HOUSTON -- Media day at the Super Bowl is one of the most unique days of the season for players and media alike. Every media outlet under sun roamed the sideline Tuesday at Reliant Stadium where no question was off limits.
The players are loose and accessible like no other day during the year. They soak it all in, walking around with camcorders and digital cameras while fielding questions and asking a few themselves.
For us, it's the day this week to get off the beaten path and turn our attention from football to something out of the ordinary. I didn't walk aimlessly around the stadium trying to find my way in to go ask about Rodney Harrison's impact or about injuries or about what Bill Belichick has learned since his days in Cleveland.
I wasn't looking for game plan information or asking questions about the Panthers defense or about Jake Delhomme. Not today.
I had a couple of ideas that I pursued as I fought my way through the media crowd where members of the hoard even interview some of their own, which I find to be tad bit nauseating. But then, I'm sure my questions today may have caused some to choke on their own saliva.
My quest: Use my years of training as a reporter to discover if any member of the Patriots had the you-know-whats to play a practical joke on Bill Belichick.
I had candidates in my mind because of my innate knowledge of the locker room (now someone might be choking on their vomit – sorry for the visual). Willie McGinest, Larry Izzo, Mike Vrabel, Matt Light and Rodney Harrison were my suspects, but I wanted to be stealth so went elsewhere looking for someone to drop a dime.
"Hey Ted. Ted Johnson."
"What's up Bry?"
"Who are the big practical jokers on the team?" (Subtle huh?)
"That's easy," Johnson said. "Vrabel, Izzo and Light.
"You know it's funny the amount of energy that goes into a good practical joke," Johnson continued. "Did you hear what we did to Izzo yesterday?"
"No Ted. Do tell."
"They have a ring of fame inside the stadium at Rice (where Izzo played his college football). We managed to put Izzo's name up alongside … I don't even know who they were (take that as a shot at Rice football by the former Colorado Buffalo)."
"How'd you do that?"
"I can't divulge that. It just got done. It was awesome. The reward is in the laugh though. Izzo ate it up."
So, of course, I approached Izzo next. "What did you think of your name up on the ring of fame?" I asked, surprising him with my knowledge. I really felt undercover at this point – like Woodward and Bernstein.
"If you could call it that," he laughed. "It was taped up there with, I think, some duct tape. It was funny. I give credit to those equipment guys for putting that up (Oh so that's how it happened. See people want to tell you things if you just let them). "Hopefully when it's all said and done and my career is over, I will maybe have done enough to garner such an honor."
I sensed that Izzo had let his guard down. So I pounced. "You're a big practical joker and you keep the guys loose," I said, buttering him to ensure an honest response. "Who on the team would have the guts to play a joke on Coach Belichick?"
"Why would you want to … you know what, Mike Vrabel is the guy to ask that question," Izzo replied. "He's the practical joke guy. If anyone was to get away with it, I would say it would be Vrabel."
I then asked Johnson the same question. "Vrabel's the only one with the [guts] to get Bill," he said.
Ahhh-haaaa. Vrabel it is.
But I had to walk past Belichick's podium to get to Vrabel so I popped in and asked him. The heck with the stealth approach. I can save time during this hour-long session by going to the big cheese himself for confirmation.
"Bill you have some guys on the team that like to keep things loose, but do any of them have the stones to play a joke on you?"
Now Bill is all football all the time during his in-season media moments. Ask him to talk about the Denver Broncos defense under Joe Collier in 1978 and Bill will roll up his sleeves and wax poetic. Talk about practical jokes as his team prepares for the Super Bowl and you don't know what you're going to get.
But I have to give Belichick credit. While he gets criticized at times for the way he chooses to deal with the media, he brings his fastball to the big stage. Two years ago, at Super Bowl XXXVI, he looked like he had been in that spotlight 10 times. This year is the same.
So he smirked, thought and said, "Vrabel's on me a lot. I have to watch out for him."
OK, it was on to Vrabel for the real story. I just don't see him as a big jokester. He's usually very serious with the media and even combative at times. (Wait, maybe that's just with me. Naaahhhh. Only Paul Perillo and Andy Hart don't like me).
"I have no comment really," Vrabel said when quizzed. "That's just what makes me tick and makes me go," he answered as if I just asked him to solve world hunger rather than about his ability to play jokes on the head coach.
"I just imitate him or something," he finally added. "He's always talking about how, 'I've been in the league for 30 years and you can do it your way, but it just won't work.' It's stuff I have fun with and he takes it well. I use his high pitch …"
"High pitch?" I interrupt. "Bill gets a high pitch?"
"He does. There's a little bit of tone change and that's all I'll say."
He seemed so serious. So I needed character witnesses. He just didn't seem like the guy. I thought they might be leading me down the wrong path. A conspiracy theory. Could the practical jokers be playing one on me? Hmmmmmm. Where was Austin Powers when I needed him?
"Ted. Vrabel answers my questions very seriously. Are you sure he …?"
"He does?" Johnson asked, truly surprised. "That's too bad because he has talent."
"Larry. Vrabel answers my questions seriously. Were you …?"
"That's not the Vrabel I know, but he is a professional."
"One more thing Larry. A lot of times guys who dish it out can't take it. How does Vrabel take jokes played on him?"
"Oh that's the beauty of Vrabel," Izzo says, taking the opportunity to launch a salvo at his linebacking teammate. "As quick as he is to lash out, he's very sensitive and easily rattled. He's like wounded prey – very dangerous when he's under attack."
"That would be Vrabel," Johnson agreed. "He's sensitive. Tedy Bruschi got him with a good one. After one of our games, Vrabel had a good game and went to the interview podium. So the next day, Tedy brought a podium down to the locker room and put it in front of Vrabel's locker."
"How'd he take that," I ask, remembering the presence of the podium in the locker room.
"Well … (long pause … still paused) he doesn't like to be the victim," Johnson said.
"Would you ever play a joke on Bill?" I ask Johnson.
"Yeah, if I knew I had a long-term contract," he replied.
So the evidence is in and Vrabel is the one. Good for him. There may be jokers on the team, but Vrabel is the King because he'll go after the boss. You have to respect that.
I imagine that his sensitivity when he is victimized is designed to keep the jokers away from him. It sounds like it doesn't very work well, though. But Vrabel gets the prize today. Media day at Super Bowl XXXVIII.