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Long wait begins with the Patriots late

The New England Patriots' latest business trip started late.

The AFC champions arrived about one hour late Sunday, although nobody was quite sure why.

Coach Bill Belichick wasn't even aware the team was not on time.

"I understand you've been waiting for a while," Belichick said to reporters at Super Bowl week's first news conference. "How late are we, a minute, five minutes?"

When told it was 60 minutes, Belichick simply shrugged and said he couldn't explain what happened.

"I didn't really realize it," he admitted.

NFL coaches are not enamored of anything that disrupts their schedules, which usually are planned down to the second. But Sunday was not reserved for anything except travel from the frigid Northeast to balmy Houston, where Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said, "it's great to see the sun shine and no snow on the ground."

Several hundred fans were at Logan Airport in Boston to wish the Patriots well, surprising quarterback Tom Brady.

"I couldn't wait to get out of there. It was freezing," Brady said. "It's been cold up there for five weeks. The fans were amazing."

The Panthers left Charlotte in a sleet storm and met with the media later than the Patriots did.

"It was just a flight," Panthers linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "We had some down time, some people reading, sleeping, a little joking. Everyone has their own outlook. Once we get here, it's on."

The only news from the Panthers was that running back Stephen Davis did not practice at all last week, but he will practice this week and will not be on the injured list.

Before taking off from home, the Panthers took a 15-block detour on their way to the airport through the heart of Charlotte.

About 10,000 fans braved the inclement weather to attend the sendoff. It took 25 minutes for the five-bus convoy to crawl down the main street as music played, fans waved signs and one overzealous supporter jogged alongside the buses _ bare-chested _ with a Panthers flag.

As the players arrived at the stadium, about 300 fans stood outside the gate applauding every arrival.

The Panthers weren't getting carried away by the festivities.

"I think our guys understand that this is a business trip," coach John Fox said before boarding the flight to Houston. "We are going there for one purpose. You don't want to celebrate the Super Bowl at the Super Bowl. You want to celebrate it after."

BRUSCHI UPDATE: Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi is getting treatment on his injured right leg three or four times a day, and he hopes to be able to practice.

Bruschi, who has scored three touchdowns on defense this season, hurt his calf in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.

"He's a lot better than he was last week," Belichick said. "He's doing everything to get ready.

"He's a great competitor, a football player, and he will do all he can to be ready to play."

RINGS AND THINGS: Three Panthers who won Super Bowl rings with other teams had them on their fingers when they headed for Houston, then laughed about how they were thinking alike.

"I don't know why we all broke them out," said center Jeff Mitchell of Clearwater, who got his ring with the Ravens. "We just kind of showed up with all of them on."

Receiver Ricky Proehl flashed his championship ring from the Rams. Tight end Jermaine Wiggins wore his reminder of the Patriots' title two years ago. Offensive lineman Matt Willig was the only Panther with a Super Bowl ring _ he got his with the Rams _ who didn't bring it along.

Fox also had a ring on his finger _ his NFC championship ring from the 2000 season, when he was defensive coordinator of the Giants. He held out his arm and showed it off to reporters.

"It's about the first time this one's been out of the box," Fox said.

But he knows it's not as much fun to wear what amounts to a runnerup ring.

"This game is only fun when you win it," Fox said.

HEADS OR TAILS: Former Oilers running back Earl Campbell and former Raiders offensive lineman Gene Upshaw are among the six Hall of Fame members from Texas who will participate in the pregame coin toss for the Super Bowl.

The others are Ollie Matson, Don Maynard, Y.A. Tittle and Mike Singletary.

Texas has produced 24 of the 221 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

NFL: Raven flying to Jets?

Ravens assistant Donnie Henderson is expected to be announced as Jets defensive coordinator today.

Jets coach Herman Edwards has gone nearly a month searching for someone to replace Ted Cottrell, who was fired just after the regular season ended. Edwards interviewed many other candidates, and several went to other teams. Henderson has coached defensive backs for the Ravens since 1999, and went through the process there.