2008: Head Coach Bill Belichick raises the Lamar Hunt trophy after the Patriots won 21-12 over the Chargers for the AFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XLII.

Bill Belichick thanks Patriots fans, remembers ‘amazing moments’

Former Patriots coach Bill Belichick took out a full-page ad in Sunday’s edition of The Boston Globe, thanking New England fans for their support over his long tenure with the team.

“Nowhere in America are pro sports fans as passionate as in New England and for 24 years, I was blessed to feel your passion and power. The Patriots are the only NFL team representing SIX states but in reality, Patriots Nation knows no borders,” he started his letter, which ran on page A3 of Sunday’s paper.

Belichick, 71, and the Patriots parted ways on Jan. 11 after a run that included six Super Bowl titles and three more AFC championships. He compiled a 266-121 record in the regular season and 30-12 in the postseason over 24 years in New England.

He recalled those Super Bowl championships in his letter, which was set in white type against a dark blue background and included a photo of a smiling Belichick at a celebratory parade.

“Six times, you packed Boston by the millions for parades that were truly a two-way expression of gratitude and love. The images from those days are burned in my memory,” he wrote, before mentioning two of the things he was best known for as Patriots coach.

“You may even have enjoyed my fashion sense and press conferences, or maybe you just tolerated them.

“I loved coaching here and, together, we experienced some amazing moments.”

Belichick interviewed or the Atlanta Falcons job that went to Raheem Morris, and The Athletic reported that the Washington Commanders also considered him for their job before hiring Dan Quinn.

Belichick has spent every season with an NFL team since 1975.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles fan celebrates during win against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Philly mayor ‘ambivalent’ about greasing poles before Super Bowl

When the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl five years ago, the country was introduced to a local tradition: ecstatic fans climbing light poles.

The Eagles are back in the big game, ready to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LVII, and the city is starting to prepare for a similar ruckus should the Eagles prevail again.

Greasing the city’s light poles in February 2018 only made the challenge more endearing for some Philly fans, and Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel strongly about whether to get the poles slick this time around.

“Greasing the poles keeps more people from climbing up them, but it doesn’t stop everybody,” Kenney told reporters. “So whatever the police thinks we should do, we do. But I’m ambivalent about the poles.”

The tradition has its roots in the city’s Italian Market Festival in the 1960s. It was a friendly competition for some festival-goers to climb a 30-foot pole greased with lard.

City officials greased the light poles last fall ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies clinching the National League pennant and booking their trip to the World Series. Pole-scaling was also on display two weeks ago when the Eagles beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

“NFC Championship, what I saw from the coverage, it was diverse,” Kenney said. “People of all colors, ethnicities were out dancing with each other. Philadelphia Police were dancing with young kids. There’s a general spirit of good will when you’re successful, and hopefully we can keep that going all year.

“I think we had like eight people arrested out of 20-some thousand, so it’s not that bad. No sense in overreacting.”

–If there’s one position on the roster the Eagles are uncertain about entering the Super Bowl, it’s a surprising one: punter.

Arryn Siposs suffered an ankle injury on his plant leg in mid-December when attempting to advance a blocked punt against the New York Giants. He had to be carted off and was assumed to be done for the season, but his recovery has progressed and last week the Eagles opened the 21-day practice window for Siposs to be activated off injured reserve.

But Siposs has yet to be activated as of Tuesday. Brett Kern is the Eagles’ other option at punter.

“We’re still working through that,” coach Nick Sirianni said in a news conference Tuesday, declining to offer any more details other than saying Siposs looked good in practice last week.

Siposs pinned 16 punts inside the 20-yard line and yielded just three touchbacks in 13 regular-season games.

–DeVonta Smith won two national championships at Alabama before the Eagles picked him 10th overall in the 2021 draft. Making it to his first Super Bowl, therefore, has not appeared to faze him in the slightest.

