Teams arrive in Jacksonville
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The New England Patriots are too well-versed in this Super Bowl stuff and far too classy to get involved in a war of words a full week before the big game.
Well, maybe not.
The Patriots are angry about comments last week from Philadelphia receiver Freddie Mitchell. The defending champions made it clear Sunday when they arrived in Jacksonville that they aren't about to ignore Mitchell dissing their secondary, particularly star safety Rodney Harrison.
"When he says something like that," linebacker-lineman Willie McGinest said of Mitchell, "he's disrespecting our whole defense. Not only Rodney, but me and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and all the rest of us."
That Mitchell has been an underachieving backup for Terrell Owens hasn't escaped New England's notice. Owens, sidelined since Game 14 with torn ankle ligaments, still hasn't practiced but has been running and no longer has a limp.
Considering how the Patriots might be gunning for Mitchell next Sunday, maybe the Eagles need Owens more than ever.
But even if the All-Pro receiver returns -- coach Andy Reid said he will be evaluated daily -- he isn't likely to be a focal point of Philadelphia's offense. And he probably won't get nearly the attention from the Patriots during their media sessions as Mitchell will receive.
Or already has received.
"Maybe he was drinking before he started talking," Harrison said, "because that was clearly a mistake. No one in this league would attack somebody a week before the Super Bowl.
"I'm not really surprised because you're always going to find one jerk out of the bunch, just like (Mike) Vanderjagt," added Harrison, who also verbally feuded with the Indianapolis kicker during the playoffs. "You're always going to find one guy like that who wants some attention and wants to do something to try and stir up the emotions of the game.
"I don't need any extra motivation; I need something to calm me down."
Asked if he would speak directly to Mitchell, Harrison responded sarcastically: "What would I say? I don't have much to say. It's Freddie Mitchell."
It's also very early in Super Bowl week to be running at the mouth. For the veteran Patriots to dive headfirst into such a fray is almost astonishing.
Many of the Eagles recognize that. Even though this is the team's first trip to the Super Bowl in 24 years, they came across Sunday as the more experienced, resolute bunch.
"They were meaningless comments," Donovan McNabb said. "Freddie didn't mean anything by them. It's sad that people have to blow them up to make them into a story.
"Freddie apologized. If someone needs those comments to get up for a game like this, they don't need to be here. This is the Super Bowl, this is the ultimate."
The ultimate what? Both teams' first day in northern Florida sounded like a buildup to a steel cage grudge match, not to the most popular sporting event in America.
Maybe Mitchell, who was unavailable to the media on Sunday, will take this WWE rank-out session further when he does speak.
Mitchell could be a key figure during the game itself, when everyone hopefully will be paying attention to the actual play, not the wordy by-play. Even with its banged-up secondary, New England has shut down opponents, and if T.O. is MIA, Mitchell must produce to give Philadelphia a decent chance for its first NFL crown since 1960.
The Eagles acquired Owens to get them over the hump of three straight NFC title game losses. While they scaled that mountain, they did so without the injured Owens, whose main role was as a cheerleader.
While team doctors have not cleared Owens to be on the field next Sunday, he's making every effort to play. Reid and his staff have been close-mouthed -- isn't that refreshing? -- about Owens' potential availability.
New England has its own health issues, with both starting cornerbacks out, as they have been for months, and All-Pro defensive tackle Richard Seymour's status uncertain with a knee injury.
But the Patriots have treated those absences as a non-issue -- at least until Mitchell insulted them.
"We have a pieced-together secondary," said Troy Brown, the receiver-kick returner turned cornerback. "It's patchwork, but so what? It's a team sport. It doesn't matter if you know our name or not."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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