SAN FRANCISCO — Football America is agog waiting for Super Bowl 50, where the New England Patriots will play the 17-1 Carolina Panthers next Sunday night at Levi's Stadium. The Pats hope to become the fourth team in NFL history to win at least five Lombardi trophies.
Still basking in the glow of their pulsating overtime victory over the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots arrived here late Sunday night and each member of New England's holy trinity of leaders delivered a few remarks upon arrival in the City By The Bay.
"It's great to be back here in the big game,'' said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "On behalf of my family and myself, I want to remind you that we are all Patriots. I would also like to remind you again that we did nothing wrong in that Deflategate matter. Even though I rolled over at the league meetings and accepted the largest fine in league history, and the loss of two draft picks, including a first-rounder, I would expect that the league would apologize to our team and to Coach [Bill] Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure. A year later, I am still disappointed in how this has been handled.''
Brady, who was greeted in San Francisco by his boyhood idol Joe Montana (Joe Cool presented Brady with a foam finger from the 49ers' victory over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium) deflected Deflategate questions and said, "I'm just looking forward to another opportunity to play in this great event. I look forward to competing against the Panthers. They've had a great season. Cam Newton is an electric player and deserves to be league MVP. It's an exciting matchup.''
Belichick was less enthused.
"We just play whoever we are scheduled to play,'' deadpanned the Hoodie. "We don't make the rules. The league says we're playing the Panthers Sunday at Levi's Stadium, so that's who we'll play and that's where we'll be. We have no control over any of that.''
The impromptu press conference capped a busy Sunday for the AFC champs. The Pats started their day with a pep rally just before noon in Boston's City Hall Plaza. Several fans carried signs featuring the image of Roger Goodell with a red clown nose. Former Pats tight end Jermaine Wiggins whipped local fans into a frenzy, screaming, "They hate us cuz they ain't us,'' and radio star Scott Zolak waved a Pats towel while "Josie" blared from the public address system.
After their cross-country flight (Steve Burton, Richard Berman, Jim McNally, and Alex Guerrero all made the trip with the team, as did the Krafts' custom-built lifeguard chairs), the Patriots retreated to their Super Bowl hotel headquarters inside the old prison walls on the island of Alcatraz.
"It's perfect for us,'' said longtime Pats publicist Stacey James. "Folks at the facility have upgraded the interior space to a five-star hotel level for our stay and we're pretty confident that this location will cut down on paparazzi and distractions. There certainly won't be any Chandler Jones episodes. Nobody gets in or out of this place unless we know about it. It's not quite 'security command' at Gillette, but it's the next best thing. Ernie Adams gets a big shout out for this place. The guy simply thinks of everything.''
The Patriots will be the home team in Super Bowl 50, wearing white jerseys.
On Monday night, the Patriots and Panthers will participate in the first Super Bowl Opening Night, an event formerly held on Tuesday of Super Bowl Week when it was known as "Media Day.'' Monday's event, sponsored by Gatorade and televised live on the NFL Network, will be held at the sold-out SAP Center, which is best-known as the home of Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks. The event starts at 8 p.m. EST, which means it will be 5 in the afternoon on the West Coast. Brady is expected to be asked approximately 1 million questions about Montana and returning to the Bay Area. Brady played his high school football at Junipero Serra in San Mateo. Super Bowl 50 will also be a homecoming for Julian Edelman, who played at Woodside High School and calls Redwood City home.
There's a lot of history on the line for New England this week. The Patriots will become the first team in NFL history to appear in nine Super Bowls. Brady will be the first player to play in seven. With a victory, Brady will surpass Montana and Terry Bradshaw to become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls and Belichick would become the only coach to win five (he's tied with Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll).
Patriot fans eagerly await the magic moment next Sunday night to see if the commissioner shows up to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Messrs. Kraft, Belichick, and Brady. Goodell, once a close pal of Kraft's, carefully avoided Patriot Place throughout the 2015 season. He always seemed to have another place to be.
If the Pats win, will Kraft, Belichick, and Brady have their moment on the winner's stage with Goodell?
"The commissioner hopes to attend the game, but has not yet worked out his weekend schedule,'' said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "He's a busy man and there's still much work to be done to prepare for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in New York March 3. No single football game is more important than preserving the punishing powers of the office of the commissioner.''
The Patriots are 3-point underdogs but that has not discouraged New England fans from flocking to Northern California. Overwhelmed by demand, JetBlue and United Airlines have added extra flights from Logan to the Bay Area for Super Bowl week. Even though it's only Monday, there are Brady jerseys and Boston accents all over the streets of San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Clara.
We can't wait for Sunday. This is going to be one great week to be a Boston sports fan.