By: Bob George/
January 31, 2005

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JACKSONVILLE -- Look around you and what do you see? No snow. Mild temperatures. Staying here sounds like a great idea.

The Patriots and Eagles, the principals in the biggest pro football game this area has ever known, landed here in Jacksonville on Sunday, making ready to prepare for the madness and the hysteria that is the Super Bowl. Actually, the Patriots landed in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the nation, about 30 miles south of Jacksonville, near where they will make base camp for the next several days. But the biggest fact is that the teams have arrived, and Super Bowl hype just kicked up several notches.

It is a little bit of a change of pace, coming to this city which is known for an eponymous Landing, where Lynyrd Skynyrd calls home, and where Woody Hayes' college coaching career came to an end in the 1979 Gator Bowl. The Patriots have not been here since a 25-10 Wild Card round loss to the Jaguars in 1998, where Scott Zolak had to fill in for Drew Bledsoe who was recovering from a broken finger.

The Eagles are completely new to this Super Bowl stuff. The Eagles have not been to a Super Bowl in 24 years, their only other appearance being a 27-10 loss to Oakland in Super Bowl XV in New Orleans. The Eagles have not been NFL champions since 1960, when they defeated Green Bay 17-13 in the title game. That game is significant in that it was the only postseason game Vince Lombardi lost in his NFL head coaching career. The only other championship era in Eagle history was a three-year run from 1947 to 1949 where the Eagles lost the title game in 1947 before winning the next two.

While championships have been few and far between for the Eagles, the Patriots find themselves on the doorstep of history after 42 years of futility and near misses. The Patriots are the first defending champ to return to the Super Bowl since the 1998 Broncos, and stand to become the first team since those Broncos to win consecutive Super Bowls. The Patriots also stand to become the first team since the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX to win three Vinces in four years. The Patriots come here with a decided edge in big game experience.

And as it turns out, the Patriots may have the early edge in intangibles. The ill-advised (or idiotic, depending upon your point of view) ranting by Eagle backup wideout Freddie Mitchell, where he admitted he knew none of the Patriot defensive backs except Rodney Harrison, and then proceeded to call him out, has already galvanized the Patriot defense and ensured that they will come out even more spirited than the championship theater would naturally provide. Willie McGinest said that "the entire defense was disrespected”, and not just Harrison. It got the Eagles off on the wrong foot, and against a seasoned champion like the Patriots, it was as foolhardy as it gets.

The Mitchell flak may get buried under some bigger issues. All week long, New England will hear about something called a dynasty. All week long, Eagle head coach Andy Reid will be asked about the status of Terrell Owens. All week long, Bill Belichick will be asked about the status of Richard Seymour. These things can and should put Mitchell's brain cramp on the back burner.

The dynasty thing will be an issue with fans and reporters, but not with the players. Belichick was able to quash all talk about the win streak, and he has been able to do the same with the dynastic questions that come up. One thing that the Patriots always benefit from is the correct focus they have for every game, and the Patriots come down here thinking about nothing but beating the Eagles. Still, it is something that will come up a lot, and it really is up to each individual to judge the Patriots as to whether or not they are a legitimate NFL dynasty if they win Sunday.

Owens will be his own sideshow, especially on Tuesday. Media Day will be grand theater for the self-absorbed and loquacious wide receiver, and he is guaranteed to take over the proceedings like few athletes have in recent memory. This is also good for the Patriots in that it will take a lot of the spotlight off the world champs, and that will always spell good things for the Patriots.

As far as game planning goes, Belichick will prepare his players as if Owens is going to play. Owens, who has faced the Patriots only once in his career (a 24-21 loss to the Pete Carroll Patriots in 1998 as a member of the 49ers), has been denied permission to play by the team doctor, but Owens has vowed to play anyway. If the past three weeks are any indication, whether Owens plays or not is inconsequential given how well the Patriots defensed Peyton Manning and his receivers two weeks ago, and Jerome Bettis and Ben Roethlisberger the following week. If Owens plays, the Patriots will be ready.

The Seymour situation is not nearly as tenuous. Seymour is expected, according to reports, to practice with the team on Wednesday. The Patriots have not missed a beat without him, as Jarvis Green has done admirably well at right tackle. If Seymour can play, he will help in shutting down Brian Westbrook, as well as helping the linebackers out with outside containment of Donovan McNabb. You can bet that Belichick will take into account the possibility that Seymour will again not play this week, and Green will be ready to go if necessary.

Starting Monday, the two teams begin preparations for the big game in earnest. Reid and Belichick will fill their team up with lots of smarts, but Belichick has the advantage of being here before and knows better how to handle all the hype and hilarity. One thing Reid will have to contend with, though the players will debunk this theory, is the possibility that the Eagles will merely be "glad to be here” thanks to the numerous past failures in the NFC Championship Game, and may not give the maximum effort required for winning the game. Reid will have to hammer home the point that the most deflating feeling in professional sports is to lose the Super Bowl, and that just being here is an artificial gratification in and of itself.

And the hype now begins. You'll know the St. John's River better than the Charles. Get out your history books and learn all about St. Augustine. Go listen to Free Bird or Sweet Home Alabama and sigh a little for Ronnie Van Zandt. Super Bowl XXXIX is a week away, and Jacksonville is at the center of the sporting world for the first time ever.

And a week from now, Patriot Nation hopes to once again be at the center of the center.