INDIANAPOLIS – We already know why they play the game.
The real question is why they still talk about it all week, since the last time a player or coach said anything memorable during the run-up to the Super Bowl was 1999. That's when Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan and Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe had this exchange:
"Shannon looks like a horse," Buchanan fired first, quickly warming to the task. "I'll tell you, that's an ugly dude. You can't tell me he doesn't look like Mr. Ed."
Like those who live in glass houses, people who wear dog collars as a fashion accessory — Buchanan did — probably should not be throwing stones.
"Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away," Sharpe shot back. "I'm not saying he's a cross-dresser, but that's just what I heard."
Now that's what I'm talkin' about!
Seriously, any list of the greatest Super Bowl quotes starts with Joe Namath's guarantee in 1969, continues on through John Matuszak's classic 1981 explanation after getting caught partying on Bourbon Street all night — "To make sure no one else was" — and ends abruptly with that war of words from 13 years ago.
If Namath were playing for any of the coaches since, let alone New England's Bill Belichick or New York's Tom Coughlin this year, his mouth would have been duct-taped before his foot touched the tarmac at the airport. That, or Namath would pull off the tape knowing full well he would also guarantee himself two-a-days for the rest of his career.
Asked on media day what Belichick would do to a player who said the wrong thing, Pats rookie Sterling Moore didn't have to think long.
"I don't know," he replied straight-faced. "And I don't want to find out."
But the rest of us do.
We've already seen a much more outgoing and media-friendly Ol' Stoneface this week, not to mention much more expansive. But more forgiving? Who knows?
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots' free-est spirit, so maybe in was just coincidence that the transcript of his remarks from media day arrived five hours or so after those of his teammates were stacked on a table for consumption. Either way, there are hints that Belichick has softened a few of his edges because of the latest woman by his side.
But good luck getting that confirmed.
"I think he's got a lady in his life," Wes Welker began, "so that could definitely be the case."
Then realizing he'd already said too much, Welker quickly added, "I don't know."
We're not getting anything more out of the Giants, either, though his players swear Coughlin, too, has mellowed. The only outward indication of that was a sign above his podium on media day: "Tom Coughlin." For the Patriots, it was "Coach Belichick."
Still, Coughlin was a fearsome disciplinarian during his first NFL coaching stint in Jacksonville, and still something of a stickler when he arrived in New York in 2004 .Whether he's changed or not, what's certain is that Coughlin is at least picking his spots.
Last month, with the Giants playing the Jets for bragging rights in New York, not to mention a leg up in the race for playoff spots, his players largely ignored the tauntfest being orchestrated by Jets coach Rex Ryan. After the Giants won the game, running back Brandon Jacobs crossed paths with Ryan leaving the field and got into a shouting match.
"It's time to shut up, fat boy," said Jacobs, in the only sentence that can be reprinted here.
There was a time when Coughlin would have blistered Jacobs as well for losing his temper in public. But these days, Coughlin often relies on a "leadership council" of players appointed by him to mete out justice to the team. The council's message must have gotten through, because neither Jacobs nor any other Giant has said anything even remotely interesting since.
The situation practically begged for it Tuesday, when a credentialed reporter in a coonskin cap asked Eli Manning, apropos of nothing, "Who wants to represent the divine beast, the combination of all the great beasts? Do you have that beast within you, Eli?"
There were nearly three dozen TV cameras surrounding Manning's podium. He leaned into the microphone and without so much as a raised eyebrow, replied as if it were a question he gets every day.
"Well, I hope we do. It's always nice to have a beast within you."
Small wonder some Giants fans raised a fuss when Manning said before the start of the season that he was an elite quarterback, and belonged in the same class as the Patriots' Tom Brady. He might be — as far as quarterbacking skills.
But Brady is still untouchable when it comes to charming a room full of reporters while revealing absolutely nothing.
On Wednesday, he got a question about his father, Tom Sr., and started talking about how his parents traveled to as many of his college games as they could.
"And even when I started my pro career, he traveled to Buffalo. I don't know if you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo - they're not the nicest places in the world - but he would still travel to those." Brady added. "It was just great to grow up in a house like that and feel so supported by your Mom and Dad."
A few minutes later, as he exited the room someone asked if those hotels in Buffalo were the worst in the NFL. Already imagining the headline "Brady Trashes City" on the Bills' locker room bulletin board — and maybe Belichick's frown — he paused and flashed that charming smile.
"No, they're fine," Brady said. "Don't go writing that and getting me in trouble."
No worries, Tom. We'd never do anything like that.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.