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Time didn’t heal Marshall Faulk’s wound of losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots. As recently as February 2017, he was still repeating the never-proven accusation that the Patriots filmed the Rams’ walkthrough the day before the game. For a decade and a half, he has maintained that the Patriots stole a championship from him.
But Faulk wasn’t in Atlanta this past week, and it was hard finding one of his old Rams teammates who holds the same grudge against the Patriots.
“All I know is for those 60 minutes, they outplayed us,” former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner said about his team’s Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2002. “When you get to this stage and you play that 60 minutes, you just want to play your best football, and you want the best football team to win, and that’s the most disappointing part. Our talent, we were probably the better football team on paper, top to bottom. But we didn’t play like it on Sunday afternoon.”
And as for the cheating allegations? Does Warner believe in any of them?
“All that other stuff is what it is,” Warner added. “I go back and look at what could I have done different, and there were plenty of things I could’ve done different that could’ve changed the outcome.”
Warner’s answer was the start of an interesting pattern here at the Super Bowl. The Patriots’ rivals have gone soft in their older age.
Former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson famously tried to fight several Patriots players after an emotional 2007 playoff loss, then ripped the Patriots and Bill Belichick for showing “no class” afterward. But this past week Tomlinson said he buried the hatchet almost immediately with Belichick.
“That same year at the Pro Bowl, I talked to Bill, and I was over it at that point,” Tomlinson said. “I said, ‘Bill, I apologize for my words.’ He said, ‘No problem. We all say things sometimes that we might regret, but there’s no hard feelings, I respect you.’ And it was over at that point.”
Now Tomlinson, whose team lost to the Patriots in the playoffs two years in a row, waxes nostalgic about what might have been, and how many championship rings he would own right now had the Patriots gotten an opportunity to draft him in 2001.
“I remember coming out of college, and I went to visit the Patriots and I talked to Bill,” Tomlinson said. “They had Charlie Weis, and Charlie said, ‘We’re drafting you if you’re there.’ They had the sixth pick. Of course, the Chargers took me the pick before, and they got [Richard] Seymour after me. You think how things could’ve turned if I would’ve went to the Patriots.”
Former Colts receiver Reggie Wayne went 5-13 against the Patriots in his 14-year career, including 1-4 in the postseason. For a decade-plus, the Patriots and Colts were the top two rivals in the AFC, always battling each other for supremacy. Now retired, Wayne this past week was beaming about how much he learned from Belichick and Tom Brady in the two weeks he was with the Patriots during 2015 training camp.
“I tell everybody all the time, I learned a lot in those two weeks,” Wayne said. “The one thing that stood out the most was the way that Coach Belichick preached about situational football. That’s all he talked about. He had a 45-minute meeting about situational football — in preseason. And I thought he was Nostradamus, because he was talking about something — I don’t remember what it was — he said, ‘Men, trust me it’s going to pop up, make sure you’re prepared and ready.’ And it happened in a preseason game. It’s just crazy. I’m a big note taker, I’m looking around and everyone’s taking notes. What he preaches is gold.”
And the former Rams in town for the Super Bowl just couldn’t muster up much disdain for the Patriots.
Seeing the Rams facing the Patriots again in the Super Bowl certainly “brings back some memories that aren’t so pleasant,” said former linebacker London Fletcher. But “it’s a long time ago.”
“I just didn’t think we played a good game,” Fletcher said. “Whether they filmed our stuff or not, I don’t know. But at the end of the day we didn’t play our best football.”
Everywhere Warner turned this past week, he was reminded about that Super Bowl 17 years ago.
“I mean, you can’t help it. Every time I get on TV, they show highlights of that game,” said Warner, now with NFL Network.
But Warner just can’t muster up any of the animosity for the Patriots with all they have accomplished over the past two decades, and all he later accomplished as a Hall of Fame quarterback.
“Bottom line is as you get more and more separated from it, you appreciate the moments that you’re involved in,” Warner said. “That game was a great football game. It came down to the last play, a kick to finish it with no time on the clock. Good memories, some that you’d like to change a little bit, we’re going to talk a lot about that, this rematch of that game 17 years ago where the dynasty really started for the Patriots and Tom Brady. And the Rams, we kind of fell apart after that.”
WHAT DAY IS IT?
Super Bowl teams endure long week
Kyle Van Noy sat at the podium on Thursday, and wasn’t quite sure where he was.
“Are you sure it’s Thursday? It feels like Monday,” the Patriots linebacker said.
Yes, it’s a long week at the Super Bowl. Both the Rams and Patriots arrived on Sunday, and had seven full days to wait before the big day, plus all day on Sunday before the Super Bowl kicks off around 6:30 p.m.
Football players are used to waiting seven days for a game, but the run-up to the Super Bowl can be excruciating.
“It’s definitely a long week. You’re talking about seven days and not your bed, not your city,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. “But it’s all about sacrifice. What are you willing to sacrifice to win this game on Sunday?”
The Patriots’ experience at the Super Bowl should help them at least in this regard. With much of the roster participating in this most recent run of four Super Bowl appearances in five years, the Patriots know how to deal with the anxiety and nervousness that are natural in the lead-up to the game.
“In college, coach [Greg] Schiano would always say, ‘Slow burn. Don’t let your fire get too big or too small,’ ” safety Devin McCourty said. “I think everybody on our staff in New England does a great job of keeping everything the way we do it, either at home or on the road. We’ll do a good job of the longer pregame, the longer halftime — we always talk about those things. I think that helps you mentally to know what’s coming.”
Van Noy said his routine this weekend will be “same old, same old. Just dinner, with a bigger family than normal.”
