ST. PAUL, Minn. -- This was a different Opening Night.
In my seven years covering the kickoff tentpole event of Super Bowl week, I've come to expect certain things from The Event Formerly Known As Media Day. Swarms of humanity. Sweaty journalists with bad breath. Irritable cameramen with God complexes. Players terrified to say anything that could turn into a headline -- or even worse -- bulletin board material. And, of course, men dressed as women for perceived comedic effect.
But here's the thing: There wasn't a single man wearing a dress on Monday night at the Xcel Energy Center. If the Eagles end up taking down the Patriots on Sunday, that will only be the second-biggest upset of the week. And it wasn't just the dudes in drag that disappeared. There were no off-brand superheroes, no Santas, no leprechauns, no topless middle-aged men. Had Opening Night gone corporate? Had people foregone wacky get-ups in favor of more layers when packing for the impending deep freeze? It was a mystery.
My goal was to write about the carnival of the bizarre. After walking the floor for 30 minutes, I decided to give up searching for weird and just find something that was interesting.
And that's how I ended up in front of Bill Belichick for the second half of the Patriots' hour-long media availability.
All these years later, Belichick remains a fascinating figure to me. I'm not alone, of course. A big part of the BB mystique is that he remains unknowable to the general public and most of the media that covers him. Is he a curmudgeon or a closet nice guy? Humorless or a secret comic assassin? I wouldn't have the definitive answer to these questions in 30 minutes, but it was still fun to be five feet away from (perhaps) the greatest coach in pro football history. How often can you do that? Oh, every year at this time? Whatever.
You might expect Belichick to be miserable at a made-for-TV event as intrinsically ridiculous as media night. But Belichick seemed totally cool -- he was enjoying himself even. Former NFL.com colleague Conor Orr counted 33 smiles from the old coach. As always, Belichick showed up in a suit, a tradition that seems incongruous for a man who has never been shy about being photographed in frumpy team-issued athletic wear. Remember, this is the same man who eschewed proper sleeves after the Pats won another AFC crown, and yet, here he was at Opening Night dressed like Dad GQ.
That might have something to do with Linda Holliday, Belichick's longtime girlfriend, who watched most of the availability from a perch just behind the coach. With about 15 minutes remaining in the session, Holliday moved closer to the action and stood a few feet to Belichick's right. At one point, she handed him a water bottle. Bill took it without saying anything, the type of wordless interaction people in long-term relationships have everyday. Coaching legends and their long-term life partners ... they're just like us!
Belichick is an expert in this realm by now. Come to think of it, no one has ever been the star of more media days than Bill Belichick. Nine Super Bowls with the Patriots (eight as head coach); two more with the Giants. He's comfortable like a high school senior in May and he obviously has an approach here that works for him. Everyone gets a chance, but it's all on Bill's terms. If someone repeats a question -- this happens a lot in this setting -- Belichick will simply respond, "I've already answered that" or "We just covered it." You're done. Window closed.
He has patience for the silly questions that are inevitable here. To a point. Light-hearted queries are met with either clipped responses or a shrug of the shoulders and a "I don't know." When one doofus asks the coach if he can tickle him, Belichick politely responds with a "No, we'll skip that." When the doofus persists, Belichick lands a more forceful, "This is an adult show."
This is an adult show! I loved that. Eventually, I realized I had to ask him something. After all, it'd be rude to stand directly in front of the man for all this time and not add something of value to the public discourse. So I offered this:
Belichick cut me off before I could finish my stupid, worthless, contemptible, deeply inconsequential question.
"Gameday. Yup. Gameday. Gameday."
He looked right through me, sawing my innards in half with those eyes. Eyes like a shark. To compound matters, a couple minutes later a 10-year-old kid fired off a question that was both more nuanced and infinitely better received by the modern Vince Lombardi.
I was not ready for the adult show.
Other happenings on the floor of the X (I don't know if anybody calls it that, but feels like a missed opportunity if they don't):
» Speaking of serious answers to silly questions, I watched Patriots linebacker James Harrison end a local television reporter. The reporter -- whose identity I will withhold out of respect for his family -- made a naive choice to play cute with some Minnesota trivia for the deathly serious Harrison. Sample questions: "What's the state flower?" Answer: I don't know. "What's your favorite Prince song?" Answer: I don't have a favorite Prince song. Eventually, Harrison had enough and started to poke fun at the male reporter's makeup, which Harrison contended was put on in a liberal and uneven fashion. Shortly after the painful interaction ended, I noticed the reporter, a bit rattled it seemed, motioning to his face and conversing with his cameraman in a stern tone. Another sack for No. 92.
» For the fourth straight year, fans paid for the right to sit in the arena and watch the proceedings. I don't totally get it, but I respect the passion. That led to the somewhat uncomfortable scenario of the Eagles getting booed soundly every time they were announced by NFL Network emcee Scott Hanson. The majority of the crowd was made up of, of course, Vikings fans, who are apparently still processing the events of the NFC title game. It goes without saying that this would have been a much different night if the home team were involved.
»Kenny Britt was wandering the floor. It's kind of nuts he's at the Super Bowl given his ugly cameo in Cleveland and really just his general Kenny Britt-ness. After Sunday night, Britt and Larry Fitzgerald will have participated in the same number of Super Bowls! I overheard one reporter attempt to get Britt to talk about his forgettable tenure on the 0-16 Browns. Britt's response to all Browns queries, repeated multiple times: "Dilly dilly."
»Eagles defensive end Chris Long spoke to a sizey scrum during the entire hour of Eagles availability. When Long was told that Tom Brady said the Eagles aren't underdogs because they are the NFC champions, Long replied, "Tom, you gotta let us have our underdog status!" Agreed. Also, this happened, because, of course it did:
One last Belichick nugget: Like I shared up top, Belichick was genial for all the availability I was on hand for, but the guy really lit up when a woman asked him about squash. You know squash, right? It's the sport that rich people play in movies. Anyway, Bill Belichick freaking loves squash. If you're ever in an elevator alone with him, ask him about squash, not his damn hoodie.
Bonus: Check out the inscription on this Brady book!