Pats, Panthers arrive in town
Monday, January 26, 2004
HOUSTON -- The New England Patriots' latest business trip started late.
The AFC champions arrived about one hour late in Houston on Sunday, although nobody was quite sure why.
Coach Bill Belichick wasn't even aware the team was not on time.
"I understand you've been waiting for a while," Belichick said to reporters at Super Bowl week's first news conference. "How late are we, a minute, five minutes?"
When told it was 60 minutes, Belichick simply shrugged and said he couldn't explain what happened.
"I didn't really realize it," he admitted.
NFL coaches are not enamored of anything that disrupts their schedules, which usually are planned down to the second. But Sunday was not reserved for anything except travel from the frigid Northeast to balmy Houston, where safety Rodney Harrison said "it's great to see the sun shine and no snow on the ground."
Several hundred fans were at Logan Airport to wish the Patriots well, something quarterback Tom Brady found "amazing."
"I couldn't wait to get out of there. It was freezing," Brady said. "It's been cold up there for five weeks.
"The fans were amazing. They all came out there with paint on their faces."
'Once we get here, it's on'New England's opponent for next Sunday's title game, the Carolina Panthers, left Charlotte in a sleet storm and met with the media later than the Patriots did.
"It was just a flight," linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "We had some down time, some people reading, sleeping, a little joking. Everyone has their own outlook. Once we get here, it's on."
Panthers coach John Fox echoed his counterpart's sentiment of this being a business trip.
"I don't want them tight. I want them relaxed and focused," he said. "They should treat this much like it's a test."
The only news from the Panthers was that running back Stephen Davis did not practice at all last week, but he will practice this week and will not be on the injured list.
Before taking off from home, the Panthers took a 15-block detour on their way to the airport through the heart of Charlotte.
About 10,000 fans braved the inclement weather to attend the sendoff. It took 25 minutes for the five-bus convoy to crawl down the main street as music played, fans waved signs and one overzealous supporter jogged alongside the buses -- bare-chested -- with a Panthers flag.
As the players arrived at the stadium, about 300 fans stood outside the gate applauding every arrival. Ace Davis, aka "Captain Panther" at home games, showed up decked out in a game jersey, a top hat, cape and tail, ignoring the steady stream of wet snow gathering around him.
But the Panthers weren't getting carried away by the festivities.
"I think our guys understand that this is a business trip," coach John Fox said before boarding the flight to Houston. "We are going there for one purpose. You don't want to celebrate the Super Bowl at the Super Bowl. You want to celebrate it after."
The Patriots did precisely that two years ago, upsetting the St. Louis Rams. This time, they are seven-point favorites and riding a 14-game winning streak equaled only by the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Do they carry any sort of a swagger with such a strong resume? Not this bunch.
Mention the winning streak and they have the same reaction: So what?
"Winning 14 in a row or whatever, it's tremendous," Harrison said. "But it don't matter how many games you win, ultimately it's about the Super Bowl."
Which means past achievements and outside influences must be ignored. It's something the Patriots did well in 2002, and something they immediately recognize is the key to success in 2004.
"I told them Super Bowl hype is great, the parties are great, going out to the restaurants and clubs is fun, but there are 51 other weeks to do that," said Brady, dressed nattily in a business suit, as were Ty Law, Bobby Hamilton, Christian Fauria and Belichick.
"As soon as we landed, you can see all of the things that can be a distraction," added Law. "But we're here to do a job. We can go hang with the 'in' crowd when we're done playing."