HOUSTON -- Here's the scenario I envision for the Super Bowl: close game, a conservative game plan for both teams. The Patriots force Jake Delhomme to make a play late in the game and he throws an interception. Patriots win, 14-10.
I understand the blowout scenario some are tossing out there, but I don't buy it. The Panthers are a good team. John Fox is as close as you're going to get to a Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick. He motivates, prepares his team and he schemes very well on defense.
You've got to feel bad for Damien Woody, Mike Compton, David Patten, and Rosevelt Colvin not being able to participate because they're on injured reserve. Woody was such a top performer for the offensive line. As a free-agent, he might have played his final game in New England. Compton and Patten are two other veterans who may not be around next season.
Tom Brady has a Screen Actors Guild card following a brief speaking role in the recent movie "Stuck on You." If Brady wins Super Bowl XXXVIII he'll become the youngest to win two Super Bowls. Troy Aikman won two by age 27. Brady is 26.
Houston Chronicle writer Richard Justice, an old friend from baseball coverage, was a big fan of the Rib Tickler restaurant in Tomball, Texas, even before he knew it belonged to Ted Johnson's dad. Justice is a regular, and it wasn't until recently that he made the connection with Johnson.
There's a continued disappointment here that Andre Tippett is not among the 15 finalists for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio. Bob Brown, Harry Carson, Richard Dent, Carl Eller, John Elway, Cliff Harris, Bob Hayes, Lester Hayes, Bob Kuchenberg, Jim Marshall, Art Monk, Barry Sanders, Rayfield Wright, George Young and Gary Zimmerman are the finalists. My choices this time around: Elway, Sanders, Wright, Zimmerman, and Young. Elway will be the 19th quarterback enshrined in the modern era. Sanders will be the 24th running back. An amazing stat on Sanders: 10 years in the league, 10 Pro Bowls. Among QB's in the Hall, Joe Montana has the highest QB rating, 92.3. In comparison, Joe Namath's was 65.5.
Who would have the most Super Bowl rings if the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII. Well, if the Patriots win on Sunday, strength coach Mike Woicik would have one ring for each finger. Five. He had three while the strength coach of the Dallas Cowboys and two with the Patriots if they win. Bill Belichick would have four, two as an assistant and two as a head coach. During Woicik's seven-year tenure in Dallas, the Cowboys had 12 playoff wins and three Super Bowl championships.
Brady on Patriots fans: "Two years ago when we won the Super Bowl, we flew home, and on Tuesday went to the parade where there was over a million and a quarter people standing out there, and its five degrees out, you know what kind of fans you have. There is such a strong fan base and to go out there over the course of the season and see the momentum build going into the playoffs and last week it was deafening out there and it was awesome. It makes it a lot of fun for us as players to go out and play for them. You know there is excitement and you know there is coverage and you know people care. You go to the store and people want to talk to you about the throw you made on third down. It is pretty intense. For us to be down here in the Super Bowl brings a lot of excitement to the (New England) area."
Dan Klecko is playing in a Super Bowl in his first year in the league. His dad, Joe, who had a prolific career with the Jets, never made it to one. "Weve talked about this week a lot. Hes been telling me to enjoy it and take it all in because he never made it to this game through a Hall of Fame career of 12 years. He never got here. I just need to take it all in because I might never be here again. He has just been real excited for us as a team, and I cant wait for him to get down here tomorrow and enjoy it with me," Dan Klecko said. By the way, Joe Klecko is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Well, got to go. Back to work. Here are a few mailbag questions I was able to answer this week. Enjoy the Super Bowl!
As we all saw, Tom Brady was at President Bush's State of the Union address as First Lady Laura Bush's guest. Does this mean that our beloved quarterback is a republican? Oh the horror if this be the case!
-- Neri Kar, Amherst
A: Tom hasn't disclosed that. And he's wise not to.
Part of the fun for me with the two-week break before the big game has been trying to predict coach Belichick's game plan. He's a genius at creating a defense to take away the opponent's best strength, and crafting an offensive plan to make the opponent's strength obsolete. He also seems to dust off game plans from the past. Against the Colts for example, he re-used the strategy that worked in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams of being very physical with the receivers and dropping many into coverage. So, what do you think of my prediction that Belichick will re-use against Carolina the same strategy that beat Pittsburgh opening day last year -- a pass-heavy, no-huddle offensive attack (to negate the Panthers' strong run defense by spreading them out) and on defense 8-men in the box (to dare a shaky QB to try to beat us)?
