Rev­e­la­tions il­lu­mi­nated Open­ing Night LIII

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS | NFL - Nate Davis and Michael Mid­dle­hurst-Schwartz Con­tribut­ing: Mike Jones, Thomas O’Toole, Lorenzo Reyes

AT­LANTA – The things we learned from Su­per Bowl LIII’s Open­ing Night:

1. The an­nounced crowd for this “event” at State Farm Arena (where the NBA’s Hawks play) was 10,000 spec­ta­tors along with an­other 2,000 me­dia mem­bers cov­er­ing it. Or try­ing to.

2. Fan ad­van­tage: New Eng­land. The cheers from the crowd made it clear the Pa­tri­ots had the more siz­able con­tin­gent on hand.

3. Pre-“game” mu­sic nat­u­rally came from At­lanta’s own, Usher, as “Yeah!” blared through the build­ing.

4. Unan­nounced, the Pa­tri­ots be­gan their me­dia ses­sion 10 min­utes ear­lier than their sched­uled 9 p.m. ET kickoff ... mak­ing it that much harder for me­dia mem­bers to just “do your job.” Thanks, fel­las.

5. But de­spite what you might think, New Eng­land coach Bill Belichick ac­tu­ally seems to en­joy Open­ing Night. He le­git­i­mately smiles with reg­u­lar­ity. He’ll even of­fer ex­pan­sive an­swers ... oc­ca­sion­ally. Sure, he knows it’s best to ante up for a league event, but he doesn’t seem to be fak­ing the funk.

6. Talk about oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ards — care­less cam­era­men, “non-tra­di­tional” me­dia with props and even kids scut­tling un­der­foot made this a more per­ilous en­vi­ron­ment than, ar­guably, an ac­tual foot­ball field.

7. And the scourge of Open­ing Night was NFL Net­work’s Scott Han­son. Don’t mis­un­der­stand — Scott is a gen­uinely nice guy. But NFL Me­dia pip­ing in his con­stant em­cee­ing and net­work pro­mo­tions through the arena loud­speak­ers made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for re­porters to hear the play­ers and coaches talk on the floor.

8. And with a roughly 20-to-1 ra­tio of me­dia to play­ers/coaches, it’s al­ready next-to-im­pos­si­ble to con­duct any kind of mean­ing­ful in­ter­view in this en­vi­ron­ment.

9. The Rams’ cheer­lead­ers opened the evening with a per­for­mance of their own. ICYMI, the Rams’ cheer­lead­ing squad in­cludes a few guys. Bravo.

10. Though the Pa­tri­ots def­i­nitely felt like the “home team,” Rams RB Todd Gur­ley prob­a­bly got the big­gest ova­tion this side of Tom Brady. Gur­ley, of course, is a lo­cal fa­vorite af­ter star­ring at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia.

11. The Suh-birds were also out in force for Rams DL Ndamukong Suh.

12. Which NFL de­fen­sive line­man did Rams star Aaron Don­ald try to repli­cate grow­ing up? None it turns out. As a boy, Don­ald al­ways as­sumed he’d play a skill po­si­tion. Oops.

13. How has prac­tic­ing against Don­ald on a daily ba­sis helped Rams G Rodger Saf­fold? “De­fen­sive tack­les (on game day) are a lot slower af­ter work­ing against AD.”

14. Gur­ley, Don­ald and Rams CB Aqib Talib were all on the chain gang ... each sport­ing some se­ri­ous bling around their necks Mon­day night.

15. The en­tire Rams ses­sions was mo­men­tar­ily drowned out by roar from the crowd ... when cam­eras picked up Brady walk­ing into the bow­els of the arena.

16. Not ev­ery­one is on board with Rams CB Nick­ell Robey-Cole­man’s as­sess­ment that age has “taken a toll” on Brady. Talib, a no­to­ri­ous trash-talker him­self but a for­mer Pa­triot, too, said he be­lieves Brady is “just get­ting bet­ter.”

17. Rams RB C.J. An­der­son had a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment.

18. We won­der if Robey-Cole­man’s ac­tual backpedal dur­ing games matches his ver­bal re­treat. “That was out of con­text,” he said. “Tom is a great quar­ter­back. He’s the GOAT. He’s a leg­end. I’m not tak­ing noth­ing from his game.”

