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Teams have time on their hands

Venerable rocker Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took center stage for a four-song performance in halftime festivities that stretched out 28 minutes. Venerable rocker Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took center stage for a four-song performance in halftime festivities that stretched out 28 minutes. (Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By John Branch
The New York Times / February 4, 2008

PHOENIX - At halftime of a regular-season game, teams have 12 minutes to get to the locker room, use the restroom, get a drink or a bite to eat, get an injury checked, make game-plan adjustments, collect thoughts, hear a quick motivational speech, and run back to the field.

"You kind of feel a little rushed for time," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Halftime of last night's Super Bowl XLII was scheduled to last 28 minutes. It was to feature a 12-minute concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and probably some pyrotechnics and commercials to fill the gaps as the stage was erected and rushed away.

NFL coaches are renowned time planners, budgeting every minute of their week and demanding a steady routine at practices and games. It can be a bit disconcerting to suddenly have so much time between the second and third quarters - waiting, waiting, waiting.

"We try to budget it out, do different things in there," said Belichick, whose Patriots were appearing in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in seven seasons. "Part of it is to go over adjustments. Part of it is to get them kind of loosened up and stretched again. Part of it is just to relax and try to let things settle down."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who is such a controller of time that he sets all the clocks at the team's headquarters ahead five minutes, had budgeted the extra 16 minutes of halftime.

"We've already decided how we would handle it," he said last week, treating it like another of the distractions he so despises. "There will be a certain amount of time that the players will be with the trainers and on their own. Then, at a little later time slot, we'll move in with the coaches.

"There is more time, twice as much plus than what you normally have, and you certainly have to deal with it, just as you have to deal with pregame."

Ah, pregame. Belichick and several Patriots veterans said a bigger jolt to their routine had occurred before the Super Bowl, when the schedule is typically loaded with introductions, jet flyovers, the national anthem, and an on-field concert. Alicia Keys performed yesterday.

"You know what feels like a long time?" Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. "You come out initially and you warm up, and then you run back into the locker room, and it's like, maybe, a 45-minute grace period. That's terrible, the way that's set up.

"As far as halftime, I can deal with that. Extra rest."

The NFL, hearing the complaints, changed the pregame schedule this year. Players used to be able to warm up on the field, but had to go back to the locker room and wait out the concert.

"Before the game, you do a lot of thumb twiddling," Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said.

This year, the concert came first and the final hour before the game was much the way it is for any other game. Keys played her set, about 12 minutes, starting around 5 p.m. EST. Players warmed up after she finished, for the usual 40 minutes, and returned to the locker room. Introductions were scheduled for 6:10, with the anthem at 6:17, the coin toss at 6:23, and the kickoff at 6:29.

That left the biggest adjustment to be made at halftime. The extra time would seem to give teams that are losing more of a chance to revise their game plans and devise new strategies.

"If you're playing well, you're just going over what you did and trying to reinforce the things that you did well," Vrabel said. "Now, if you're playing bad, that just gives Bill time to scream and holler, then prepare a plan for the second half."

But halftime rarely alters a Super Bowl's outcome. The last time a team won the Super Bowl after trailing at halftime was Super Bowl XXVIII, 14 years ago. The Cowboys, trailing the Bills, 13-6, came back to win, 30-13.

In the last 21 Super Bowls before last night, the winner trailed at halftime only two other times. Both of them were the Giants, who came back to beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.

Some of the current Giants have said they are big Tom Petty fans. (Receiver Plaxico Burress is not one of them; asked if he was a fan of Petty, he said, "Who?") Punter Jeff Feagles may be the biggest fan of all.

"I'll be sneaking back onto the field a little early at halftime," he said.

He may as well. Like the other players, he will probably be looking for something to do.

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