hat alone revealed just how different this Super Bowl trip is for the New England Patriots.
Four years ago, the Patriots arrived for Super Bowl XLII tighter than a Tom Brady spiral. Belichick’s first news conference was filled with questions about New England’s quest for a perfect season and his quarterback’s then-gimpy ankle. Those topics were as pleasant for Belichick to talk about as the lingering stink of the Spygate scandal from earlier in the 2007 season.
Compared to then, Belichick was downright jovial when meeting with Super Bowl XLVI media for the first time Sunday in Indianapolis. Looking uncharacteristically sharp in a suit and tie rather than his customary athletic garb, Belichick drew laughter when asked whether he’s received some “Hoosier hospitality.”
“I never had too much hospitality here until I went for it on fourth-and-2,” cracked Belichick, referring to an ill-fated coaching decision that greatly contributed to a 2009 loss against the Colts. “Since then, I’ve been greeted in a lot more friendly manner than I was in the past.”
Belichick also displayed some fatherly charm when asked by a pint-sized reporter what it would feel like to tie Chuck Noll’s NFL record with his fourth career Super Bowl victory.
“It would make me feel pretty good,” Belichick said with a wide grin spread across his face.
The fact Belichick was feeling good bodes well for the Patriots entering next Sunday’s matchup against the New York Giants. Not that Belichick will ever tolerate on-field slacking in practice or outrageous media comments from his players. But the laid-back demeanor he displayed is a reminder of how much less outside pressure this New England squad is facing than the last one that played for a Lombardi Trophy.
The stakes were so much higher for the 2007 Patriots. They were on the verge of posting the first 19-0 record in NFL history. They also had beaten the Giants in the regular-season finale. Dubbed a 13-point underdog by oddsmakers, New York entered as a far looser team and posted a 17-14 upset victory.
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The Patriots are a 2.5-point favorite for Super Bowl XLVI. But that spread already has dropped by one point from where it opened, revealing the betting public has far more faith in New York than the last time the two clubs met in the Super Bowl.
The Giants should have confidence from having beaten New England on the road in October. This New York squad also is being favorably compared to the 2007 Giants because of its late-season winning streak and strong pass rush.
When it comes to New England, there is resemblance to another championship squad.
The 2001 Patriots were heavy underdogs entering their Super Bowl XXXVI showdown with St. Louis. Brady, in his first season as an NFL starter, had to outduel the NFL’s best quarterback in Kurt Warner. New England’s defense was perceived as a rag-tag group much like this year’s unit that includes veteran castoffs from other squads, undrafted college free agents and two wide receivers (Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman) playing in nickel and dime packages.
The Rams were the ones seemingly poised to start an NFL dynasty, having won the Super Bowl two years earlier with members of the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense still in their prime. Instead, it was New England that began its decade-long reign atop the NFL with a 20-17 upset.
Asked to reflect upon Brady’s growth as a player since then, Belichick said, “He’s come a long way since 2001. We all have.”
That includes a head coach who could soon have another Super Bowl ring to smile about