“I’ve been playing in games like this from little league, middle school, high school, college,” the former Heisman Trophy winner said. “So yeah, I feel like I’m built for games like this. I’ve been playing in games like this all my life, so to me it’s really just another game.”

Smith caught 95 passes for 1,196 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022, his second NFL season. Being paired with A.J. Brown (88 catches, 1,496 yards, 11 TDs) made for a dynamic receiving game to complement the Eagles’ run-heavy attack.

Smith was asked why the Eagles have faced more man coverage than any NFL team this year.

“I look at it like you have to pick your poison,” he said. “I think some teams would rather just man up than let us just run the ball all day.”

–The Eagles’ defense may have led the NFL with 70 sacks in 2022 — the third-highest single-season mark of all time — but Brandon Graham knows the toughest challenge awaits when up against the slippery, endlessly creative Patrick Mahomes.

“Mahomes is the guy that extends the plays and drops the dimes,” Graham, who had 11 regular-season sacks, told reporters. “You’ve got to make sure you can hit him, get him on the ground, create turnovers, make him make bad throws.”

Haason Reddick, who led the Eagles in the regular season with 16 sacks and had 3.5 more in their two playoff games, called Mahomes “a tremendous talent.”

“I don’t know if you can contain him,” Reddick said. “I just don’t know, he’s that good. I won’t lie, he is.”

Graham, 34, has spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Eagles and was part of the team that won Super Bowl LII under coach Doug Pederson. He said he was grateful that Sirianni kept him and other veterans on the team when he was hired in 2021.

“He kept a lot of us because we give (younger players) something to look up to and I don’t take that for granted,” Graham said. “When I’ve got that C on my chest, I know a lot of guys look up to me so I try to give them something to look up to.”

Counting the postseason, the Eagles have a whopping 78 sacks. That is third most all-time behind the mid-1980s Chicago Bears, who had a record 82 in 1984 and 80 in 1985.

–Field Level Media

Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith (91) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) during their football game on Sunday, September 18, 2022 at Lambeau Field. in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Apc Pack Vs Bears 4284 091822wag

Bears QB Justin Fields: ‘I respect every fan that we have’

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields attempted to mend fences with the team’s fans on Wednesday, three days after he came under fire for downplaying their investment in wins and losses.

“It hurts more in the locker room than for Bears fans. They aren’t putting in any work,” Fields said Sunday night following the Bears’ 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

With a few days to reflect, Fields said he didn’t intend to offend the fans.

“I should have done a better job explaining what I meant by that,” Fields said Wednesday.

The second-year pro said he was frustrated with the team’s first loss of the season.

“I respect every fan that we have,” Fields said Wednesday. “I’m glad that we have fans. I would never disrespect anybody on what they do or what they love to do.”

Fields, 23, has completed 15 of 28 passes for just 191 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in two games this season.

He has completed 174 of 298 passes for 2,061 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 14 games since being selected by the Bears with the 11th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

Trash litters the sidelines during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Tennessee fans threw debris onto the field in objection to a ruling on a play in the end of the fourth quarter.

Kns Tennessee Ole Miss Football

Tennessee bans 25 fans after Ole Miss object-throwing incident

The University of Tennessee is banning 25 fans, including 16 students, from attending any athletic events the rest of the academic and athletic year for throwing things onto the field at Neyland Stadium near the conclusion of an Oct. 16 football game against Ole Miss.

The school also said it was taking steps to prevent future events such as the nearly 20-minute stoppage in play while officials worked to regain control of the stadium in Knoxville.

Tennessee athletic director Danny White, in a letter to Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, said the changes at the venue include increased police and security staff in the student section; a requirement that students agree to the SEC and university fan codes of conduct to receive tickets; adding “enhanced” metal detectors; and making more announcements warning against misconduct.

Additionally, there will be no student guest tickets distributed for the Nov. 13 game against current No. 1 Georgia.