-- Allen Baler, New Canaan, Conn.
A: I could see that one. I could also see the game plan of the 12-0 win over Dallas.
Is J.J. Stokes on the active roster? Will he see any playing time in the Super Bowl? What are the Patriots plans concerning J.J Stokes for the future?
-- Joe Gales Anacleto, San Jose, Calif.
A: J.J. is on the active roster. I don't think there are any long term plans for him at this time.
This isn't really a question. I am really ticked off at Warren Sapp for his comments. Tom Brady wasn't the QB back when Tampa Bay beat us so we can't wait to play them with Tom Brady. Sapp will retire in 2005 when we play them unless we play them before then. Please forward this email to Warren Sapp if you can. He is just jealous that he isn't a Patriot. Thanks.
-- Jolanta Borzymowska, Stoughton
A: He's a guy who likes to talk. He won a Super Bowl last year so I don't understand why he'd be jealous. His act is growing old, though.
Not a question (and you don't even need to publish this if the idea is used, but here's a suggestion for a great motivational tool for coach Belichick, if he even takes suggestions). I thought of it because I admire some of the pointed symbolism he has used in the past to motivate the team (such as burying the football). Anyway, here goes: How about having Bobby Orr and maybe a few other members of the 1971 Bruins stop by and talk about how that record setting year worked out for them. As a kid at the time, I remember that team to be one of the best of all time, only to be crushed by Montreal in the playoffs. The moral of the story is that no matter how great your season is, its the last game of the season that will be remembered.
-- Doug Meagher, Billerica
A: That's a good one to point out, but you have to give the players something they can relate to. None of them know about the '71 Bruins. Many of them weren't even born, so you have to make it a little more current.
Any word on whether Bruschi will be OK to play in the Super Bowl?
-- Katie, Boston
A: He's practicing. I think he'll play barring a setback this week.
Richard Seymour made the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons in the NFL. I listen to sports radio in Boston and Providence, and I read all the coverage on Boston.com but I rarely hear anything about him. Why does he get so little press? He must be doing something to earn a Pro Bowl selection. What does this guy add to the team that others don't seem to recognize.
-- Tim Long, Norton
A: He doesn't get a lot of press because he's not a guy with a lot of sacks and he's not a loud mouth like Sapp. He just plays very effectively and dominates everyone he goes up against. Believe me, the league is aware of how good he is.
Obviously by my Charlotte address, you realize where my allegiance lies. My question is this: Why would the New England fans, and particularly the New England media, be so abrasively confident (cocky) that the Pats will not only defeat the Panthers, but have no problem blowing them out? I gotta tell ya, Nick, heard it all before from the abrasives in St. Louis, and Philly. I am glad to hear it from your ilk, because now we've got you right where we want you. Hail to the underdog!
-- John Thomas, Charlotte, N.C.
A: It's odd that the fans and media would be so confident. They should know better from past experience. I think Carolina is a very good team. I think it'll be a close game, probably less than the current spread of 7. The Panthers definitely have a string following nationally because everyone loves an underdog.
The Super Bowl is fairly even on defense (although I rate our pass defense better). So I believe the winner is the team that runs longest and hardest. The Pats have defensive linemen that can be inputted if they get tired. I don't think Carolina has as much depth. The Panthers, I suspect, will try pounding our D-line with Stephens and Foster, which is what they do best. After watching the success that Edgerrin was having in the AFC title game -- thank the Lord for having them think they could pass their way to victory -- the Pats need to do the same. I'm hoping all five running backs (Smith, Faulk, Cloud, Centers, and Pass) are suited up for this one. I expect to see lots of passing to the backs and head on clashes trying to wear the defense out in this game. If might not look pretty until the final quarter when the players are tired of the beatings, then those fresh legs will become a factor. My prediction: Pats win, 32-17.
-- Paul Iannelli, Kennesaw, Ga
A: It could come down to a lot of things. Personally, I think it comes down to the QBs. Which one will make a big play; which one will turn it over. My guess is Brady makes the big play and Delhomme turns it over.
You said that the key to beating Carolina is not letting them pressure Brady. I agree with that 100%. But looking at Panthers DL vs Pats OL, the odds of that are not very high. How much creativity can be designed into Pats OL strategy to better protect Brady?
-- Adam Tutman, Palo Alto, Calif.
