Patriots fans who have only been on board the bandwagon since 2001 will be in for a new experience tomorrow night as the Patriots take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first wildcard playoff game of the Brady/Belichick era. It’s the second playoff game of the day for ABC, which will have the Redskins traveling to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers at 4:30.

The Prime Time Patriots game will be called by the Monday Night Football team of John Madden and Al Michaels.

The Celtics play the Hawks tonight and travel to Washington tomorrow to play the Wizards. Both games are on FSN, while the Bruins play the Lightning tomorrow at 5:00 on NESN. Other than those games and the NFL playoffs, there is pretty much only college basketball remaining on the schedule.

Patriots All Access will air at 7:00 tonight on WCVB Channel 5, with a one hour show. According to the Herald Patriots notebook today, the show will feature Bill Belichick breaking down film of his dad Steve from the 1940’s and some film of the 1980’s New York Giants. The Globe SportsPlus is on at 5:30 and around 9:30 tonight on NESN after the college hockey game. Jerome Solomon, Ron Borges and Tim Fox will be on to preview the NFL playoff games this weekend. CBS4 will have Patriots Game Day prior to the game tomorrow night at 7:00.

For the weekend, you can check in here and get links on the following pages:

News and Notes from the Week That Was

When Michael Felger started his 890 AM ESPN Radio gig, he promised no Big Show-like antics. He made reference to WEEI talking for hours and days about “Manny peeing in the wall” and promised there would be none of that. He started the show by hanging up on “celebrity callers”. Apparently Felger has decided that the noble path isn’t working. At the beginning of the week, he made a huge show out of the Doug Flutie dropkick, allowed “Danny from Quincy” on the air to rant, and basically resorted to all the old tricks he learned while at the knee of Glenn Ordway. Too bad. The show, which started out with so much promise and potential, has degenerated into Big Show Lite. Ron Borges will appear with Felger this afternoon, and it promises to be a WWE-like affair.

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Carrot on a Stick

When Flutie made that dropkick, you immediately knew it would be the top story of the day from most newspapers and other media. In Bill Belichick’s press conference following the game, the first four questions were about the kick. Not about resting the starters, not about whether they played the game so that they would end up playing Jacksonville, but about a gimmick play that netted one point. It makes you wonder if that was the point all along. Give the media something you know they would chase and fawn after. They followed along like a donkey going after a carrot on a stick…

Empty Vest Syndrome

If Steve Burton asks Belichick any questions this weekend during press conferences, be sure to note the coach’s response. It will likely be a one word answer. It’s clear the Patriots coach isn’t pleased with Burton since the CBS4 sports reporter apparently decided to inject himself into the spotlight. On Thursday while on WEEI, Burton seemed to suggest that he was responsible for Belichick coming out and saying that Tedy Bruschi had a “calf” injury as opposed to just a “leg” injury. Burton was making the case that Belichick only made the distinction due to Burton’s persistent questioning after Bruschi sustained the injury while playing on special teams. On the Big Show, Burton demanded to know when Belichick has ever been that specific about an injury before…ever.

Well Steve, the week prior, leading up to the Tampa game, Corey Dillon was also on the injury report…with a calf injury.

Combative Corey?

On Thursday afternoon, word trickled out of Foxboro that Corey Dillon had “gone off” on a few print reporters. Apparently a reporter was talking to the running back on a 1-1 basis, and some others wanted to get in on the action. The way it was presented in the afternoon was that Dillon has basically snapped and unleashed a profanity filled tirade against the reporter. Glenn Ordway read the quotes from Dillon in a couple of sarcastic voices over the air. (The second time after it was suggested he didn’t sound enough like an “angry black man”.) Felger also spent a lot time on his radio show pounding on the situation.

On FSN’s New England Sports Tonight, Greg Dickerson did a good job of setting the record straight. He pointed out that Dillon had just answered the same questions before the cameras, and that Dillon’s frustrations seemed pointed more at his contributions to the team rather than any attitude problem. Dickerson stressed a couple of times that this was not Dillon being a malcontent, but rather him perhaps expressing his desire to be able to help his team more, and perhaps to pump himself up for the game on Saturday. In a market where everyone is quick to assume the worst, Dickerson distinguished himself by presenting a more reasonable approach.

I Don’t Like Mike

How did the Boston media let Mike Freeman get away? The former Boston Globe and New York Times writer who has appeared on WEEI and ESPN Boston this week seems like he’d fit right in here. He’s got the “look at me” style of journalism down pat, (look at the Brady article today) and his checkered past includes being sued by John Daly for defamation and losing a job with the Indianapolis Star after lying on his resume. I may be guilty of beating up a guy for his past transgressions here, but if I’m Jacksonville, I’m not sure I want him out there as the face of my sports media…

Other bits…Ryen Russillo was terrific on FSN Wednesday night following the Celtics game. He called things as they were without trying to stir things up or be controversial. The others on the program with him deferred to his basketball knowledge, a wise move on their part. Michael Holley reported today that WEEI and Keith Foulke have come to an agreement which will have the Red Sox embattled closer on the Dale & Holley show each Friday during the season for the next two years. No word on whether another truck is involved…(Edit: They later clarified that they were joking. Holley said he made the statement to annoy Dale.) Pete Prisco on D&C this morning said he voted for Peyton Manning as league MVP. His reasoning was simple he said, the Colts were the best team in the league, and Manning drove them. With that logic, we can be sure that Prisco voted for Tom Brady the last two seasons, right?

