ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Those are football players at podiums and on the floor, but it’s really a circus. A strange, slightly wonderful circus.
The NFL’s Super Bowl opening night event — held at the XCel Energy Center, where the Minnesota Wild play — is a unique kind of free for all. Media comes from all over the world. Some dress in costumes. There’s a land shark. There’s a doctor. There’s the NFL Hall-of-Famer. There are the people who pretty clearly aren’t media — and certainly aren’t football players but appear to be milling around waiting for someone to interview them.
Fireworks. More selfies than you can count. A whole lot of Tom Brady jerseys. And Tom Brady himself, wearing a plain black stocking cap and padded gloves, for an hour, looking like The Office’s Jim Halpert if he suddenly became a longshoreman.
In the middle of all that, Rex Burkhead. One of the few folk heroes of Husker football in the last two decades. He’s a New England running back, and he loves it. The Patriot Way — the Bill Belichick — suits him. Burkhead had options in the offseason, and he chose New England. He’s been rewarded with a trip to the Super Bowl.
“This was a program and organization I’ve always admired,” Burkhead said as he was surrounded by a ever-changing group of reporters. “The reputation they’ve had, the success they’ve had, it was very intriguing to me. It was always a team I knew I’d be interested in. The expectations — every single day you walk in the facility, you know it’s important. They’re very high.”
Burkhead always had those kinds of standards at Nebraska. Huskers look to him the way Patriots look to Brady.
And although Burkhead said he saw more cameras Monday night than he’d ever seen, Nebraska fans should know: He’s still the same guy. Unfailingly polite, always saying the right things, and smart enough to remember the names of reporters from Nebraska, Cincinnati and Texas — his three main football stomping grounds before New England.
Burkhead’s also the kind of guy whom reporters from those three places want to talk to. That’s part of what makes him Burkhead.
About the only question Rex wouldn’t answer? The one about Brady’s thumb. During practice before the Pats’ AFC title game win over Jacksonville, Burkhead ran into Brady’s thumb during a routine handoff. Brady hurt his thumb, but was still healthy enough to play — quite well, in fact — in the win over the Jaguars. Still, it’s Brady, it’s his golden right thumb, and ol’ TB12 wore gloves to the Super Bowl Opening Night event.
Burkhead wasn’t biting.
“I can’t talk about that,” he said.
One thing he could talk about: Nebraska’s new football coach.
“I’m excited for Scott Frost to see what he can do with the program,” Burkhead said. “Let’s see if we can move in the right direction…I’ve heard great things about him and I’m sure he’ll be a great fit.”
More from Burkhead — and Belichick on Burkhead — later this week.