Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sunshine Days in Hotel Ballrooms

Tom Brady has been smiling a lot during his mandatory Super Bowl hype press conferences. That chip on his shoulder last week? Gone. Brady is next door to mellow, and frequently expresses the sentiment that it's delightful to be part of all of the Bowl experience, even the press conference part that anyone would find irksome.

"The Super Bowl is where you get tired of your own life story," Drew Bledsoe said 22 years ago. He was right, and that his only Bowl hype experience. This is Brady's ninth time through the stupid question gauntlet. He's never seemed happier at the chore.

Neither has Bill Belichick. Although about six subway stops short of mellow, the Patriots' coach has been downright human at the podium. He has cracked a few dry witticisms. Asked if he would write a book after retiring, the coach responded, "would you buy it?"

OK, not exactly a great joke, but still part of an overall improvement in Belichick's media deportment. He has answered football-related questions in detail, occasionally illuminating detail. He has allowed Rob Gronkowski to candidly describe the toll pro football takes on Gronk's body.

This is a notable  change from Belichick's MO at some other of his 12 Super experiences. I found him not merely terse, but almost dour after one of them he won, Super Bowl 38 against the Panthers. And to be fair, it's not fair to nag a coach for being a mite preoccupied the week before the NFL championship game. Life is pretty earnest and full of work and worry for them in those days.

So why the change? Whatever happened to the "nobody believes in us" bullshit we heard prior to the AFC championship game? Why are the Pats, especially their famously driven leaders, so comparatively outgoing and jolly as they prepare for the Rams?

Beats me, but that's sure not going to stop me from speculating. One obvious speculation is that the Patriots are more cheerful at this Super Bowl than at some others because they feel Super confident, that they saw the Chiefs game as their decisive challenge, and having won it --- barely -- they feel there's no other obstacle they can't handle.

Could be. But at Super Bowl 42, where an unbeaten Patriots team was a prohibitive favorite, the Pats by their own admission were tense and taut prior to kickoff, leading to a series of unsatisfactory practices. As we have seen through two decades now, the Patriots, who're almost always favorites, do not adapt well to the favorite's role. Indeed, they hate it. They want to be seen as scrappy underdogs, which is ridiculous, and one reason they and their fans are so unpopular west and south of Hartford.

Abandoning that posture is a startling change in franchise mindset. My personal guess as to why is that while experience doesn't win as many games as it gets credit for, it can breed wisdom, or at least knowledge. In their third consecutive Bowl, the Patriots (or Belichick, who does the deciding) seem to have decided that since it's more pleasant to be there than not, they might as well roll with that fact.
They're happy, and they don't care if you know it,

Were I a Ram, that attitude would worry me more, much more, than if the Pats had spent all week blatting about "respect." When dynastic champions accept themselves as such, they get tougher to beat.


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