Super Bowl countdown – Thursday

Super Bowl XLVIIIThursday marked my first full day in Phoenix, Arizona, and it was a busy and fascinating one in which I managed to get a good feel for both the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.

And I thought this column would be a good time to take you guys behind the scenes a little bit on a day when I interviewed Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Julian Edelman and Rob Ninkovich, and even got a question in for the great Tom Brady.

But my original plan – working with my producers at Sky Sports – had been to get a question into Bill Belichick for a feature on Brady that will run on Sunday night.

So I arrived early at Belichick’s presser, got a seat in the third row and then remembered that no question was guaranteed. Normally, the floor is open at a coach’s press conference and I’m actually pretty good at guessing when an answer is going to end and leaping in quickly with my question.

But at the Super Bowl, things are a little more formal and you have to raise your hand, make eye contact with the public relations man running the event and hope to get picked for a question. Then you wait, get handed the microphone and away you go.

I actually knew the PR guy running Belichick’s press conference very well indeed and he kept nodding in my direction as I raised my hand or nodded every minute or so. Jeff Reinebold was sat next to me and said if I had been at an auction, I would have spent over a million pounds with all my nodding and posturing.

But it was to no avail as just too many people wanted to ask Bill a question, including one reporter who must have spent hours researching where in America the Seahawks and Patriots found the players on their respective rosters only for Belichick to say “I can’t help you with that.”

I was disappointed at not asking a question of Belichick but that particular reporter must have been totally gutted!

Having not been able to help me out with Belichick, my PR friend then got me pretty close to the front of the line with Brady. I hadn’t prepared anything for Brady but even I can come up with one question when asked to do so!

The interviews with players are free-for-alls that we all try to turn into one-on-ones. In order to do that, you need some patience, the ability to wedge your body into small spaces and then be ready to go when the player so much as glances in your direction.

It takes some getting used to and you have to be willing to get shoved around a little bit yourself, but it’s all good fun and certainly wakes you up and makes you forget about the looming jetlag.

Of those I interviewed on Thursday, I thought Kam Chancellor was the best of the bunch. He was very open about the fact that the Seahawks were not playing together as a team early in the season and they needed a meeting to air their grievances and save their campaign.

Earl Thomas also spoke about that to me but he was in a bad, bad mood. He gave a couple of very short answers to journalists around the table, including me, and was like getting blood out of a stone early on. But he did open up a bit more as we went through our interview and I got the sense that he was just questioned out.

The players on these two teams have been answering the same questions – I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to ask Chancellor and Thomas about Rob Gronkowski – for three straight days. They must be glad to now get back in their bubbles and think about nothing but the game.

10-second takes…

  • For those of you who think football players live in their own particular moment and are unaware of circumstances outside of their building, you haven’t met Russell Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback is a keen follower of the international growth of the NFL and is hoping to pay a visit to the United Kingdom in the near future. Fingers crossed!
  • Tom Brady continues to prepare like mad for the Seahawks and is watching film as soon as he wakes up and right until he falls asleep each night. In short, he remains as hungry and as committed as ever, even with five Super Bowl appearances and three rings already under his belt.
  • I caught up with an old NFL UK Fan Night guest off camera on Thursday in Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Kevin was a long-time Minnesota Viking who found a home in Seattle and it is fair to say he is enjoying this Super Bowl ride having never reached the title game before. Kevin is a great guy and although he will not be one of the eye-catching stars in Phoenix, spare him a thought on Super Bowl Sunday as he enjoys the reward that his great career deserves.
  • We recorded a live Inside the Huddle podcast on Radio Row on Thursday and even grabbed in special guests in former Chicago Bears safety Doug Plank, NFL.com’s Henry Hodgson and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Demetrius McCray. It was live because Jeff Reinebold and I are a couple of technophobes working with zero editing equipment, so when I hit record on our little machine, we have to go until we’re done and without stopping. It makes things a little chaotic – especially when Jeff walks off for a chat with Doug Plank in the middle of the recording – but hopefully it makes for a fun listen.
  • We talked on Thursday’s podcast about how to defend Russell Wilson and I think New England’s Jamie Collins is going to be a key in that regard. He is strong, athletic and extremely versatile and he will be a key pawn in Belichick’s defensive chess match.

Stat Attack!

  • Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski put up wide receiver-like numbers in the regular season, catching 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns.
  • Each player on the winning team on Sunday will receive $97,000. Players on the losing teams will receive $49,000.
  • This Super Bowl will be the first to feature two head coaches over 60 years old in Bill Belichick (62 years, 291 days) and Pete Carroll (63 years, 139 days).
  • The largest comeback in Super Bowl history is 10 points, achieved by the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl 22 and New Orleans in Super Bowl 44. Seattle overcame a 16-point deficit in the NFC Championship Game and New England twice overcame a 14-point deficit in the AFC Divisional Playoff game.
  • Quarterbacks have been voted MVP of the Super Bowl on 26 occasions. Six of the last eight MVPs have been quarterbacks.

They said what?

“If you want to be a champion, you must prepare like a champion. There is no fear in me at all.” – Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gives an insight into the mindset that has helped him reach two consecutive Super Bowls.

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