During Patriots and Falcons practices this week, there is one pool reporter assigned to each who is allowed access to the entirety of the session. Jarrett Bell of USA Today has been with the Patriots all week, but Saturday's session was handled by Jim Thomas of the St. Louid Post-Dispatch. As has been tradition for the Patriots over the last several years, the Saturday before the Super Bowl has been a "photo day." Here's Thomas' report . . .
HOUSTON – There was no Saturday walk-through for the AFC champion New England Patriots. Just family and friends "photo day" in what has become a Patriots Super Bowl tradition.
"They put up with a lot from us all year," coach Bill Belichick said. "So it's a chance for them to experience being on the field and take pictures with their family, the players. It's a good keepsake."
Wearing game uniforms but no padding, players started walking out onto the field at NRG Stadium, site of Sunday's Super Bowl LI contest with Atlanta, at about 1 p.m. A few hundred family and friends gathered around the perimeter of the field, as the players and coaches climbed onto portable bleachers set up at the 10-yard line for the official team photo.
Belichick was stationed in the middle of row two flanked by team owner Robert Kraft and son Jonathan Kraft. Sitting smack in the middle of row one was - of course - quarterback Tom Brady, who clapped his hands right before the photo was taken. Brady's used to these things, of course, this being his seventh Super Bowl team photo.
Once that was completed, photos were taken of position units on the stadium floor at the 25-yard line, from the offensive linemen down to specialists.
When the formal picture-taking was completed, the families and friends were allowed to mingle with the players for about 20 minutes. There were hugs, small talk, informal family photos, and lots of toddlers scurrying on the stadium surface.
Then it was back on the busses for the players and back to the team hotel.
"Now it's the waiting game," Belichick said. "But I think we're ready."
As he did on Friday, Belichick praised the staff and the facility at the University of Houston, where the Patriots practiced this week.
"It's great that everybody could be here and share it with us, all of our families," he said. "It's a great way to end the year. This is a great game to be in. We're privileged to play in it, and we'll compete hard tomorrow."