The Patriots will unveil their Super Bowl LIII banner Sunday night before they begin the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.’’
The scene will be a familiar one — the banner is the sixth in a collection, as you may have heard.
The voices telling us about it will be familiar, too.
In fact, the presence of nonpareil play-by-play voice Al Michaels is in a certain way a reminder of how long the Patriots have been hosting these celebrations of the achievements of the previous season.
When the Patriots unveiled their first banner, it was against the Steelers at Gillette Stadium 17 years ago. Tom Brady was 25 years old, Bill Belichick was in his third year as the coach, and Michaels was in the broadcast booth.
But it wasn’t for “Sunday Night Football,’’ which didn’t launch until 2006. Michaels was alongside John Madden in the “Monday Night Football’’ booth for ABC.
That feels like a different age in NFL history. Yet here we are, all these years later, and Brady, Belichick, the Steelers, and Michaels are here to witness it again.
“It’s rather amazing,’’ said Michaels, who began his 34th season calling prime-time NFL games Thursday night when he was joined by the familiar NBC team of analyst Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michele Tafoya for the Bears-Packers opener. “That was the night Gillette Stadium opened. No one could have known then what the Patriots franchise would become, to this degree. But we’ve seen it develop, and we’ve seen them maintain it at this extraordinary level for almost 20 years now. John and I called probably 18-20 Patriots games together, and in 10 years Cris and I probably would have done 27-30, so that’s a ton of games.’’
As the Patriots dynasty emerged, “Sunday Night Football,’’ with producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff guiding the way, was dominating in its own field. It has been the No. 1-rated television show in prime time for the last eight years. “SNF’’ has won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Sports Series in 10 of the last 11 years, and is the only show to win 10 sports Emmys in the category.
“The great thing is we never look back,’’ said Michaels. “We don’t sit around and go, ‘You know what, hey, we did great last week.’ There’s none of that that goes on. We think about the following week and how we need to be better than we ever have been.’’
Michaels has a history with Belichick that precedes the Patriots/“SNF’’ run of concurrent dominance. He has known Belichick since he was the defensive coordinator of the Giants in the 1980s.
“And counting his time with the Jets and Browns, I’ve probably been in, I don’t know, 75, 80, maybe even more production meetings with him,’’ said Michaels. “And with Tom it’s been over 50, for sure. So yeah, we’re pretty comfortable with those guys.’’
Michaels said he has noticed that there’s a comfort level on the players’ side, as well. He notes Brady’s introspection about his desire to play until he’s 45 and how it will be difficult to put football behind him someday, and says that candor is something he’s noticed from other accomplished quarterbacks in recent years.
“We all see how Tom keeps himself in shape and all of that,’’ said Michaels. “But I think mentally too, what I see in the quarterbacks now — Brady, [Drew] Brees, [Ben] Roethlisberger, I think Peyton Manning was that way at the end, Eli [Manning] to a degree — is a savoring of where they are. They know the end is close, some are on the 17th or 18th hole right now, they begin to cherish this.
“Some people wonder, ‘Don’t they ever get tired of it?,’ and the answer is really no. The only guy I ever knew of that ilk who didn’t want to go to practice was Brett Favre. Oddly enough, Favre would tell us he loves the games, but he doesn’t like practice. He said, ‘If I could just play games, I’d play forever.’ Toward the end, he had a better understanding of, ‘Hey, you do need to practice.’ ’’
Now, the great veteran quarterbacks — Michaels counts Aaron Rodgers, who “is on the 15th hole or somewhere around there,’’ in that group — have an appreciation for the moment as it’s happening.
“I don’t want to say there’s more passion for the game in the Bradys and Breeses and Roethlisbergers, but I see an understanding of, ‘You know what? This is about as cool as it gets. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to re-create that feeling again.’ ’’
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Troy Brown earned rave reviews for his work with Patriots receivers in training camp. He has not formally been announced as a member of the coaching staff, but it’s telling that he will not return to his role as a studio analyst on NBC Sports Boston’s Patriots coverage this year. NBC Sports Boston has instead added former Patriots Matt Cassel and Ted Johnson to its studio team, along with holdovers Michael Holley and Albert Breer. Suppose that is the risk of having thoughtful former Patriots on the broadcast — there’s always a chance they’ll end up on Belichick’s staff. Jerod Mayo, so informative and genuinely funny on the network’s “Quick Slants’’ program with Tom Curran and Phil Perry, left in March to join Belichick’s staff . . . NESN has added former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi’s show to its weekend lineup. Produced by VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network, which is dedicated to sports betting), “Lombardi Line’’ will air 9–10 a.m. Saturdays on NESN Plus, then on NESN from 10 a.m.–noon. On Sunday, it airs 9 a.m.–noon on NESN.