ATLANTA – It's Groundhog Day, in more ways than one. For most of the Patriots, Super Bowl Sunday is a script they've rehearsed and acted out many times before.
"I'm just excited for the guys to go out there and play the best football we have all year," wide receiver Chris Hogan said earlier this week. Here in Atlanta, he'll play in his third consecutive Super Bowl.
"This week's a little bit tough to think about stuff when you've got so much going on, but there definitely will be a time in the offseason to reflect a little bit on the last couple of years, how lucky and fortunate I am to play for such a great organization and with such great players, be able to go to three straight Super Bowls. It's hard to put into words."
It might be even harder to imagine for the handful of New England rookies and veterans, Sunday night's championship will be their first. How have these players approached the experience? With just hours remaining before kickoff, will they be able to get a good night's sleep?
Cornerback Jason McCourty smiled when asked the question.
"Yeah, I've got to," he responded. "Man, I've got a big game coming on Sunday."
Super Bowl veteran Trey Flowers' advice to teammates like McCourty, who's never played in one of these deciding contests, is simple.
"It can be tough [to sleep the night before] if you let it get to you, but you need to relax your mind when it's time to go to sleep. It's easier said than done, but understand that you've prepared yourself well and put all you could into this week."
Wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson is also a first-timer at the Super Bowl, but says he has a plan to visualize what he wants to happen Sunday night.
"The night before a game," he revealed, "I like to sleep and dream about returning a kick [for a touchdown]. I probably will get a lot of sleep. I don't know, man. It's another game. We know it's the biggest game of the year, but it's just another game. Can't get too high, can't get too low."
"I dreamed as a kid of being in the NFL," rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson confessed, "but I never imagined me being in the Super Bowl my first year. These moments I'll never get back, so, I'm trying to enjoy the process, taking it a day at a time."
Two years ago, defensive end Adrian Clayborn went through this process as a member of the Atlanta Falcons' Super Bowl squad that lost to New England, but he was injured and didn't play that night. So, for him, Super Bowl LIII represents his first potential opportunity to suit up in the biggest game.
"It's cool to be back. I love the city of Atlanta," Clayborn declared. "Cool city. The people here are awesome. I get to play this one. I'm not hurt, so, that's a positive and I can try to contribute, do my job, and help these guys try to win."
McCourty seemed to be taking a more light-hearted approach to his first Super Bowl, perhaps because he's experienced it vicariously already a few times through his twin brother, safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. He told reporters an amusing anecdote from Super Bowl XLVI, when head coach Bill Belichick mistook him Devin at one point during the week.
"He was upset that I wasn't dressed in my jersey or pants. This year, I may have to say I'm happy that he finally gave me a jersey and a pair of pants to wear," Jason grinned. "But yeah, it will be special to actually be able to suit up with the guys. I'm excited, man. They hear my excitement all the time. I remind those guys when they talk about, 'Yeah, we usually do this,' or 'In the past, I think we did this when we were in Arizona,' and I laugh, because these guys really have the handbook on the Super Bowl because they've been so many times. I remind them of how special it is, how hard it is to get there.
"Those guys know it and they don't take it for granted one moment. Each and every year, there are new teammates, new challenges you have to overcome that makes each [Super Bowl] special."
"Oh, it's been great, man. A great experience seeing all these people – family, friends – not just for me," Patterson added when asked about his first Super Bowl Week. "It's a great week for my family because we never know if I'll ever be back in the Super Bowl, so, I have to have them down here to enjoy the experience with me.
"I'm a football player. Everything doesn't always go the way you want it to go, but I'm always a happy, smiling guy. No matter if I get one play in the game or 30 plays, I'm going to be the same guy."
"I'm counting down the time," McCourty concluded. "We don't have much longer. I've tried to enjoy every moment of it."
Kickoff for Super Bowl LIII is Sunday at 6:30 Eastern.