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53 things we learned from Super Bowl LIII Opening Night

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53 things we learned from Super Bowl LIII Opening Night


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Tom Brady opens up about the years he’s spent working with Bill Belichick, as well as his Northern California bond with Jared Goff.
USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — The 53 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 that 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.

9a. 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, 33-year-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, you ask? 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 re-iterating 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 a.m. Saturday morning. I’m not doubting him.

36. Perhaps Gronk isn’t the only player whom Pats fans should be worried about departing. DB Devin McCourty — playing alongside his twin brother Jason for the first time in his NFL career — sounded an awful lot like a guy who’s considering the end of a run. “I don’t know for sure,” McCourty said when asked if he’d consider retirement. “I do look at it if we can win this game, win it with my brother, I don’t know what else I could do that would top that. I’m just trying to make sure I enjoy this season and enjoy these last couple of days with these guys.”

37. 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.

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

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

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

41. 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.

42. Rams LT Andrew Whitworth might be the only Louisiana native not upset by the critical no-call late in the NFC Championship Game showdown with the Saints. Said the LSU product: “I might have lost a few friends and family in Louisiana this week, but I could probably afford to lose a few.“

43. But his kids are accounted for. There were Whitworths all over the place.

44. Wade Phillips delivered an awesome tribute to his late father Bum by wearing his dad’s jacket as he landed in Atlanta. But the Rams defensive coordinator had an even more touching moment when he explained the sartorial decision.

45. As we weigh the relevance of the Super Bowl halftime show, let us decree: There has never been a news conference that has warranted a musical performance during an intermission. Sorry, Jermaine Dupri.

46. Patriots DB Patrick Chung was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Asked how he would use Jamaican Olympic sprinting legend Usain Bolt as a football player, Chung said, “Go long. Throw it up. Good luck.”

47. As for the one rule Chung would change if he were commissioner: “Don’t fine us thousands of dollars for not wearing the right socks!”

48. Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores is expected to be named head coach of the Dolphins following the Super Bowl, but he said he didn’t struggle to juggle interviewing for a job and preparing for postseason games. “I’m good at compartmentalizing,” Flores explained. He added, “The Rams offense is what’s keeping me up at night.”

49. Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater will play in his fifth Super Bowl, and he’s aiming for his third ring. But this is the first time that he’ll face his boyhood team, the Rams, on Super Sunday. Slater’s father, Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, played for the Rams from 1976-95 as an offensive tackle, so he has told his son that regardless of what happens, he can’t lose. Matthew Slater does think that his father will lean toward the Patriots just a little bit, however. “Obviously, I know my dad’s always going to support me, and he wants to see me succeed in every endeavor, but I know he’s just giddy about this game,” Slater said with a grin.

50. Why has Patriots rookie RB Sony Michel been so effective? “The guys in his (position) room are tremendous, tremendous mentors,” said New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

51. Sounds like Michel needs to take James White, Rex Burkhead and James Develin to dinner this week.

52. Why is Pats WR Julian Edelman shampooing and conditioning his blossoming beard twice a day? To hide a pimple on his chin. Ha.

53. Patriots DE Trey Flowers had to grow into his uniform. Why? Because he grew up rooting for the Colts and OLB Robert Mathis. “My memories of the Patriots, I wasn’t on their side,” admitted Flowers.

Contributing: Mike Jones, Thomas O’Toole, Lorenzo Reyes

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Follow Nate Davis and Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @ByNateDavis and @mikemschwartz

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