NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 31, 2002) -- I've been here in New Orleans since Monday, and I've basically been in my hotel room just long enough to get some sleep. I've been very busy, doing stuff for the NFL, having some fun and seeing a lot of old friends.
Without a doubt, New Orleans has to rank right there with any city in the world. The restaurants, the food ... the reputation you hear about down here in the French Quarter is to be believed. The food is magnificent. The atmosphere to eat and socialize is very good. And there's nothing like sitting around talking to friends and having good food.
Super Bowl Week seems like a gathering place for retired players, especially in cities like New Orleans where the town is so compact. Socially, anywhere you go to dinner or to a club, you just see an amazing number of NFL players.
I had dinner at Emeril's on Monday night. Tuesday, I was at the House of Blues. Wednesday night was Muriel's. All are famous places down here.
We've been to Pat O'Brien's. I'll be at Commander's Palace another night. So I'm definitely hitting all the so-called "big-name" places in town. And at every stop, I see an endless group of current and former players and coaches. At the hotel I'm staying at here in the French Quarter, the Monteleone, there are 50 retired players who have been invited by the NFL to play in a golf tournament.
Tuesday night, as an example, I was sitting around talking to Hall of Famers Leroy Kelly and Ted Hendricks. And as time passes and you look at these guys, you realize why they were football players. They do not look like normal human beings walking around in public. I went to slap Leroy Kelly on the back -- wow! He's like a rock, even though he's almost 60 years old!
It's a lot of fun, and exciting to see these ex-players. Wednesday afternoon, I was at the Miller Lite Player of the Year function, and I saw Kevin Greene, Emmitt Smith, Michael Strahan, and Thurman Thomas. Of course, Marshall Faulk was there, too -- he won the award.
What a great thrill it must be for Faulk, playing the Super Bowl here in his hometown. And as we were at this function, it made me think about the demand on these players media-wise. Wow! It's just so great for the biggest stars on these teams ... it's almost inconceivable. It is a job in itself.
I know what it was like when I played in the Super Bowl, but it just seems so much more intense now. You turn the TV on and there are the Rams and Patriots players -- they have press conferences every day. Of course, the big stars have no chance of going out at night without being just swamped. I know a lot of the players from both teams hit the French Quarter Monday night. But could you imagine Kurt Warner deciding to take a walk down Bourbon Street? He'd be mobbed by thousands of people!
It's just incredible the scrutiny these players are under. It's definitely changed, without a doubt. That being said, the media crush is very organized. The NFL goes to great lengths to protect the players and make it less taxing.
But I know all athletes nowadays are a little better trained and a little better conditioned to dealing with the media, so they handle it pretty well.
Back to the French Quarter ... It's amazing when you go out to these places and meet fans who have come from places like New Mexico. They don't have a rooting interest in the game -- they just want to be at the Super Bowl.
And these folks come down for the week and make an event out of it. That amazes me, and it also makes me kind of proud, knowing that the NFL -- the games, the playoffs and the Super Bowl -- mean so much to so many people, and these people get so involved in it.
It's pretty cool.
I never thought about that when I was playing, but now that I'm in the TV industry, I look at things like that. I look at the TV ratings and I'm glad to see the popularity stay high. And it makes me feel great to see all these people down here, eating and partying and having fun. That tells you the league is in a really good state right now.
So after a long year in the NFL, broadcasting games for the last 24 or 25 straight weeks, I'm going to enjoy some of the New Orleans nightlife as well. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the week.
I hope I can make it.
Patriots QB take
Even though Tom Brady has been named the starter for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, the dynamics have changed a little. If they are down by 10 points and it's not going well, I imagine that Bill Belichick would think about bringing in Drew Bledsoe. From the time Brady took over until just last week, that idea was pretty much unthinkable.
But now that Drew Bledsoe came in and helped the Pats win the AFC title game, things have changed. We all had to be reminded once again how good Bledsoe is -- how well he can throw the football and how dominating he can be with his right arm. His presence is huge when he comes into a game. I think everybody's been reminded about that.
It gives the Patriots an added bonus if Brady is 100 percent. And he has to be 100 percent. He can't be 85 or 90 percent. When a quarterback is not 100 percent, it will change his thinking. On top of that, practice time is hindered and preparation time is hindered.
I didn't think there was any way Brady could get ready to play this game after what I saw last week. But apparently the sprain is not as bad as we all anticipated.
If Bledsoe did come off the bench in this game, it would be a tremendous emotional lift for New England. Tremendous. So that is a nice ace in the hole to have when you're in the Super Bowl -- to know that if for some reason it's not working out physically, that you have someone who can come in and bring it for your team -- both emotionally and physically.
I think Bledsoe would fare better coming off the bench than Brady, because he just did it last week. Coming off the bench, there's much less pressure. And since Bledsoe hasn't been starting since he went down early in the season, it would be more advantageous for the Patriots if Bledsoe was coming off the bench.
- Phil Simms