19. Rams GM Les Snead seems to have heard enough from Robey-Cole­man. 20. Pa­tri­ots TE Rob Gronkowski on Fa­ther Time vs. TB12: “I haven’t seen him lose a step yet.” He meant Brady, not FT.

21. The lat­est devel­op­ment in the on­go­ing “Jared Goff is a lot younger than Tom Brady” se­ries: Goff said his ear­li­est Su­per Bowl me­mory was watch­ing the Pa­tri­ots and Pan­thers face off in Su­per Bowl XXXVIII 15 years ago. That was Brady’s sec­ond Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance. Goff was 9.

22. If there’s one thing that per­son­i­fies the com­pet­i­tive edge Brady has, it’s how ruth­lessly he shut down an in­no­cent ques­tion about giv­ing Goff ad­vice.

23. What does Rams WR Brandin Cooks, who played for New Eng­land in 2017, most ad­mire about Brady? An­swers: The quar­ter­back’s “com­pet­i­tive na­ture” and “how he takes care of his body.”

24. Cooks also loves his coach, 33year-old Sean McVay. Be­cause of the in­no­va­tive of­fen­sive schemes and con­stant en­thu­si­asm? Nah. “He’s one of the most stylish coaches out there,” said Cooks. “Love his swag.”

25. Speak­ing of swag, McVay wore jeans and what ap­peared like the Rams’ ver­sion of a bomber jacket. Belichick wore a con­ser­va­tive suit.

26. Im­por­tant why? Belichick also opted for the stuffy suit last year while Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son ap­peared like he might’ve been on his way to a deer stand. Ad­van­tage ... not Belichick.

27. And on a night when the play­ers’ warm-up suits re­sem­bled a sig­na­ture Belichick hoodie? Missed op­por­tu­nity to dress down, BB.

28. If you had any ques­tions about Gur­ley’s health, the Rams’ star is ready to shut them down. “It’s good, man. It’s good. Su­per Bowl 53,” he said.

29. McVay had more to say on the topic, too: “We have full con­fi­dence that he is healthy,” he said of his star back while re­it­er­at­ing his com­mit­ment to keep­ing Gur­ley in­volved in the flow of the game.

30. Count Belichick as some­one brac­ing for a big day from Gur­ley. “He’s one of the best play­ers in the league, no ques­tion about that,” Belichick said. “You have to have team de­fense. No one guy is go­ing to stop him.”

31. McVay as Con­fu­cius: “Peo­ple don’t know how much you know un­til they know how much you care.”

32. Talib as Con­fu­cius: “How­ever you pre­pared for the last game, do the same this week.”

33. Gronkowski stirred more in­trigue. Asked whether he would re­tire af­ter the game, the Pa­tri­ots’ star said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. ... I’m think­ing how to get my­self to go full go in the game.”

34. Game that Gronk ad­mires? Tony Gon­za­lez’s.

35. Party that Gronk ad­mires? Shaq’s Fun House. Gronkowski swears he’ll be par­ty­ing with O’Neal un­til 5 Satur­day morn­ing. I’m not doubt­ing him.

36. Ac­cord­ing to Don­ald, Los An­ge­les is a “foot­ball town now.” We’re not ones to draw the ire of Don­ald, but let’s just say we have our doubts about that.

37. Don­ald’s wing­man, Suh, plans to spend a good chunk of his off­sea­son watch­ing pro­fes­sional soc­cer in Eng­land and France. Prob­a­bly be­cause LA isn’t a fut­bol town, ei­ther.

38. Part of a soc­cer fam­ily, Suh’s sis­ter, Ngum, played for the Cameroon na­tional team.

39. Celebri­ties seen? Not many in this feed­ing frenzy. But Guillermo from “Jimmy Kim­mel Live!” and J.B. Smoove worked the floor.

40. For­mer NFL play­ers work­ing in me­dia roles? Plen­ti­ful. Deion San­ders, Wil­lie McGinest, Michael Irvin, Trent Dil­fer, Osi Umenyiora, Kirk Mor­ri­son and Torry Holt. To name a few.


Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick, above, wore a suit while the Rams’ Sean McVay wore jeans and a bomber jacket.

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