The masterful schemes of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick are rooted in Baltimore.
Belichick, who grew up in Annapolis, broke into the coaching ranks with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 under Ted Marchibroda. As a special assistant, the 23-year-old college grad who was known as "Billy," earned $25 a week.
These days, Belichick is one win away from a much bigger payday: his second Super Bowl championship as a head coach.
"I would say my confidence really came that first year in Baltimore," said Belichick, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. "I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I was getting paid nothing because I wasn't worth anything, but they had a small staff because Marchibroda didn't have enough people really to do all the things he wanted done.
"Even though I was the low man on the totem pole - by a lot - there were still things that he needed done. He felt confident giving me other responsibilities, things like running the scout team on offense."
The other perks to the job were a free hotel room and a part-time gig as a chauffeur. Since he couldn't afford a car, he drove Marchibroda and two other coaches from the hotel to work every day.
"We rode back and forth, leaving at 7 in the morning and getting back around midnight," said Belichick, who left Baltimore after one year to become a special teams assistant with the Detroit Lions. "It was pretty much 17 to 18 hours of football on a daily basis. That being my first year in the league was an incredible learning experience. I learned a ton of football that year."
The big fall
Defensive tackle Brentson Buckner is the voice of experience on the Carolina Panthers. He played in the 1996 Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to the Dallas Cowboys, and hasn't forgotten the feeling.
"When you lose a Super Bowl, the world forgets about you," he said. "For 60 minutes, they watch you play, but really when you lose, it's like you never were there because the media run to the winner.
"They rope off the field. It's just a feeling that you're just alone. You went from 250 million people watching you to no one caring about who you were."
Buckner made that point to the Panthers last week.
"I just relayed to them that you don't want to be on that [losing] side. You want to give your team the best opportunity to win. When you win, you're everywhere, but nobody remembers second place," he said.
Carolina coach John Fox isn't running scared. He doesn't think the two-week break between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl gives Belichick the advantage that most want to award him.
"I have the utmost respect for Bill and I've known him for a long time," Fox said. "But you don't get to coach in this league, whether it be a head coach or a coordinator, without being pretty much on top of it. I'm not taking anything away from Bill and I don't want to slight any of the other defensive minds out there in the National Football League, [but] you have to be ready to play in this league because all these teams are very well-coached."
Bring it on
The matchup of Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and New England cornerback Ty Law should prove to be one of the most intriguing - and important - of the Super Bowl. Law is one of the most physical corners in the league, a reputation that preceded him to Houston.
Asked whether he was concerned about that reputation, Smith said: "No, I like it. He can play it however he wants. You can be as physical as you want, but you still need to play the game. I expect him to be physical. That is how he plays the game. I saw that all week on the film I watched on him."
Bruschi getting better
Speaking for the first time this week, the Patriots' Tedy Bruschi did not give much insight into his right calf injury.
"The one thing that is encouraging is it's gotten better," the inside linebacker said.
Both teams were off yesterday and will resume practicing today. If Bruschi is sidelined, nine-year veteran Ted Johnson likely would replace him.
When asked about his chances of playing Sunday, Bruschi said: "I want to. I can't tell you what my injury situation will be Sunday. It will take a lot to hold me out."
Receiver, not speller
Media Day, the first time of Super Bowl week when every player is made available to reporters, has traditionally become the event where the most off-the-wall questions are asked.
It was more of the same yesterday as players and coaches were asked about Viagra one moment and asked to spell Massachusetts the next.
For the record, Patriots receiver Troy Brown failed, saying M-A-S-S-U before being told he was wrong.
"You can edit that one out," he said. "I haven't been in a spelling bee since eighth grade."
Ward gets his chance
In a matter of two months, receiver Dedric Ward went from the inactive list with the Ravens to the Super Bowl with the Patriots.
Ward, who was brought in primarily as a backup returner for the Ravens, was released Nov. 18 after not playing in half of his six-game run. In six games played with New England, he has landed a role in the four- and five-receiver spread formations, making seven catches for 106 yards and one touchdown.
"For whatever reason, I didn't really get the number of opportunities that I would have liked," Ward said of his time with the Ravens. "But I understand the business side of it."