INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The first surprise of Super Bowl week came upon the New England Patriots' arrival in the host city.
Bill Belichick smiled.
Not only that, the famously dour Patriots head coach laughed and joked with the assembled media about the reaction he expects from local fans.
“I’ve never had too much hospitality here until I went for it on fourth-and-2,” Belichick said to a roomful of laughter. “That created a lot more friendly environment.”
The reference was to Belichick's 2009 regular season decision not to punt from deep in his own territory while protecting a six-point, late fourth-quarter lead against the Indianapolis Colts.
The short pass play failed to gain the necessary yardage, and Peyton Manning quickly answered with a game-winning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne.
That comeback victory, 38-37, helped propel the Colts to the AFC championship and into another Super Bowl, which they lost to the New Orleans Saints.
Two years later, Tom Brady and his New England teammates are back in Indianapolis as the AFC champions to take on the New York Giants in a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl.
Brady said it actually feels good to be in this city and not preparing to play the Colts.
“We drove by Lucas Oil Stadium on the way in, and you see (defensive end) Dwight Freeney’s picture up there,” he said. “To come to Indy and not play him is definitely a relief. He’s terrorized me for a long time, and I’ll be terrorized by some other players in some other uniforms this week.”
Clearly, this is a relaxed New England team.
And why not? This Sunday's Super Bowl will be the fifth for Brady and Belichick as a quarterback-coaching tandem in the past decade.
A Patriots win would give Brady four NFL titles, tying him with childhood idol Joe Montana of San Francisco and Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw for the most ever by a quarterback.
A New England victory also would give Belichick four championships, tying him with one of his idols — Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll — for the most ever by a head coach.
Both men, however, moved quickly to dispel talk of personal records.
“We’ll try to make sure we focus on what we’re really here for, and that’s our performance on Sunday night,” Belichick said.
The underdog Giants spoiled the Patriots bid for a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, but Belichick said too many faces have changed on both sides for this game to hold any element of revenge.
“I’ve been asked about that game for several days now,” Belichick said. “But really all the games in the past don’t mean too much at this point.”
George Bremer is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind.