Former Midshipman Eckel finds place with Patriots

The Baltimore Sun

PHOENIX -- Kyle Eckel has reached the Super Bowl, but he probably won't receive many congratulations from Annapolis.

Before becoming the backup fullback for the New England Patriots, Eckel graduated last in his Naval Academy class in 2005 and was forced to resign as a Navy officer in October 2006 for undisclosed reasons.

"I took everything in stride; I didn't want to burn any bridges," Eckel said. "Growing up, like a lot of kids, my dream was to play in the NFL. I followed the road at Navy until everything sorted itself out."

Eckel, who was a favorite of Bill Belichick's father, Steve (who was a longtime assistant coach at Navy), was signed from the practice squad Oct. 1 and scored his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard run in the Patriots' 48-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys two weeks later.

But Eckel has made more of an impact on special teams. He had tied or led the Patriots in special teams tackles three times this season, including New England's win at the Ravens.

Even though he reached his goal to play in the NFL, he said he won't forget his time at Navy.

"I enjoyed it there like the rest of the guys," Eckel said. "But it's a tough place to go to school. It's a place where you feel a sense of accomplishment once you complete it."

Settling the score

Asked about receiver Plaxico Burress' prediction that the Giants would upset the Patriots, 23-17, New England quarterback Tom Brady had a question only about the score.

"We're only going to score 17 points?" Brady said. "OK. Is Plax playing defense?"

Brady then added: "I wish he had said 45-42 and gave us a little credit for more points."

The Patriots set the NFL record by scoring 589 points during the regular season, an average of 36.8 a game.

"I'm not taking anything away from what those guys accomplished," responded Burress, who sat out the New York's first practice because of his sprained right ankle.

Harbaugh applauded

New Ravens coach John Harbaugh got another endorsement, except this time it came from the Super Bowl.

Giants defensive coordiantor Steve Spagnuolo, who spent eight seasons with Harbaugh as part of the Philadelphia Eagles' coaching staff, was extremely supportive of him.

"I sat in on one of his meetings [in Philadelphia], and I just thought the way he ran it was amazing," Spagnuolo said. "He is such a great teacher. He is a quality person and has great character. I expect nothing but success down in Baltimore for him."

End zone

Mike Carey will head the officiating crew for Sunday's game, becoming the first black referee at a Super Bowl. Carey was the official who ejected Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs two years ago in Detroit, saying he "bumped me with malice in his heart." The Super Bowl crew will also include two other black officials, line judge Carl Johnson and field judge Boris Cheek. ... Patriots receiver Randy Moss, who will be a free agent in March, said he would like to retire with the Patriots. "But I don't know what will happen," Moss said. ... Tight end Marcus Freeman, an undrafted rookie who was cut by the Ravens in September, is on the Giants' practice squad.

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