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The 'question' keeps coming

NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 29, 2002) -- If New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick earned a dollar every time he was asked whether Tom Brady or Drew Bledsoe will start Super Bowl XXXVI, he would have a small fortune by now.

As a matter of fact, nearly every Patriot would be at least a buck richer after Media Day at the Louisiana Superdome. Since arriving in New Orleans the previous day, Belichick and company have been hit with a tidal wave of talk over who would be under center for the game. But despite the multitude of ways reporters have found to phrase the question, the most sought-after answer of Super Bowl Week must wait another day.

Belichick deflected the first wave during a press conference shortly after the team's plane landed a day earlier, saying the starter would be named following the practice of Jan. 30. He stood his ground during the hour-long session along the Superdome sideline.

"There is nothing really new there to report [in regards to naming a starter]," he said.

Brady, who sprained his left ankle during the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, led the Patriots to a 12-3 record after taking over for Bledsoe in Week 2. Although he wouldn't budge on whether he knew which way his coach is leaning, Brady very much looked and sounded much like a man who is preparing to start.

"The way it [the ankle] feels, I'm sure I can do everything. I put a lot [of weight] on it ... everything. It feels good, it feels real good," he said. "My reaction is just to be ready to play. If coach says 'You're playing,' I'm playing. If he doesn't ... that's the way I've approached it all year. He knows I want to play."

Brady wasted no time when asked whether, in his heart and his head, he is playing.

"Darn right, I am."

Several podiums away, Bledsoe's demeanor was quiet but his desire obvious. Time and again, he was asked the same questions he has heard all year long, and especially since leading the Patriots to a 24-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC title game. But as he has all season, Bledsoe demonstrated support for his teammate.

"It's been exciting all year to watch how well Tom has done and how he has played," Bledsoe said. "As hard as it's been personally to sit on the sidelines, it's been cool to be a part of a team that's been playing so well.

"I want to play as bad as I ever wanted anything. I mean, it's the Super Bowl. It's what you play for. Obviously, I'd love to be in there."

Having two high-caliber quarterbacks is a luxury most teams don't enjoy. Regardless of who plays, New England will have an experienced professional at the helm. It may be a tough choice, but it's likely one that most coaches would envy.

New England players insist it doesn't matter who plays; they'll be ready to play either way. Running back Antowain Smith, in particular, isn't overly concerned.

"I look at it this way: I can take a handoff from either one."

"If it's anyone other than us playing them, I root for the Rams. I grew up near the TWA Dome, or whatever dome it's called now [Edward Jones Dome]," he said. "Other than my divorce, one of my saddest days was when the St. Louis Cardinals moved."

Playing with his fourth team (Miami, Chicago, N.Y. Jets), Cox espoused positivity during Tuesday morning's session with the media. Even when asked about some of his controversial past, the Western Illinois University product took the high road.

"I'm just so grateful and humble for the opportunity to be here ... it's been a long time coming. The maturation process has been so wonderful for me," he said. "I was reading my Bible last night and it reminded me."

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