The SEC fined Tennessee $250,000 for the conduct of the fans who littered the field with objects. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, previously the Volunteers’ coach, was struck in the arm by a golf ball.

Ole Miss won 31-26.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Byron Young (6) tackles Mississippi Rebels running back Jerrion Ealy (9) during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee officials apologize after chaos vs. Ole Miss

Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman said she was “sickened” by the conduct of home fans Saturday night in the Volunteers’ loss to Mississippi — behavior that caused a stoppage of nearly 20 minutes as fans threw water bottles and other objects onto the field in the closing minute.

“I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game,” she posted to social media after the game. “Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student-athletes, visitors and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate. I will be calling (Mississippi) Chancellor (Glenn) Boyce in the morning to offer my personal apology on behalf of the University of Tennessee and discuss what we can do to make this right. Neyland Stadium has always been a place for families, and we’ll keep it that way.”

With 54 seconds left, after officials ruled Tennessee’s attempt to convert a fourth-and-24 play failed by about a yard, fans began throwing things onto the turf. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, the former Volunteers coach, was hit by a golf ball in the arm. His players put on their helmets for safety, the Tennessee cheerleaders, dance squad and marching band filed out, and the student section was cleared.

Tennessee got the ball back and had a chance to score in the waning seconds, but backup quarterback Joe Milton, with the ball at the Ole Miss 21, couldn’t find an open receiver and ran, falling 8 yards short of a score as time expired. Ole Miss won 31-26.

Tennessee athletic director Danny White also said he apologized to his counterpart at Mississippi.

“Our Tennessee fanbase had much to be proud of through 59 minutes of football Saturday night — they created one of the best live sporting event atmospheres I’ve ever experienced — but what transpired in the game’s final minute was unacceptable.

“While I’m incredibly proud of our team’s effort on the field, I’m disappointed that their relentless performance was overshadowed in the game’s closing moments by the actions of several fans whose actions did not represent the Volunteer Spirit or the true character of our university.

“On behalf of the University of Tennessee, I’d like to apologize to the Ole Miss football program and congratulate their student-athletes on a hard fought win. I spoke with Keith Carter after the game and expressed the same sentiment to him.”

–Field Level Media

Apr 29, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; An Indianapolis Colts fan pose for a picture before the 2021 NFL Draft at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colts become final NFL team approved for full capacity in 2021

All 32 NFL teams now have clearance to host crowds at full capacity for the 2021 season.

The Indianapolis Colts announced Tuesday they received approval from the Marion County Public Health Department to host games at 100 percent capacity for the upcoming season. Lucas Oil Stadium seats 63,000.

In May, NFL executive vice president Peter O’Reilly told reporters that 30 of the league’s 32 teams had received approval from state or local health authorities to return to full-capacity stadiums in the coming season, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to restrict fan access to games in 2020. Some teams did not host fans at all in 2020, while others operated with a drastically reduced capacity.

The two teams that still needed approval were the Colts and the Denver Broncos. Denver announced earlier this month that it had been cleared for full capacity.

“We were fortunate to be able to host fans in 2020 through the pandemic, and those fans were as loud and proud as ever,” Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay said in a statement. “But game days at Lucas Oil Stadium are like family reunions, and it wasn’t quite the same without our entire Colts family alongside us.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; A general view of MetLife Stadium during the first quarter of the game between the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

MetLife Stadium to allow 15 percent capacity for Jets, Giants

Dec 22, 2019; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks offensive guard Mike Iupati (70) walks off the field with quarterback Russell Wilson (3) following a first quarter injury against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that MetLife Stadium can welcome fans back at 15 percent capacity starting March 1.

The East Rutherford, N.J., home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets holds 82,500 fans, meaning about 12,375 spectators would be allowed to attend.

The Giants and Jets played their 2020 home games without fans due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the months go on, we are hopeful that the data will continue to be positive and the number of people allowed into MetLife Stadium will steadily increase,” read a joint statement issued by the Jets and Giants. “The health and safety of our fans, players, staff, and those in our communities remain our top priority and we will continue to follow the guidance of Governor Murphy and state health officials.”

