NEW ORLEANS -- It was no surprise that Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was suffering from an upset stomach yesterday.
The surprise was that he couldn't blame Patriots coach Bill Parcells for the ailment.
Kraft came down with a mild case of food poisoning Monday night, but he was still at Super Bowl media day at the Superdome yesterday, answering questions about the other irritant in his life -- his coach.
The rift between Kraft and Parcells has been a continuing story since last April when Kraft stripped Parcells of his authority to make the draft picks.
It reached a frenzied pitch Monday when the Boston Globe reported that the Super Bowl will be Parcells' last game with the Patriots and said his agent, Robert Fraley, denied reports that Parcells' contract calls for the Patriots to get compensation if he leaves. It predicted the matter could end up in court.
In a year when neither team has many colorful characters, the Parcells-Kraft flap has become the biggest story of Super Bowl week.
Another dimension to the story is that it was written by Will McDonough, who appears on NBC and also has Fraley as his agent.
The suspicion is that Fraley or Parcells -- or both -- leaked the story to embarrass Kraft.
Neither Parcells nor Kraft will address the issue of whether Parcells will go to court to get free of the Patriots.
Both men tried to take the high road yesterday, sticking to their previous statements that they won't meet until next week to decide Parcells' future.
Kraft, noting he bought the team three years ago yesterday, said, "The focus should be on the players, the game."
When Parcells was asked about his relationship with Kraft, he said, "You asked me the same question last night. You worded it differently. I'd say it's fine. We communicate fine."
Rap at Ravens
Assuming that Parcells does leave the Patriots, don't expect former Browns coach Bill Belichick, now a Patriots assistant, to be promoted.
When Kraft was explaining how a team has to cope with the salary cap, he said, "You can't run your business like you ran the old NFL."
He then added, "One team in our conference is already $5 million in the hole for next year because they have signing bonuses assigned to players that are no longer on the team."
That was an allusion to the Ravens, who still have to pay the price next year for decisions made by Belichick and former personnel chief Mike Lombardi.
Meanwhile, Belichick wouldn't discuss the critical comments Ravens owner Art Modell has made about him since he was fired. Modell has said he was "sold a bill of goods" on Belichick.
Belichick said: "I'm just here to play the Packers. I'm not going to talk about last year or next year."
New side of Rison
Quote of the day from Packers wide receiver Andre Rison:
"I think if you've got a kind heart and you're humble, I think you can handle any situation you get into."
Yes, he's trying to reinvent himself at the Super Bowl as a kinder, gentler Rison.
He's portraying himself as a team leader who wants to make sure the players understand they haven't won the title yet.
"That's something I will remind the team prior to this game, that we're not world champions yet," he said.
Packers offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis couldn't believe that the St. Louis Rams hired Dick Vermeil as their new coach even though he hasn't coached since 1982.
"I threw my hands up in the air. I couldn't understand the logic," he said.
Lewis, who can't be interviewed until after the Super Bowl, had hoped to parlay Green Bay's success into a head coaching job, but seven of the 10 openings have been filled and he's not being mentioned as a candidate for the three vacancies with the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.
Lewis is black. So far, no minority candidates have been hired this year and only one -- Emmitt Thomas of the Philadelphia Eagles -- has gotten an interview.
The league has three minority head coaches out of 30 overall -- Ray Rhodes of the Eagles, Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings.
Now the No Fun League has become the No Party League in New Orleans. No partying in casinos, that is.
The NFL has informed the players that they and their families should stay out of the Riverboat casinos.
Oddly, the Packers stay at a Green Bay hotel the night before their home games that is attached to a casino.
Meanwhile, one player who has the green light to party is Packers quarterback Brett Favre. According to his agent, Bus Cook, the NFL has lifted the alcohol ban that was part of his off-season treatment for addiction to painkillers. Favre appealed early in the year to have the ban lifted.
"This isn't about drinking," Cook said. "It's about freedom."
The NFL declined to comment, saying all aspects of its drug program are confidential.
Pats relish underdog role
The Patriots are trying to get themselves ready to be the David to Green Bay's Goliath because they're 14-point underdogs. In the first Super Bowl, the Packers were favored by 13 over the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL and won, 35-10.
"We're insulted," defensive end/linebacker Willie McGinest said. "If you look at underdogs through history. Look at Tyson vs. Holyfield, look at David vs. Goliath. You can go way back."
The oddsmakers, though, are looking at 12 straight NFC wins. Goliath usually wins the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXI
New England Patriots (13-5) vs. Green Bay Packers (15-3)
When: Sunday, 6: 18 p.m.
Site: Superdome, New Orleans
TV: Chs. 45, 5
Line: Packers by 14
Pub Date: 1/22/97