THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Kickoff is well covered

Relaxed Patriots ready for business

Email|Print| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / January 28, 2008

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The day started in snowy Foxborough at a raucous rally and ended in rainy Arizona, the Patriots landing in the surprisingly wet desert last night at 7:30 EST.

Coach Bill Belichick and several players called it a memorable day, one that provided momentum entering Super Bowl XLII.

"It was a great morning [at the rally], the whole lower bowl, halfway around the field was filled, and there was a real light snow coming down, so it was a little bit of a romantic setting," Belichick said about an hour after the team's arrival in Phoenix.

"It was snow like we've had in some of our games, and a little chill in the air, but a great, enthusiastic crowd. I got to the stadium several hours before the rally started and people were already starting to arrive, so it was a great sendoff."

After touching down at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, the team bused to its hotel, the sparkling Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in north Scottsdale. Dressed in a pinstriped gray suit and donning a tie - no gray hoodie for this occasion - Belichick answered questions from the large media crowd and talked about how the Super Bowl is "the trip you want to make."

Players also touched on the emotions of arriving at the Super Bowl.

"We've been away from this for a couple of years, but when you land and see all the cameras, you remember what it's like," center Dan Koppen said.

Koppen described the five-hour chartered plane ride as business as usual, with members of the offensive line playing backgammon. Defensive lineman Richard Seymour, on the other hand, felt the flight was a bit different from the norm.

"Knowing we didn't have a game [the next day], it was a little chatty, it was just having a good time among your teammates," he said. "We've worked so hard to get to the position and the point we are now and now it's about finishing the deal. We wrote the story, and now it's about writing the end and closing the book.

"Our fans gave us a great farewell, it was the right sendoff. It was snowing and it was cold in Gillette Stadium. That, for us, is what it's all about.

"I think any time in life, any time you have success, you want to share it with people. They've been very supportive of us all throughout the year, through ups and downs."

Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, one of nine Patriots who have been with the club since the first Super Bowl win six years ago, felt buoyed by the emotions of the day.

"When I was first pulling into the stadium I thought. 'Man, we're going to have to go out in snow, before we leave,' and then as I saw everyone lined up, the kids, and the families, and the parents, it was cool," he said. "We were excited to go out on the field and see everybody - 15,000 or 20,000 - and those people were excited."

Vrabel expects plenty of team bonding in the coming days.

"This is a time for us to enjoy each other's company, you go out to dinner with each other, just hang out and relax," he said. "Not to have anyone take this the wrong way, but you're away from your kids for a few days, so it's a dad's vacation. It's not a golf trip, we have business to do at the end of the week and we will prepare for that, but you can play cards, play dominoes, go to dinner, and really enjoy what you've done all year."

Linebacker Tedy Bruschi had added emotion upon the team's arrival, as he was returning to the state where he played in college at the University of Arizona.

"To get off the plane and see some cactus out the window and green grass . . . I'm in a state I'm very fond of and have a lot of history [in]," he said.

Running back Kevin Faulk noted he couldn't have imagined the day unfolding any differently, but pointed out he wasn't about to get caught up in the excitement.

"I guess that's where the experience part comes in, from having been here before," he said. "It's Sunday and the game is next week, so you can't [burn out] too early in the process."

Although the team arrived last night, Seymour joked that he felt like he had been in Arizona earlier in the week.

"I wouldn't tell Coach Belichick, but mentally I think we were here a few days ago," he said. "It's always great to be able to come to the Super Bowl city and finally arrive."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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