the same way I knew Mike Tyson bit Holyfield in that fight. I was like 10 or 12 years old, and I was home on the couch in my house, and I was like, 'He bit him!' And nobody paid any attention to me. But then I said, 'He just did it again. He bit him again.' That was the same type of moment as Tyree's catch.''
• Got my first real chance to listen to the Patriots' multi-tasking offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, and Penn State's new head coach is pretty quick with the wit. Someone asked if he is handling any more responsibility this week, given that he's already at the head coaching level, and O'Brien proved he has not lost track of who he works for.
"When you work for Bill Belichick, there's only one cook in the kitchen, and that's Bill Belichick,'' O'Brien said. "We're all just dishwashers.''
O'Brien is at the very least the busiest dishwasher in New England. It's Super Bowl week, but Wednesday is also National Signing Day, the hugely critical first day high school prospects can sign a letter of intent with a college. O'Brien said he'll be at Penn State full-time starting on Monday or Tuesday after the Super Bowl, but that this week he's focusing like a laser on his old job.
"This is a week about the Patriots, and really not about Penn State right now,'' he said. "I'm trying to do the best I can to put together, with the staff, a great game plan for Sunday.''
That's admirable, and at least it's better than the maneuver pulled by then-New England head coach Bill Parcells at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. Parcells that week had to coach around reports that he already had a secret deal to leave the Patriots for the Jets head coaching job after the Super Bowl. New England lost to Green Bay, and Parcells soon resigned and took the Jets' post, producing years of bitter feelings from Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
• At least five times I must have chosen the same player podium to be at -- unfortunately -- as that Nickelodeon guy who always shows up on Super Bowl media day and calls himself "Pick Boy.'' He's dressed in a knockoff version of the "Robin'' cape, mask and tights of "Batman and Robin'' fame, and let's just say hilarity doesn't often ensue following his zany questions put to players.
I did, however, leave media day with one very strong impression of "Pick Boy'': He bears a striking resemblance to Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, and come to think of it, I've never seen them together.
• I almost felt sad and a little embarrassed for Chad Ochocinco on Tuesday at media day. I couldn't even find him for the longest time in the scrum of reporters and players down on the field. One of the most quotable and media-savvy players of his era, Ochocinco didn't even rate his own podium on media day, and that galling omission accurately reflects his lack of standing and significance in New England's offense this season: just 15 catches for 276 yards, both 11-year career lows.
"I like it like this,'' said Ochocinco of his lack of status in his first Super Bowl as a player, without sounding the least bit convincing. "Everyone's surrounding me and I don't have a podium. But if I was up there, you couldn't get to me. You couldn't smell the cologne I have on right now. So this is cool.''
• Speaking of being forgotten, Patriots third-team quarterback Ryan Mallett didn't draw much of a media crowd either. But I asked him if he thought about making it to this game the moment he was drafted by New England in the third round last year?
"I would have thought of this game no matter what team I would have went to,'' said Mallett, the former Arkansas quarterback who had character issues attached to his name in the pre-draft scouting process, no doubt contributing to him lasting until the 74th overall pick. "But yeah, obviously, with the Patriots you think you want to go win.''
Mallett refuses to bristle about his low profile this season, and he has yet to appear in a regular season game. But playing behind both Brady and Brian Hoyer left him inactive on game days this season.
"It's been good for me to be able to sit back and watch and not have to do media stuff all the time and be out of the spotlight I guess,'' Mallett said, rather tellingly. "But as a competitor, of course I want to be on the field and be playing in the game.
"Every Sunday, when that clocks starts, and they sing the national anthem, I'm ready to go. But then I look down and I've got tennis shoes on, so I've got to settle down a little bit [and remind myself] I'm not going out there today.''
I'm sure it's great to go to the Super Bowl as a rookie, but I couldn't help but ask Mallett what he would think and feel if he had to endure a second season of no playing time in 2012? Would he still feel as fortunate to be drafted by the Patriots?
"This is my job, this is my career, and in this business you don't have too much say,'' he said. "So I'll do whatever I'm told to do.''
• You see some crazy stuff on Super Bowl media day. Like Tiquan Underwood's haircut. The Patriots reserve receiver is sporting a Will Smith-"Fresh Prince''-like 'do to begin with of late, but he has kicked things up a notch or two for the Super Bowl, getting New England's "Flying Elvis'' logo cut into the back of his head.
"I wanted to spice up the haircut,'' Underwood told reporters. "It's a big game.''
Consider it duly spiced, Tiquan.