Both teams loose, confident shortly before kickoff

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Giants and Patriots go through their on-field warm-ups for Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium, here are my pregame observations.

Strategy: I think both teams will try to run the ball, and it’s going to be a close-to-the-vest game. I had an opportunity to talk to Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the field, and he was very loose, atypical for him, and their feeling is they can run on the Giants. I also talked to two Giants coaches, one offensive assistant and one defensive assistant. The offensive coach, Mike Pope (tight ends) said they don’t know what to expect from the Patriots because the last time they played them, New England came out with an entirely new defense and shut them out in the first half. The Giants don’t know if Patriots will continue to do that same defense or use something completely different.

Also, Pope led me to believe the Giants will try to run the ball and force the Patriots’ safeties to come down and play against the run to open up their passing game. The Giants believe when they go with three receivers on one side and one on the other side, the Patriots would try to take Hakeem Nicks out of the game or lessen his ability to make big plays. When the Giants use twin receivers on each side, then the Patriots will try to take Victor Cruz out or lessen his impact. The Giants aren’t going to look at a lot of different formations. They’re going to see what they do against the run more than anything.

When will we see Gronk? I didn’t see Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, but he’s going to play. The feel is that they’re going to wait as long as possible and then shoot up his ankle so that the injection won’t wear off early. He hadn’t been on the field working out.

Penalty situation: One interesting item is that there have been just eight holding penalties called on over 700 pass attempts through the playoffs to this point. I think that probably helps New England just a little bit because the lack of calls slows down the pass rush. Expect the Patriots to go real fast and try to get the play off before the Giants can call their defenses.

The Giants believe the Patriots will go all no-huddle and snap the ball quickly so they can’t rotate their defensive linemen. New England RB Danny Woodhead is a real concern for New York because he’s so quick and can do a lot of things coming out of the backfield.

Rags to riches: Patriots safety Malcolm Williams was working in a Dallas Walmart two months ago. Now he’s in the Super Bowl.

Ocho sports golden grill for Super showdown

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s uncertain what, if any, impact Chad Ochocinco will make for the Patriots in his first-ever Super Bowl appearance, but he’s left nothing on the field in the style department.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello is close to the pregame action and tweeted a photo showing Ochocinco wearing his gold grill for Sunday’s showdown with the Giants.

It’s a dental-themed style choice he went to regularly during his celebrated run with the Bengals, but some of his colleagues around the league — read: Shawne Merriman — have taken him to task over it.

Merriman’s watching this one on TV, so Ocho can do as he pleases.

– Marc Sessler

Giants’ Tuck hypes up his defensive teammates

INDIANAPOLIS — Justin Tuck is the Giants’ defensive captain, and he definitely acted the part during warm-ups, huddling the D and giving an impassioned speech from the center of the scrum.

The video screen at Lucas Oil Stadium aired Tuck’s speech for a good 30 to 45 seconds, and everyone got to see him gesture and yell in front of his captivated teammates, who seemed to buy into whatever he was selling.

Tuck forced a fumble and sacked Tom Brady twice during the Giants’ upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The look in Tuck’s eyes during that speech made it seem like he was ready to have another big game.

– David Ely

Gronkowski’s left ankle looks fine during warm-ups

(Ben Liebenberg/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — Rob Gronkowski‘s left ankle looked perfectly fine when the Patriots’ tight end jogged onto the field with Aaron Hernandez before the start of warm-ups.

The two Patriots jogged about 50 yards down the numbers, then turned to their right and ran another 15 to 20 yards before doubling back to start positional drills. There was no noticeable limp when Gronkowski ran, and from the press box, it was hard to see the protective sock he’ll be wearing during the game.

– David Ely

Belichick seeing gray — not red — in XLVI

(Perry Knotts/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — Great news for Patriots fans: Bill Belichick is in a gray mood this Sunday.

As expected, New England’s coach has ditched the infamous red hooded sweatshirt he donned in Super Bowl XLII for a — well, rather drab — gray ensemble. But that’s just fine as far as the Patriots are concerned.

Belichick hasn’t worn red since that fateful evening in February 2008, so it’s no shocker he avoided it Sunday.

Besides, we get the feeling he had a little female help with this decision.

– Marc Sessler

The fine art of securing Super Bowl tickets

(Andrew Weber/US Presswire)

INDIANAPOLIS — As I’m walking down West Street on my way to Lucas Oil Stadium, a man approaches me and offers $20 for my gameday press pass.