The Giants finished 6-10 and the Jets were 2-14 during the 2020 campaign.

–Field Level Media

Jan 31, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; A general view of signage for Super Bowl  LV at downtown Tampa Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl LV to have 25,000 fans, 30,000 cutouts

Super Bowl LV will have 25,000 fans and 30,000 cutouts in attendance at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday in Tampa, the NFL announced Tuesday morning.

That first number, which serves as the smallest audience in Super Bowl history, is still an increase over the 22,500 the league previously had stated would be in the stands. Among the crowd on hand will be 7,500 health-care workers who have received the vaccine for COVID-19 as guests of the NFL.

The decision to allow fans to attend Super Bowl LV was made in accordance with public health officials, the Florida Department of Health, and area hospitals and health care systems. Florida does not have an attendance limit for sporting events during the coronavirus pandemic.

Per an NFL spokesman, fans will be presented with masks and hand sanitizer prior to entering the game pitting the Buccaneers against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Fans will be required to wear the face coverings throughout the game.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) passes the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Washington won’t allow fans for wild-card game

The Washington Football Team said it will not allow fans to attend its NFC wild-card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday in Landover, Md., due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our entire team, especially our players, will miss having our passionate fans in the stadium as we take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Washington said in a statement. “We are grateful for all of the support from our community and encourage everyone to stay safe.”

Washington claimed the NFC East title and its first playoff berth since 2015 with a 20-14 victory over the host Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night to finish 7-9.

The Washington Football Team didn’t allow fans to attend regular-season games until releasing about 3,000 tickets for a Nov. 8 game against the New York Giants.

Washington said the team’s decision to prohibit fans for the playoff game was because it wanted to follow the “continued restrictions from the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County regarding limitations on gatherings due to COVID-19,” according to the statement.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; A general view of the  Buffalo Bills helmet before game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Cuomo: NY considering limited fans for Bills’ playoff game

New York state officials are evaluating a proposal by the Buffalo Bills that would allow 6,700 fans at their home playoff game next month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The Bills, winners of the AFC East title, will host their first home playoff game since 1995. Bills Stadium has been without fans all season.

Cuomo said a proposal that would require rapid testing for COVID-19, combined with the ability for postgame contact tracing, is being studied. He said it could serve as a model for how large-scale events could be held in the future.

“We would like to do it,” Cuomo said during his COVID-19 briefing from the state capital of Albany. “Nothing is final.”

Fans also would be required to wear masks and be subject to ejection from the stadium if they didn’t.

The Bills haven’t offered details about their proposal, including how the small number of fans would be chosen. The stadium seats approximately 73,000, so 6,700 fans would fill about 9.2 percent of capacity.

“We are continuing to work with the Governor’s Office regarding the details of a plan to possibly host a limited amount of spectators at our home playoff game. Nothing has been finalized at this point,” team spokesman Derek Boyko told The Buffalo News in an email.

Cuomo has made no secret of his desire to attend the game.

“I would like to be at that game — a playoff game — as much as anyone,” he said Sunday. “This has been a long time coming for Buffalo, and there are no fans like Buffalo Bills fans.”

And the fervor of Bills’ fans has state officials worried about the potential spread of COVID-19 through home watch parties and such.

Thousands of fans showed up the meet the team at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport early Sunday morning, hours after the Bills clinched the division title when they beat the Broncos in Denver.

“That’s how disease spreads,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner.

After Cuomo spoke on Wednesday, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said his administration is out of the loop on the potential of hosting fans. He told The Buffalo News that the county doesn’t have the resources for the required COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for an event of this size.

The Bills (11-3) currently are the second seed in the AFC. If the season ended today, they would host the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round of the playoffs. A win in that game would give them a second home contest in the AFC divisional round.

–Field Level Media