By The Associated Press
If you’re among the millions of people who watch precisely one NFL game each year, yet want to sound like a real football fan during Sunday’s Super Bowl, The Associated Press has you covered.
This guide includes talking points for some of the biggest storylines and critical characters that everyone will be watching and discussing when the New England Patriots face the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 in Houston:
TOM BRADY: Brady is New England’s 39-year-old quarterback, their superstar with the cover-boy looks and the Brazilian supermodel wife. He is certain to be the most yapped-about player in the game — and not merely because he is trying to become the first starting QB to win a fifth Super Bowl ring and first player at any position to win a fourth Super Bowl MVP award. As he throws passes to Chris Hogan (whose college lacrosse days are worth knowing about) or hands off to one of three running backs who could be important, you’ll hear plenty about Brady’s four-game suspension at the start of this season for what became known as …
‘DEFLATEGATE’: The NFL determined the Patriots intentionally underinflated footballs used during their AFC championship game victory two years ago and said Brady had a role. Eventually, after a federal court sided with the league, Brady served his punishment ; the NFL fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks — all of which is why if New England beats Atlanta, all eyes will be on …
ROGER GOODELL: The commissioner of the NFL could be put in the awkward position of sharing a postgame stage for the trophy ceremony with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brady. Goodell avoided going to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for either of New England’s home playoff games last month (he attended two games in Atlanta) and was mocked by Patriots fans’ chants of “Where is Roger?” This wasn’t the first time Goodell punished the Patriots for running afoul of league rules while they’ve been coached by …
BILL BELICHICK: Considered by some the greatest coach in NFL history, branded as a cheater by others, Belichick can break the record for most Super Bowl championships for a coach by collecting No. 5. A flop with the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s, Belichick then infamously resigned one day after getting the top job with the New York Jets in 2000, heading instead to New England. Long before “Deflategate,” there was “Spygate,” when the Patriots videotaped signals being sent in by Jets coaches during a 2007 game, earning a $500,000 fine for Belichick. While his offense flourishes thanks to Brady, Belichick is a defensive mastermind, a trait that comes in handy against …
MATT RYAN: Known as “Matty Ice” for his cool demeanor, Atlanta’s quarterback is coming off one of the best seasons in NFL history, including 38 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, making him a favorite to win the MVP award Saturday night. Ryan threw TDs to a record 13 receivers as part of a versatile …
FALCONS OFFENSE: Orchestrated by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — expected to be hired soon to coach the San Francisco 49ers, he is the son of Mike Shanahan, who led the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl trophies — Atlanta led the NFL by averaging 33.8 points. Receiver Julio Jones can score whenever he touches the ball, Mohamed Sanu is talented, too (and played QB in college, so look for a trick play with him throwing), and Taylor Gabriel is a speedster. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman gain yards on the ground and as pass-catchers. The Patriots allowed a league-low 15.6 points per game. In six previous Super Bowls between the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense , the defense went 5-1. Another trend: Six previous Belichick-Brady Super Bowls (New England is 4-2) were all decided by four points or fewer, so a key role could be played by …
THE KICKERS: It’s been more than 25 years since a Super Bowl extra point was missed, but don’t head to the fridge when New England’s Stephen Gostkowski and Atlanta’s Matt Bryant line up to kick. While both have had successful careers — although Gostkowski did miss three field-goal tries and two extra points in the first seven games this season — kickers all around the NFL had trouble with extra points in 2016, the second year with those attempts taken from 33 yards away, instead of 20. In one week alone this season, 12 extra points were missed, four more than in all of 2014.
Belichick follows a familiar
script to coaching greatness
HOUSTON (AP) — He values the team’s overall culture ahead of its individual parts.
He rules his team with an iron fist, and yet, instills that team with a sense of family.
He can appear heartless — quick to say “goodbye” to those who no longer fit in — and yet, he is deeply loyal.
He has hard-and-fast ideas about how to run his own team, but is never against learning and adding bits of others’ expertise to his own repertoire.
