PHOENIX (Reuters) - With the arrival of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Super Bowl week was officially underway but the spotlight remained on the mystery of the under-inflated footballs the New England Patriots used in the AFC title game.
An hour after landing in Phoenix, a smiling Seattle coach Pete Carroll and six players huddled with the media at the team hotel and faced the inevitable question: what were their thoughts on 'deflategate'?
The Seahawks could afford to be relaxed with the spotlight on the Patriots, their Super Bowl opponents, while the National Football League (NFL) investigates why illegal balls were used by New England during a blowout victory the Indianapolis Colts that clinched a Super Bowl berth. "We're not focused on that, we're focused on playing our football and finding a way to win the Super Bowl," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. "That's where our focus is. All the other distractions have really nothing to do with us."
The same questions will not be so easily dismissed when the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick land in Phoenix on Monday. The New England coach had told a news conference on Saturday that the team had followed "every rule to the letter." "At no time was there any intent - whatsoever - to try and compromise the integrity of the game," he said.
The NFL had said earlier it still needed to obtain more information, including video and other electronic information and physical evidence, before wrapping up its investigation. The growing storm has dominated the buildup to the Feb 1 Super Bowl and it showed no signs of easing.
"We understand that they are dealing with a distraction they don't want, but I'm sure they are handling it in the best way possible and that's all you can do right now," said Carroll. "I think it's common when you feel like you're under attack that it drives you closer."
Seattle's outspoken All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who is no stranger to controversy, wasted no time shrugging off the NFL's investigation as meaningless. Asked if he thought the Patriots should be punished, Sherman said it was unlikely.
"Probably not," said Sherman. "Not as long as (Patriots owner) Robert Kraft and (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. "He (Goodell) was just at Kraft's house last week before the AFC championship, you know you talk about conflict of interest. You know as long as that happens it won't affect them at all."