Taking a relaxed approach

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 30, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - Wearing his Sunday best - dark blue suit, light blue shirt, blue patterned tie - Bill Belichick was in high spirits yesterday, addressing a packed house at the Patriots’ home base for Super Bowl week, the University Place Conference Center and Hotel, sharing stories of his past, expounding on the talents of some of his players, and even throwing in a dash of self-deprecating humor.

The Patriots coach was relaxed, and as he said, there was no place he’d rather be right now than in this city, a city in which his team has waged some of its fiercest battles and has left in heartbreak more than once.

It was one of those games, New England’s 2009 regular-season showdown with the Colts, that Belichick referenced in his best line of the day. Asked about what’s known as “Hoosier Hospitality’’ in these parts, he deadpanned, “I’ve never had too much hospitality here . . . until I went for it on fourth and 2,’’ referencing the now-infamous late-game play. “And since then, I’ve been greeted in a lot more friendly manner than I have in the past.’’

He smiled, he called each reporter by his or her name, he chuckled at the woman who said she was from “Hawaii Five-0’’.

Maybe it’s because Belichick, who turns 60 in April, knows that he might not be doing this much longer and he wants to relish every moment, even though this is his eighth trip to the Super Bowl as a coach.

Or maybe the memories of the last time he and the Patriots were in this position, in 2007, and how things ended that week have made him more appreciative of this opportunity.

Maybe he’s confident in the game plan he and his assistants have cooked up; often if Belichick is upbeat on a Friday in the regular season, it means the week has gone well and he’s feeling good about Sunday’s game.

Or maybe, as receiver Wes Welker joked, it’s something more personal.

“I don’t know if it’s a lady in his life or what the deal is. He definitely smiles a little bit more than he used to,’’ Welker said.

Special teams ace Matthew Slater said, “I think he’s very appreciative of it and I think everyone around here realizes this is a very unique opportunity and he’s encouraged us to enjoy the moment and realize that opportunities like this don’t come around very often; maybe once a career if you’re lucky.

“I think we all need to enjoy it, realizing that there’s no guarantee that we’ll be back here, but at the same time realize we have a job to do.’’

But Belichick was not all business yesterday.

When a young girl, who was representing the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, asked him about possibly equaling Steelers coach Chuck Noll’s record of four Super Bowl titles as a head coach, he patiently waited for her to finish, then gave a wide smile.

“It would make me feel pretty good,’’ he said. “Chuck was the coach of the Steelers the first year I was coach of the Browns. I got to know him my first few years in the league. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chuck and the job he did with his team and the organization. It’s very flattering to be mentioned in the same sentence with Chuck Noll. So thank you.’’

Belichick also discussed Tom Brady’s development from 2001 to now, the strengths of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and whether he ever imagined he’d be in his fifth Super Bowl in just 11 years (“Never for a second’’).

About the only time he was the Belichick many have come to expect when he’s in front of a microphone was when he was asked about Gronkowski’s health - the second-year player suffered a high-ankle sprain in the AFC title game and arrived in Indianapolis still in a walking boot.

“It’s day-to-day,’’ Belichick said.

While it was clear to reporters that Belichick was in a different frame of mind, at least in the news conference, a couple of his offensive linemen weren’t so sure.

“It’s funny because so many people ask that, the difference between him - I don’t see it,’’ said Brian Waters, who is in his first year with the Patriots. “Maybe I haven’t been around him long enough. I’m sure Matt Light and some of those guys can have different [opinions]. The guy’s pretty . . . even when he’s in a lighter mood, it’s pretty close to the same as he is any other time. So it’s a very thin line between unhappy and happy with him and it’s hard to tell when those days are. As a player, you never know what he’s happy about or what he’s not happy about, so I try not to read too much into it, because from one minute to another, you just never know.’’

Logan Mankins sounded as though he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“I’m sure he’s enjoying it. I think you’d have to be almost dead not to enjoy this,’’ he said. “It is only Sunday, so wait till we get a little further in the week.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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