He’s joking, of course, but he’s serious about finding his way into the stadium. His name is Don Fix, and for the past 18 years, he and friend Brian Kreuger — both 51 — have made the trip from Iowa and Wisconsin to attend the big game. Don’s 19-year-old son, Dakota, has joined them the past five years.

“For Brian and I, it’s all about the party,” said the elder Fix, who was decked out in Packers green and gold. “It’s all about the hype, the electricity in the air.”

Fix and Kreuger have the routine down. They book their flights and hotel months in advance to avoid the inevitable price gouging. If they can drive — as they did this year — they do that. They never show up with tickets, but they always end up paying face value or very close to it outside the stadium.

At 3:30 p.m. Sunday, they already had two of the three tickets, paying face value to a man whose friends had to cancel at the last minute.

“You really have to have your smarts about what’s a real ticket and what’s not,” said Fix, who showed me several tests he performs on any potential ticket purchase. “Every year, we run into 10 to 15 tickets we could have bought that are fake.”

Kreuger said the enhanced security protocol post-9/11 made the logistics of Sunday more difficult, but it didn’t come close to stopping their tradition. The trio has a big-picture goal.

“Now we got the three old men to beat from the Visa commercials.”

– Dan Hanzus

Kraft, Saturday meet in the middle — again

INDIANAPOLIS — Nice moment a few minutes ago, as Patriots owner Robert Kraft walked to midfield and shook hands with Jeff Saturday, the Colts’ center.

Kraft and Saturday, of course, bonded during the offseason in helping to bring an end to the NFL lockout. Patriots and Colts aren’t usually friendly, but Saturday remains a great admirer of New England’s heartfelt leader.

“The big shift in this entire deal was when players and owners began to negotiate just in a room by ourselves,” Saturday told NFL Network in July, days after the lockout ended. “And you really began to see men’s personalities and what they believe in stand up and come out. Robert Kraft was instrumental in getting this deal done.”

– Marc Sessler

Brady, Welker, Edelman take the field

INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots QB Tom Brady just jogged onto the field with backup Brian Hoyer running right next to him. Brady, of course, was greeted with plenty of cheers from the fans lining the New England sideline, but he didn’t receive too many boos from the Giants faithful. Surprising.

One other interesting note: Julian Edelman ran out onto the field with fellow WR Wes Welker, not the Patriots’ secondary.

– David Ely

Giants fans dominate the scene in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — The downtown Marriott is exactly 711 miles from MetLife Stadium, but you’d never guess that by the fervor on the hotel’s outside patio at 3 p.m. Sunday.

This is Giants Country, with dozens of people in Big Blue gear throwing down beers, hollering like lunatics and chanting not-so-nice things about Tom Brady. One fan suddenly produces a Bose iPod player, hoists it over his head and cranks “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC. People like this.

(Think John Cusack in “Say Anything.”)

“It’s been extremely crowded,” said a man at the bar who identified himself as a very WFAN-esque Dave from Long Island. “Today’s been out of control, and there’s got to be at least a 5-to-1 ratio of Giants to Patriots fans.”

Sure, you expect a Giants crowd at the team’s hotel, but this has translated across Circle City this weekend. Giants fans have turned out in droves. Patriots fans are relatively scarce. It’s not crazy talk to put this at a 70/30 split.

Dennis Keefe is a die-hard Patriots fan from Milford, Mass., who drove in with his friends Saturday. Keefe remembers being in New Orleans in 2002, when the Pats shocked the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. New England fans dominated Bourbon Street that year. A decade later, Keefe is in enemy territory.

“I think New York’s a little closer of a drive maybe?” Keefe half-heartedly theorized. “I guess their economy is doing better, I don’t know.”

Keefe admitted the fan base might be a bit spoiled. Brady has taken the Patriots to the playoffs nine times since 2001. This is New England’s fifth Super Bowl appearance in that span.

Dave from Long Island has a different explanation.

“Do I really have to say it?” he asked rhetorically. “I mean, aren’t we the greatest football fans? We are.”

Surrounded by a blue army of adrenaline and Budweiser-amped fans, I’m not inclined to disagree.