Yes, this is a description of New England coach Bill Belichick, who can set himself apart Sunday by winning a record fifth Super Bowl title as a head coach.
It’s also a description of former coaches Chuck Noll of the Steelers and Tom Landry of the Cowboys and Alabama’s Nick Saban.
As well as Gregg Popovich of the Spurs and former UCLA coach John Wooden and pretty much every other person who has cemented him or herself on the Mount Rushmore of the profession.
“Xs and Os are the price of admission,” says John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game project , who speaks often about the importance of coaching in society. “But great coaches, the first thing they do is connect. When you connect with people, they’ll run through a wall for you.”
Belichick, a people person? The same might have been said, or asked, about Noll, Landry, Saban or any of these coaches, whose time facing the public usually involves 5- and 10-minute segments with the media during which their main goal is to not reveal anything important about their game plan — or much about themselves.
The effort — and sometimes, accolades — they get from their players says more.
Terry Bradshaw couldn’t stand Noll on their way to winning four Super Bowls with Pittsburgh. Only years later did the Hall of Fame quarterback concede that he benefited from Noll’s coaching. “Did I respect him? Of course I did,” Bradshaw said last year. “Like him? No, I didn’t like him.”
Among the 15 blocks on Wooden’s famed pyramid of success is “self-control,” an attribute that applies to the players as well as the coaches and general managers choosing them.
In a recent talk he gave to a group of coaches, Popovich spoke of the virtually mandatory requirement to resist talented players who are more focused on themselves than the team.
“That’s not easy,” he said. “You have to follow through, be good to your principles. That person who’s going to be good, who has potential, that’s going to get you fired.”
A lot has been made this year of New England’s decision to part ways with two key cogs in its defense — Chandler Jones in the offseason, then linebacker Jamie Collins, who was (ruthlessly?) traded away to winless Cleveland in October. That defense still allowed the fewest points in the league.
Belichick is hardly the first coach faced with those sorts of choices. In the ’70s, Landry spent a season shuffling between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton at quarterback. Eventually, he recognized the Cowboys could only succeed with one of them, and he chose Staubach, while trading Morton to the Giants.
“Sometimes it is unfortunate to have to make such a decision,” Landry said at the time. “But it is important to clear the air so there is no speculation on it from week to week.”
Tom Thibodeau, coach of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, spent time with Belichick a few summers ago and said he marvels because “the infrastructure is so strong” — one factor that allows great coaches to say goodbye to key players without missing a beat.
“You either conform and become a team-first guy, or you won’t be there long,” Thibodeau said. “I think every player really wants discipline. And they want to win. So when you give them the environment, they’ll usually respond in a positive way.”
But while the great coaches demand discipline, they also figure out ways to get their teams to bond. Former coach Packers coach Vince Lombardi had a well-earned reputation as a taskmaster, and yet one epiphany that took him over the top was the concept, virtually unheard of at the time, that the word “love” really did belong in a locker room.
More recently, Tom Coughlin overdid discipline for most of his first 10 years in the NFL. Only when he let up a bit, then got Michael Strahan on board, did the Giants become winners.
This year’s other Super Bowl coach, Dan Quinn of the Falcons, has discussed his season-long quest to turn his group of players into a “brotherhood.”
Belichick will never be confused as warm-and-fuzzy, though maybe Vince Wilfork’s tweet after parting with the Patriots in 2014 painted the best picture about the sort of atmosphere the coach has created: “We are always family,” Wilfork wrote.
And while great coaches have some hard-and-fast rules about how they want to run their teams, the best of them are always keeping an open mind toward learning.
Famous are the stories of Belichick’s willingness to go the extra mile — especially in the film room — from the time he got his first NFL job, as an assistant to Colts coach Ted Marchibroda in 1975.
“The impression he made on colleagues was almost universally favorable — open-minded, incredibly hard-working, absolutely committed to being a little better every day … a master at using film,” wrote David Halberstam in his 2005 profile on Belichick, “The Education of a Coach.”
Another great coach took note of that.
Before Nick Saban started winning his five national titles in college, he was Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Browns from 1991-94.