Three Questions with Eric McHugh

One thing I would like to do in this space is occasionally spotlight one of the lesser known media members in the region. This week I caught up with Eric McHugh, who does a great job covering the Patriots for the Quincy Patriot Ledger. As this is a busy week for McHugh with the Patriots prepping this week for their playoff matchup with Jacksonville, I only had three questions for him. Hopefully this will give you a little bit better idea of who he is and where he comes from as you read his coverage of the team.

1) Could you give us a little of your background, where you’re from, how long you’ve been at the Patriot Ledger, on the Patriots beat, etc?

I’m 37, married, with a 20-month-old daughter. I was born and raised in Queens, N.Y., about a 10-minute walk from what used to be the site of the U.S. Open tennis tournament (the West Side Tennis Club) and a 20-minute drive (with traffic) from Shea Stadium, which is why I can say “Mark Bomback” or “Doug Flynn” to Scott Pioli, a closet Mets fan, and he knows exactly what I’m talking about. (Sorry for outing you, Scott.) I graduated from NYU, where I took only one journalism course and was a Phi Beta Kappa, which, believe me, sounds much more impressive than it really is. (I made the mistake of joining their national organization after college and I kept getting this newsletter that tried to get me to go to “discussion groups” where we’d all sit around and talk about 14th century Flemish poetry or something. Thanks … pass.) I spent 10 years in Connecticut at The Greenwich Time, where I moved up to sports editor and realized I hated management and needed to be a writer again. I fished around for a few months, got polite no-thank-yous from all the big-name papers and was lucky enough to finally land at the Ledger in 2000 (ironically, during the Mets-Yankees Subway Series). I’ve been covering the Patriots ever since, but I only became the beat guy in 2002, after the legendary Ron Hobson moved into semi-retirement.

2) Best and worst part of the job?

The best part of the job – apart from going to the games, getting to know the athletes, coaches and front office people as real people and not just as names in a program, and the truly exquisite oatmeal cookies at Gillette Stadium – is that sportswriter is the only occupation I ever considered, so if I couldn’t do this I would have no idea how I would make any money. If you had asked me back in fourth grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said this right here. Not a lot of people are lucky enough to have their ideal job.

As for the bad parts, listen, I don’t run into burning buildings, I don’t work 34-hour shifts in the emergency room, I don’t have to worry about getting buried alive in a mineshaft, and I don’t come under sniper fire in some godforsaken place I can’t even pronounce 11,000 miles from home … so “bad” in this case is a relative term. The only downside is that because of the Ledger’s news cycle, our deadlines are so late that I can (and do most nights) stay up until 2 or 2:30 in the morning writing. When my daughter wakes us up at 7, I think – hey, maybe I shouldn’t have written that third story last night.

3) Do you see a Three-peat in the works this winter for the Patriots?

Well, I picked them back in training camp, so I guess I’ll stick with them, even though I was off the bandwagon temporarily (along with everybody else) at midseason. Their run defense will be fine because they might have the best front seven in football. Their passing game will be tough for anybody to handle, especially if they can get the ball to Benjamin Watson a little more than they did in the regular season. He’s an ‘X’ factor that teams didn’t have to contend with in last year’s playoffs, and look how successful Brady was then. The lack of a running game seems like a problem, but as I wrote this week, the 2002 Bucs and 2003 Patriots each finished 27th in rushing and won Super Bowls, so it can be done. My main concern would be the secondary, which has improved dramatically (who isn’t an Ellis Hobbs fan by this point?) but still hasn’t faced an upper-echelon quarterback like they would see in the next two rounds, should they make it that far.

Thanks Eric, I appreciate your help with that. As I mentioned, I’d like the chance from time to time to spotlight other sports media personalities who perhaps don’t get as much of the spotlight as their colleagues.

Sports Media Columns from around the country:

David Scott, BSMW – NESN Going Big Time

Fluto Shinzawa, Boston Globe – Quinnipiac goes on offensive.

John Howell, Hartford Courant – With Fox Entering The BCS Picture, Expect A Few Changes.

Andrew Neff, Bangor Daily News – York native new WVII sports director Inside Hockey East show kicks off eight-episode run tonight on NESN.

Boston Radio Watch – WEEI’s Whineys make it to the big stage.

Bob Raissman, New York Daily News – Troy sees the ‘Boy in Manning.

Richard Sandomir, New York Times – When It Comes to N.F.L., CBS and Fox Claim No.1.

Also this week from Sandomir:

Four-Hour Rose Bowl Never Lost Its Bloom

Old Voice Cries Out in Wilderness of ESPN

Neil Best, New York Newsday – Nets’ sales pitch: lots of curves.

Phil Mushnick, New York Post – ABC couldn’t live up to hype.

Jim Williams, DC Examiner – Esiason, Simms, Long weigh in on Skins.

Michael Hiestand, USA Today – Signs of progress on NFL sidelines.

Barry Jackson, Miami Herald – Rose Bowl bloom: Game’s rating highest since ’87.

Ed Sherman, Chicago Tribune – Time right for Jackson’s exit.

David Barron, Houston Chronicle – UT-USC already viewed as a classic.

Larry Stewart, Los Angeles Times – Simms and Esiason Have Faith in Palmer.

Also from Stewart:

ABC Comes Up Smelling Like a Rose With Telecast

Tom Hoffarth, Los Angeles Daily News – In TV terms, it’ll rank near the top.

Jay Poser, San Diego Union Tribune – Jackson should exit on grand game.

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