DANNY PICARD: Let me play the role of Boston Globe sports editor for a minute. You come into my office and I ask you, “When you go down to Houston for Super Bowl LI, Chris, what’s your No. 1 story line? If I gave you a choice to write one thing all week, heading into the big game, what would it be? What is the top story line for you in this Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons?
CHRIS GASPER: I think, for me, Danny, it’s where the Patriots are on their precipice of history. I think if they win this one, if Brady and Belichick win this, a fifth championship together, I think that they solidify themselves as the greatest dynasty in NFL history. And that, to me, is the most interesting thing here, that they can sort of put that away. I know a lot of people want to talk about Roger Goodell and all this. I’m interested in that too, but I think people forget that there was a lot of animosity when they were in the Super Bowl the last time. Remember, Robert Kraft shows up and the Patriots showed up at Super Bowl XLIX, and the first availability, Kraft said he believes Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and that they never lied to him, and that the league should apologize. It was a little awkward even then. So I know there’s that whole angle with Deflategate and Brady sitting out the first four games. That’s interesting, we’ve been talking about that all year long. But I’m someone who likes history. I consider myself a student of history. So for me, it’s that ability to take it to another level, to win that fifth one. That’s the thing I’m most interested in.
DP: The top story line for me in this Super Bowl is that Belichick and Brady; this is the season, the perfect season in which they are just driving their critics nuts. Because think of all the things that have gone wrong for the Patriots. Brady was suspended the first four games because of his Deflategate suspension. Meanwhile, you’ve got Rob Gronkowski missing games at the beginning of the season. And not only that, Jimmy Garoppolo — the backup quarterback gets hurt in Week 2 — and you still go 3-1. With all of that going on at the beginning of the season, they still find a way to weather that storm. Then, during the bye week, you trade one of your best defensive players, in Jamie Collins. And you had a lot of people saying that was the trade that would do Belichick and the Patriots in. And they weathered that storm. Then you had the Jabaal Sheard situation, where he was a healthy scratch, and people were wondering what was going on in the Patriots locker room. Well, they get through that. And then Gronk gets injured again against Seattle, and then is placed on season-ending injured reserve a few weeks later. So, think of all this stuff that has gone wrong for the Patriots, yet, best record in the league at 14-2, No. 1 seed in the AFC, and now they are rolling into the Super Bowl. I just think that the top story is; the people who hate Belichick and Brady, they hate this season. The critics hate this season. This is the season that the Patriots have really stuck it to their critics.
CG: I would agree with you. And I think this is probably, to be honest with you, the last thing the league wanted. And when I say the league, I don’t mean just 345 Park Avenue, I think the other owners. Look, let’s be real. This suspension, for a quarter of the season, was intended to try and prevent this. It was supposed to put the Patriots at some sort of disadvantage. And I’m sure it’s maddening for people in the league to look and see that it was really no disadvantage at all. If anything, it’s probably going to help them in the long run, because now Jimmy Garoppolo has more trade value. People have seen him. They saw the way he played for about six quarters there. So that’s going to help them.
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