A: Oh, it can get very creative. Dante Scarnecchia is always coming up with different groupings on his blocking schemes to protect the QB. I'm sure he'll do it again. You want to make sure you're protecting your weak areas. They have two defensive ends who can sandwich the QB, so you need some backside help from a back.
Great job as usual on the mailbag. For those looking for a Patriots-friendly venue in the L.A. area, they could go to Sonny McLean's on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, essentially a Pats and Red Sox sports bar. Question: the offensive line did a fantastic job against the Colts. But given the nature of the Super Bowl, is it possible that Dan Klecko may be used on the offense in situations other than a goal-line short-yardage moment?
-- Bevan Manson, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: Old friend Bill Simmons of ESPN.com who lives out there while a writer on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live Show," also recommends it.
My thoughts on the game are this. The offense will score its points on Carolina. Although Carolina can stop the run, and rush the passer with their "dominant" front four, the Patriots cannot run the ball all that well and have their offense designed around quick passes therefore rendering the Panther pass rush null and void (if you get rid of the ball quick, people cannot rush the passer). The Carolina defense's strengths play into the strength of the Patriots. The New England offensive line will hold their own with the defensive front like have held all year against the rest of the league (0 sacks allowed this postseason, good stat to tell Warren Sapp). The Patriot defense will completely shut down the panther offense (who coincidentally isn't that good to begin with). The Panthers can run the ball, but the Pats are the third best rush defense in the league and they have Richard Seymour and Ted Washington, who are just as good as Carolinas defensive tackles. Steve Smith isn't even a factor because Ty Law is covering him. Ty will shut him down like he shuts down everyone, and Delhomme will not even throw the ball near Law. New England will get 2-3 turnovers, 1 big play by the defense, and 1 big play on special teams (mark my words on this special teams big play: it will happen). Tom Brady will win MVP again, and people (other than Patriots fans) will still keep saying he isn't that good. I see the game going similar to the Baltimore-Giants game of 2000-2001 season, with the defense dominating the game completely. The Patriots win big, 34-10, because Belichick and his boys have two weeks to plan the game. This is how I see the game playing out in my head. I was fairly close on my Indy-NE predictions (I said Peyton Manning would throw 5 picks and 1 TD pass), so I am very confident in this prediction of the Super Bowl. What are your predictions, and how do you see this game playing out?
-- Patrick Conley, Groton, Conn.
A: I see your vision. I see how you think the things that you stated will unfold could unfold. The reasons I think the game will be closer are 1) the game is basically a road game so while they're a very good road team, it's not like being in 5 degrees at Foxborough; 2)This might be a better running team than anyone they've faced. Don't underestimate John Fox having two weeks to game plan, as well. He's pretty good, too.
Two things: First, thank you Warren Sapp. I know a whole lot of people are worried about the not being an underdog and losing a bit of motivation, so for those folks, Sapp's remarks can now be used to motivate. Personally I happen to think that for players at the Pats level, the Big Show is motivation a plenty. Second, since the axiom of defense wins titles seems to hold true, at least for these two teams then the game will come down to the offense. The defense of both of these teams will be awesome, but the Pats have the edge in the offense department. I think the game comes down to Tom Brady. He will make the difference. Yes, it will be a team offense but Tom Brady will provide the extra push that is needed to win. Pats win, 13-6.
-- Tom Maszczak, Nashua, N.H.
A: Well thought out, Tom.
I'm a Pat's fan since '76 (Grogan, Fransis, and Sam Bam era) from southern California. My question: I understand the Super Bowl sites are awarded to cities, usually with moderate climates or domed stadiums. Do you think that the NFL will change and allow the Super Bowl to be played in one of the participant's home field? It seems the fans of the participating teams get screwed after they supported their team all year, especially fans of teams that play their games in outdoor stadiums and cold climates. I hear all the time: football should be played outdoors, period.
-- John Magnante, Costa Mesa, Calif.
A: I haven't heard about a Super Bowl in a home-field unless it happens to turn out that way because of blind luck where one of the teams, like the Saints get in and it happens to be in New Orleans that year. I think they prefer the warm/and or refuge of a dome.