– Dan Hanzus

Giants, Patriots players trickling onto field

Giants QB Eli Manning warms up on the Lucas Oil Stadium field before Super Bowl XLVI (Todd Rosenberg/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — We’re less than two hours away from kickoff, and Lucas Oil Stadium is starting to get hot.

Fans are filing in off the streets, taking their seats, and early from-the-sky estimates from the press box place the crowd at about 70/30 Giants to Patriots. Also spotted: twin boys in Darrelle Revis home jerseys. Who will they root for today, considering the Jets went a combined 0-3 against these teams this season?

The fans aren’t the only ones here. Players from both squads are out testing the turf. Giants QB Eli Manning was seen running around, and punter Steve Weatherford currently is booting the ball with power in this controlled setting.

We just saw the chain gang out here, too, strolling the length of the field. You know we’re getting close when that motley crew hits the scene.

We’re almost there.

– Marc Sessler

Brief run-in with Shaq highlights pregame frenzy

Large, in charge: Shaquille O'Neal at Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI (Marc Sessler/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — We’re on a slammed elevator from the NFL.com press box down to field level at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Mid-trip, we stop. Doors open. In walks Shaquille O’Neal.

Bigger than two doorways, he towers above all humans present but notices a friend.

“How’s it going, David Ely,” Shaq says to my NFL.com brother in arms.

Ely knows Shaq? What? I’m cycling through what little I know of Ely’s work history. Roughly three years removed from his college days at North Carolina, he’s held a variety of internships and nondescript jobs before starting with us. HOW DOES THIS GUY KNOW SHAQ?

“… I read your name tag,” Shaq says, before shaking Ely’s hand (Ely confirmed the retired NBA star has massive hands).

Door opens. Shaq Fu stays. We depart, snapping this rushed photo before winding down a cavernous hallway to the stadium lights beyond. What a moment.

– Marc Sessler

Time to tailgate, with or without The Fray, is now

INDIANAPOLIS — Super Bowl XLVI tailgating parties are fired up all over Circle City (not to mention the country and the world), but the biggest shindig might be the official NFL get-together at Indiana Convention Center.

Colorado-based rockers The Fray opened the proceedings, followed by Lenny Kravitz, fresh off his Saturday night performance at NFL Honors. Fans were treated to a well-appointed setting and had their choice of food and drink before entering Lucas Oil Stadium.

Outside, fans shelled out hundreds of dollars for spots nearest the stadium to grill, drink and be merry. And who wouldn’t be? It’s the biggest day in American sports. Soak it in.

– Justin Hathaway

Chowing down at Super Bowl XLVI? Bring your wallet

INDIANAPOLIS — The press box is quiet, but Lucas Oil Stadium is starting to bubble with activity.

Massive piles of food and drink are being prepared on every level of the stadium, so let’s take a look at what the Super Bowl XLVI menu has to offer.

Right off the bat, the most outrageous item appears to be the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, which runs a whopping $30 at the “D”efense Deli.

Other delights:
Colts classic Italian, $12 (No sane Patriots fan is eating this.)
Combo veggie, $12
Pot roast sandwich, $10
Grilled chicken classic salad, $10
Cheeseburger basket, $14
Chicken strip basket, $10
Grilled chicken breast basket $14

One note: French fries have been ditched in favor of kettle chips. A stadium worker told me the switch was made to move orders along but assured me the kettle chips were “awesome.”

Don’t feel like forking over $14 for a cheeseburger? More affordable options include:
Nachos, $7
Pretzel, $5
Peanuts, $5
Candy, $5
Chips, $3 (Lowest price I saw anywhere, but it’s the same puny bag you’d grab out of a machine in the breakroom at work.)
Popcorn? Popcorn rests at $20, up from $10 during the Colts’ troubling season.

Soda runs $8 and water a whopping $5, but let’s get down to brass tacks: The strong stuff is steep around these parts.

A 20-ounce beer costs $11, up from the average $7.50 you’d pay during the regular season, according to one vendor.

For something stronger, you’ll need to dish out the greenbacks:
Mixed drinks, $14
Wine, $14
Jose Cuervo margarita, $14
Ketel One lemonade, $14

One solid perk: Fans will imbibe in comfort on souvenir seat cushions that dot every chair in the house.

Judging by what we saw on our walk to the stadium, this won’t be anyone’s first drink of the day. Restaurants and bars are packed out, hotel lobbies are on fire, and nobody is thinking about their bank account.