The magnitude of the event and the allure of the nightlife can be distractions for players, but the Patriots believe they know how to deal with it.
“We’re here for one reason, and that’s to win the Super Bowl,” Harmon said. “Nothing is going to get me out of focusing on that. We know what it takes to get here, we know what it takes to win, and we’re going to make sure everybody’s locked in and just doing everything we can to make sure we win on Sunday.”
NOT A MOVIE BUFF
Brown admits he dislikes game film
■ Interesting quotes from Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, who is finishing up an excellent first season in New England after three inconsistent seasons with the 49ers.
Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area that he’s never been a big film watcher, which irked his former coaches in San Francisco.
“I feel like I don’t need to watch film,” Brown admitted.
I can’t imagine that flies well in New England, where preparation is everything. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia made it sound like Brown had a rough initiation.
“There were some tough times out there on the practice field,” Scarnecchia said. “We want guys to prepare in a certain manner, and that can’t be compromised. I think he ultimately got the message.”
Brown is about to be the top offensive tackle available in free agency, but his study and practice habits may not work in his favor. I would bet on the Patriots going with Isaiah Wynn at left tackle next season instead of spending big money on Brown.
■ Bill Belichick had an interesting comment during the Super Bowl bye week about how Wade Phillips’s defense hasn’t changed much in 30 years. Phillips got a chuckle out of that.
“Yeah, but we’ve been running it 40 years,” the Rams’ longtime defensive coordinator said. “We ran a 3-4 defense, which he did at one time, but we were the first ones to run it full time when we were with the Oilers. We based out of a three-man front. I think that’s what he was talking about.”
■ The Patriots have a do-it-all coach in Jack Easterby — his official title is team development/character development coach — but realistically he sits in on personnel meetings with Belichick, serves as team chaplain, helps coach on-field drills, and does about 18 million other things for the team.
Easterby shared a story this past week about how he helped the rookies learn to communicate last offseason with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“We’ve done some activities with them over the years to try to help them communicate better, and one of them was we had them compete with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Easterby said. “We had them basically communicate one instruction at a time how to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. ‘Pull out the knife’ would be an instruction. ‘Take the cap off the jar.’ And it just helped them communicate better as rookies.”
Sadly, Easterby didn’t show the rookies the old YouTube clip of Belichick making his famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a Cleveland morning TV show when he was the Browns coach.
“I wish I did. That’s infamous,” Easterby said. “Every person who is in football or looks at Bill should watch that video to know the context of his dry sense of humor.”
■ Belichick probably won’t be retiring from coaching any time soon, and when he does, he certainly isn’t going to work full time. But CBS play-by-play voice Jim Nantz would love to see Belichick come to the TV booth one day.
“It would be fun one time to give him a headset and say, ‘Let’s go do a game,’ ” Nantz said. “I don’t think it’s happening, because I think this has a lot more years to go.”
■ Get ready for it now — if the Patriots win the Super Bowl, several players will probably skip the trip to the White House to see President Trump. Harmon, who skipped the trip two years ago, said he will likely skip it again.
“There’s a good chance I’m probably not going,” he said. “We all know why. There’s no point in going in-depth about it.”
Rams begin to make their mark
There probably won’t be an overflow of Rams fans in Atlanta for the Super Bowl, as the team is still relatively new to the Los Angeles area and doesn’t have a devoted fan base yet.
But Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff also believes he sees his team creating a foothold in Southern California after three years, which this Super Bowl run will certainly boost. He points to the Chiefs-Rams game that got moved to LA on short notice after the field in Mexico City was deemed unsuitable for play.
“We were given five days’ notice to sell out a Monday game. We sold 77,000 tickets in five days — that’s capacity — and could’ve sold many more,” Demoff said. “We had the greatest attendance increase in the league, the greatest TV ratings increase. Our fans have been fantastic the past few years, but we have to keep playing good football, building up our community ties, and never relax. This is going to be a decades-long process, no matter how many of these we go to.”
It took Roger Goodell about 11 days since the end of the NFC Championship game to finally address the officiating error that went against the Saints, and he stepped even further in the mud when Goodell appeared to suggest that he had reached out to the Saints players about it, which they staunchly denied. Goodell admitted the error, but neither his answer, nor the timeliness of it, soothed Saints players or fans. “It would have been better served hearing that back Monday or Tuesday after the game. I think that’s what we all expected,” quarterback Drew Brees said Friday, via the New Orleans Advocate . . . Speaking of delayed responses, Saints coach Sean Payton also waited more than a week before holding his own news conference and addressing the final sequence of plays. Payton said he called pass plays instead of runs at the end of the fourth quarter because he wanted to go for the win, and didn’t want to give the Rams the ball back with about 55-58 seconds left. “It’s not a debate,” Payton said. But it is a debate, because the Saints’ poor clock management gave the Rams 1:40 with which to work . . . We can already start stitching one gold jacket for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2024. Longtime Panthers and Packers defensive end Julius Peppers announced his retirement on Friday, finishing his career with the fourth-most sacks in NFL history (159.5, a half-sack behind Kevin Greene for third all time) . . . The Patriots are carrying over $3,173,423 in unused cap space from 2018 to 2019, per the NFL Players Association. It is approximately the same amount they carried over last year. The NFL average is about $10.6 million.
Quote of the week
“I was that other quarterback. Welcome to that ‘other quarterback’ chair.”
— Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason to Rams quarterback Jared Goff, about being overshadowed by his counterpart. Esiason played his Super Bowl against Joe Montana, while Goff is facing Tom Brady.