PHOENIX – The NFL hasn’t ruled on “Deflategate,” but you have to hand it to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They sure let the air out of Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday.
With about 8,000 fans and roughly 6,000 reporters on hand at US Airways Center, the issue of the New England Patriots’ use of deflated footballs in violation of NFL rules in the first half of the AFC Championship Game was, well, no issue at all.
So hats off to Belichick, the head coach, and Brady, the quarterback. They not only know football, they know how to stick a needle in a story line and slowly dissolve it, which they began doing with categorical denials during their pre-emptive news conferences late last week.
Media Day, perhaps the most bizarre day on the NFL’s calendar, took on a WWE feel when video of the players entering the Phoenix Suns’ arena floor was shown on the big screens as loud music blared. Brady was the last of the Patriots players to arrive and even trailed a flip-flop wearing Belichick.
With his hair so tousled that you just knew it wasn’t by accident, Brady sat down. At least 30 cameras and a mass of humanity 11 rows deep waited for him to get situated.
Naturally, the first order of business was handled by someone calling himself “Pick Boy,” who is closer to 50 than boyhood, and wears a super hero costume. He handed Brady a box of Chinese food that we’ll guess Tom threw away 59 minutes later.
An observer stood post near Brady’s riser for the first 20 minutes. Deflategate wasn’t mentioned. Later, a search of Brady’s transcript didn’t reveal the words “deflate,” “air,” or “PSI.”
The WWE feel quickly morphed into conservative NFL, Patriots Way style, when clichés by Brady and the nearby Belichick could be heard colliding with each other. Belichick must have been particularly bland toward a silly question at one point because a fluffy camerawoman backed out of the Belichick scrum saying to her fluffier on-air talent, “Really?! What a giant jerk.”
Brady was asked about his better and higher-paid half, Gisele. She’s fine. Back home watching the kids.
Brady was asked a question by comedian J.B. Smoove that, without an interpreter, would be too difficult to transcribe. Hall of Fame finalist Kurt Warner elbowed his way to the front and had an exchange that may or may not have ended with the two of them proposing to each other. Meanwhile, the poor man wearing nothing but a barrel couldn’t get close enough to ask a darn thing.
Brady did, however, touch on what probably is the essence of the Patriots’ success under Belichick. The essence that has led Brady to a record sixth Super Bowl for a starting quarterback. The essence of why a victory over the Seahawks on Sunday would tie Brady with boyhood idol Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl victories by a quarterback (four).
“Mental toughness,” Brady said and repeated three more times in the first 20 minutes alone.
“You have to have mental toughness, and you have to be able to compartmentalize things no matter what is going on,” Brady said. “It’s challenging at times because you are human and you have emotions and you want to say things or react a certain way. But regardless of what people say, good or bad, you also understand there are people who are in your corner and give you the love and support you need.”
Brady wouldn’t bite on the few challenging questions that were overheard being offered Tuesday. Not even when someone tried to bait the hook with a question about Richard Sherman saying Brady falls short of his shiny image.
“He’s obviously competitive,” Brady said of Sherman. “He’s a big part of that defense. Hopefully we can make some plays on him.
“I never met Richard. People motivate themselves, and I’m all for that. They have a belief in themselves, and they should. What people say, it’s all part of sports.”
For the most, if not all, part, it was an hour tutorial on Patriots Speak. A successful effort where the most compelling aspects might have been Belichick’s flip flops or Brady’s hair. And that’s like a pitching the perfect game in Belichick’s close-to-the-vest world.
With their speakers so close together, the only thing that separated their conservative answers was Belichick’s monotone. At one point, Belichick was saying, “I’m just trying to coach my team,” while Brady was saying, “I’m just trying to do my job.”
“You have to be mentally tough to deal with only the things you can control,” said Brady, probably realizing that he and Belichick were controlling things quite nicely.