“I thought I knew something, and really found out that I was really in a position to learn a lot,” Saban said. “That time in Cleveland probably helped me as much as anything in developing the kind of philosophy and organizations that have helped us be successful through the years. I attribute a lot of it to Bill Belichick.”
Super Bowl Winners
2016 — Denver (AFC) 24, Carolina (NFC) 10
2015 — New England (AFC) 28, Seattle (NFC) 24
2014 — Seattle (NFC) 43, Denver (AFC) 8
2013 — Baltimore (AFC) 34, San Francisco (NFC) 31
2012 — N.Y. Giants (NFC) 21, New England (AFC) 17
2011 — Green Bay (NFC) 31, Pittsburgh (AFC) 25
2010 — New Orleans (NFC) 31, Indianapolis (AFC) 17
2009 — Pittsburgh (AFC) 27, Arizona (NFC) 23
2008 — N.Y. Giants (NFC) 17, New England (AFC) 14
2007 — Indianapolis (AFC) 29, Chicago (NFC) 17
2006 — Pittsburgh (AFC) 21, Seattle (NFC) 10
2005 — New England (AFC) 24, Philadelphia (NFC) 21
2004 — New England (AFC) 32, Carolina (NFC) 29
2003 — Tampa Bay (NFC) 48, Oakland (AFC) 21
2002 — New England (AFC) 20, St. Louis (NFC) 17
2001 — Baltimore Ravens (AFC) 34, N.Y. Giants (NFC) 7
2000 — St. Louis (NFC) 23, Tennessee (AFC) 16
1999 — Denver (AFC) 34, Atlanta (NFC) 19
1998 — Denver (AFC) 31, Green Bay (NFC) 24
1997 — Green Bay (NFC) 35, New England (AFC) 21
1996 — Dallas (NFC) 27, Pittsburgh (AFC) 17
1995 — San Francisco (NFC) 49, San Diego (AFC) 26
1994 — Dallas (NFC) 30, Buffalo (AFC) 13
1993 — Dallas (NFC) 52, Buffalo (AFC) 17
1992 — Washington (NFC) 37, Buffalo (AFC) 24
1991 — N.Y. Giants (NFC) 20, Buffalo (AFC) 19
1990 — San Francisco (NFC) 55, Denver (AFC) 10
1989 — San Francisco (NFC) 20, Cincinnati (AFC) 16
1988 — Washington (NFC) 42, Denver (AFC) 10
1987 — N.Y. Giants (NFC) 39, Denver (AFC) 20
1986 — Chicago (NFC) 46, New England (AFC) 10
1985 — San Francisco (NFC) 38, Miami (AFC) 16
1984 — L.A. Raiders (AFC) 38, Washington (NFC) 9
1983 — Washington (NFC) 27, Miami (AFC) 17
1982 — San Francisco (NFC) 26, Cincinnati (AFC) 21
1981 — Oakland (AFC) 27, Philadelphia (NFC) 10
1980 — Pittsburgh (AFC) 31, L.A. Rams (NFC) 19
1979 — Pittsburgh (AFC) 35, Dallas (NFC) 31
1978 — Dallas (NFC) 27, Denver (AFC) 10
1977 — Oakland (AFC) 32, Minnesota (NFC) 14
1976 — Pittsburgh (AFC) 21, Dallas (NFC) 17
1975 — Pittsburgh (AFC) 16, Minnesota (NFC) 6
1974 — Miami (AFC) 24, Minnesota (NFC) 7
1973 — Miami (AFC) 14, Washington (NFC) 7
1972 — Dallas (NFC) 24, Miami (AFC) 3
1971 — Baltimore Colts (AFC) 16, Dallas (NFC) 13
1970 — Kansas City (AFL) 23, Minnesota (NFL) 7
1969 — N.Y. Jets (AFL) 16, Baltimore Colts (NFL) 7
1968 — Green Bay (NFL) 33, Oakland (AFL) 14
1967 — Green Bay (NFL) 35, Kansas City (AFL) 10