Great mailbag, I couldn't imagine life without it. My question: Is there any possible way that we could get Tampa Bay on the schedule next season? I know we play them in 2005. Call me impatient. I think we have an opportunity here. If Warren Sapp was a man of his word, (yes I understand that's an assumption as big as Sapp's ego) and would in fact retire after the Patriots beat him, I think it's worth pursuing. Yeah sure, maybe Sapp is one of the best at his position. But seriously, wouldn't it be great for the league if this clown would just fade into retirement? He justifies retirement (after a loss to the Patriots) by saying a loss to the Pats would mean he couldn't play the way he expects to. Well, I saw his team quit long before the Giants quit. Nice way to defend a title, Sapp. Lay down like a little lamb. Let him put his money where his big fat mouth is. What's worst that could happen? He'd go back on his word and expose himself as a fraud? There's a shocker. Just think about how fantastic a retirement ceremony for the Big Dummy would be after a satisfying Pats win over Tampa Bay. Go ahead, say it, I'm dreaming. But who is to say dreams don't come true. I believe. Go Pats! Thanks for another season for the ages I won't soon forget!
-- J. Lasoff, Lynnfield
A: As a free-agent, there's always a possibility he signs with a team other than Tampa Bay and does go head-to-head with Hochstein.
Do you think the Globe could motivate the Panthers any more than what it's doing? All John Fox needs to do it post up the sports section every day in the Panther locker room. Carolina obviously has the mistaken belief that they still have to play the game. Has there been any more irresponsible journalism since the Rams Super Bowl? The Globe takes the cake.
-- Lance Mulleneaux, Brookline
A: Lance, I wish I knew what you were trying to say here.
Why does most of the out of town press have no clue to how good the Patriots are?
-- Andres Columna, Boston
A: Why does it matter?
On fourth and 1 on the 1-yard line with the game on the line, do you bring in Ted Washington as a blocking back for Antowain Smith? Trying to keep it light here. Yes, pun intended. Thanks for a great year.
-- Jake, Guilford
A: Why not? They've used Richard Seymour before.
What is the prevailing opinion in Foxborough as to the year Ty Warren has had? His play has been hard to judge which may be a polite way of saying he's been invisible for too long, I don't know. I think the Pats' great season, along with the great play of several of his fellow rookies, may have let him off the hook as far as criticism is concerned. But he wouldn't be the first excellent player to have a solid career after a rookie year of "where am I" type games.
-- Joe Nowlan, Boston
A: He's not Richard Seymour. He had to play quite a bit with Washington out of the lineup, and he's been able to learn different positions on the line. He wasn't great. But they feel they can bring him a long a little more next season.
Not so much a question but an observation. Are the Patriots like "Terminator" or "Jaws?" Certainly, that dates me but what amazes me is that a single person, Belichick, can select personnel who match his personality or agenda. I am amazed how dead-eye these guys -- excuse me, this team -- is. Kinda float beneath the radar screen of the media. I get kind of a chuckle out of this. Even if they lose this game, they still lurk in the shadows or the deep end of the pool. You know, I like that. Imagine, a New England team that actually strokes fear into everyone. Or, perhaps, this is my fantasy. No, actually, it is reality.
-- Meg McKenna
A: I agree with the part that they do strike fear. They do because nobody knows what they're going to do against you. All I hear is, "Well they didn't do anything we didn't expect." I feel like saying "Of course they did. You were totally confused and lost the game!"
Who invited Tom Brady to the State of the Union address? Was it a senator from North Carolina? Seriously, why wasn't he resting up or studying film? It seems like the Patriots are taking the Panthers much too lightly -- just like the Rams took the Patriots in 2001. I am sure coach Fox is motivating the Panthers by saying "look how lightly Tom Brady is taking us". I love Brady but I think this was a poor decision on his part. Don't you agree, Nick?
-- Taha Champsi, San Francisco, Calif.
A: No. It was on his day off. He didn't miss anything.
I'm starting to here chants around title-town that Brady is "the franchise QB." Wouldn't you agree that such a statement puts a little separation between the beloved QB and the rest of the team. There's no question Brady can run this offense, but aren't the fans, and sportswriters for that matter, getting away from the team theme that has made the Patriots so successful? Plug Brady into the 2003 Buffalo Bills offense and please tell Patriot's Nation what you get?
-- Ken Kyle, N. Providence, R.I.
A: Ken, When Bill Walsh describes him as the closest thing to Joe Montana, it's inevitable that separation is going to come. He'll fight it and he'll do and say the right things, but if he wins another Super Bowl, he's very special.
What are the chances the Pats would go after a running back such as Corey Dillon? Does Antowain have a future with the team?
-- Gerson Hernandez, Osan AB, Korea
A: I've always been of the opinion they'll draft a kid rather than sign a free-agent. Antowain is making a bid to stay. He'd have to rework his contract.