By Jenny Vrentas
Pro Football Writers of America
ATLANTA—For a few minutes Saturday morning, Bill Belichick’s top concern was opening a bag of macadamia nuts for his 2-year-old granddaughter, Blakely. The Patriots coach has spent the past two weeks preparing for Super Bowl LIII, which included stashing some snack packs in his pants pocket in case of a hungry toddler.
Blakely, the daughter of Belichick’s son, Steve, was born in October 2016, so this will be her third Super Bowl before she turns 3.
“She’s starting off fast,” Belichick said.
Blakely was one of more than 800 friends and family who joined the Patriots players, coaches, front office and staff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday morning. After finishing a week of practice at Georgia Tech, the Patriots did not hold a walk-through or practice on Saturday, but instead came to the site of the game for team photos and a gathering with their guests. This is the same routine they have followed in previous Super Bowls.
“This breaks up the day and lets them participate in it with their families,” Belichick said. “This is a dream for every player to play in this game, so to be able to share it with loved ones and family is special. We have tried to embrace it.”
The entire 53-person active roster and 10-person practice squad were present, along with players on injured reserve, including running back Jeremy Hill and defensive back Eric Rowe. The Patriots have no players with an injury designation for the final game of the season. “Everybody is good,” Belichick said.
The Patriots buses, escorted by police, pulled up to Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 10:40 a.m. and filed inside. Quarterback Tom Brady was in the middle of the pack, holding the hand of his 6-year-old daughter, Vivian, with his wife and two sons walking closeby. Brady spotted former teammate and Hall of Fame nominee Richard Seymour, who rode in with the team, and wrapped him in a warm embrace.
The players changed into the white jerseys and navy pants they’ll wear in the game and walked out onto the field for photos. Brady kneeled for the quarterbacks’ picture, prompting a few staff members to playfully call out to him that he looked like he was posing for a Pop Warner photo. Belichick stood next to the team photographer, smiling as he watched each position group line up with their arms around each other.
“It’s fun to see them having fun,” Belichick said. “They’ve earned it. You’ve gotta earn your way here; there is no other way to get here. So it’s very satisfying to see them having fun and enjoying each other and having the camaraderie that comes with getting to the game.”
Brady and Belichick posed for a photo with team owner Robert Kraft and his son, Jonathan, the team president. Then, the entire team climbed onto a stack of risers for the customary team photo. As the Patriots families and friends came down onto the field, they took a final team picture with several players and coaches holding their young children, who were carefully passed up the rows. For the next 40 minutes, they all mingled on the field. Brady met up with his parents and sisters, while Vivian did cartwheels nearby. The traveling party of Devin and Jason McCourty, the first twins to play together in the Super Bowl, sported shirts that read, “All we do is twin,” with “win” printed in contrasting red letters.
During their visit, Belichick was taking mental notes about the stadium, which opened in 2017. The Patriots have not played here before.
Belichick added that he did not think noise would be as big of a factor this week as in the conference championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. “The stadium is so big,” he said. “It’s going to be loud, but I don’t think it is going to be deafening loud, just because of the size of it and because the crowd is half and half, not all 80,000 against us.”
Belichick said it usually takes him three days to get through all the reminders he gives his team before the game, covering topics such as the pacing of the game, which will have 11 commercials in each half and a 29-minute halftime. “There’s no momentum to it,” he said. “It’s like going to a traffic light, stop, traffic light, stop—that kind of thing. But that’s the game, so you’ve gotta play it that way.”
He will gather the team for a team meeting Saturday night and another one Sunday morning, before heading to the stadium. Belichick said there will be no special guests at the meeting the night before the game.
“Just us circling the wagons and playing for each other,” he said. “We are playing a good team, and we are going to have to play our best game of the year.”