Monday could be ugly on this front, but on Super Bowl Sunday in Indy, there isn’t a care in the world.

– Marc Sessler

NFL Honors tidbits: Baldwin, Manning delight Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — The inaugural NFL Honors gala offered a generous dose of memorable moments. The Tim Tebow-Katy Perry encounter is in the books, but there were plenty of gems from Saturday night’s NFL-Hollywood mashup:

  • Host Alec Baldwin, sitting next to ex-Giants quarterback Phil Simms, went on a dizzy riff about the life of an NFL quarterback in New York: Staying up ’til dawn; zooming around town with a different knockout every night; then rattling off a spot-on, near-perfect performance on Sunday. Not so, said Simms, who told Baldwin he was in bed by 8 p.m. (alone) before games. Then the camera panned to reveal Hall of Fame Jets passer Joe Namath on Baldwin’s right. “What are your thoughts, sir?” Baldwin asked. Broadway Joe thought for a minute, perhaps reflecting on a colorful past. Then, total deadpan Namath: “… I can’t remember.”
  • After Baldwin stepped in to accept Calvin Johnson‘s award for NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year, he referenced Megatron as “Kevin” at least 10 times during an on-the-fly acceptance speech. After being corrected, he proceeded to call the Lions star wideout “Supertron.” All in jest, but anytime you have the chance to make fun of a man much taller and stronger than you, in the company of his mammoth friends, you take it.
  • Citizens of Green Bay: Do not be surprised if you discover Clay Matthews torching his once-treasured VHS copy of “Glengarry Glen Ross” this week. Matthews appeared to boil up after Baldwin mistook him for Madonna, confused by the star linebacker’s flowing mane and pronounced biceps. Matthews went ice cold. Very bad development for that subset of the population waiting for Matthews to star in some ill-advised “Desperately Seeking Susan” sequel.
  • As Jon Hamm (aka Don Draper from “Mad Men”) announced the AP Offensive Player award, he praised the league’s superstar skill players, and politely asked Bill Belichick to stop throwing the ball to fat people.
  • Jim Harbaugh wasn’t present to pick up his AP Coach of the Year award, but his absence generated one of the night’s genuine moments. Alex Smith took the stage for Harbaugh and delivered a stirring tribute to the man who revived the quarterback’s career in San Francisco this season. Where was ol’ Jim? Who knows, probably huddled away in some blasted-out basement analyzing the NFC championship loss for the 542nd time. The only award he cares about has “Lombardi” scrawled across it.
  • Moment of the night? Peyton Manning marching out to announce the AP Most Valuable Player award, which went to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This town is on fire for Manning. As he stood at the podium, voices could be heard shouting: “We love you, Peyton!”

Award shows, too often, are a ghastly parade of ego and backslapping, but the NFL Honors rose above that Saturday night, serving as a genuine celebration of a sport that has taken Indy by storm on the eve of Super Bowl XLVI.

Far below this hotel room, the streets of Indy are in uproar. Somewhere out there, Baldwin holds court like a champion, Namath flashes his ring — and Tebow lights up the night. Next up: A Patriots-Giants mindmelt to settle all arguments before a waiting nation.

– Marc Sessler

Perry moves in on Tebow at NFL Honors

INDIANAPOLIS — Alec Baldwin crushed the opening monologue at Saturday’s inaugural NFL Honors, then dropped down on one knee and raised his eyes and arms to the sky.

Katy Perry had her eye on Tim Tebow at NFL Honors in Indianapolis. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

His prayers were answered when Tim Tebow, in the flesh, rose from his seat, climbed onto the stage and helped Baldwin shift into proper Tebowing formation, bringing down the house.

As Tebow vanished back into the crowd, singer Katy Perry — sporting a problematic mop of blue/green hair — entered stage right, two ships passing in the night. Unusual timing (and, let’s be real here, painfully choreographed) in the wake of reports that Perry’s parents sought out the Broncos’ quarterback to meet their slightly untoward daughter.

Finally together in the same room, Perry made the first move. Just seconds before announcing Cam Newton as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, she paused to find her man.

“Hi, Tim,” she whispered. “My parents say, ‘Hi,'” eliciting awkward giggles from the room.

Nothing has changed: More frisky behavior from Perry and another solid headache for Tebow in the Female Stalker Dept.

– Marc Sessler

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