Monday, February 07, 2005

First and 10: The best there is, the best there ever was

Three Super Bowl championships in four years. A league-record 21 consecutive victories. A 34-4 record spread over back-to-back seasons.

Your New England Patriots are not just any dynasty, football fans. They are THE football dynasty, the one against which all others will now be measured.

And the scary thing, for Peyton Manning, Bill Cowher and the rest of the AFC wannabes, is that these Patriots could actually be better next year.

Dan Klecko, Tyrone Poole, Tom Ashworth, and Ben Watson (a freakin' manimal of a tight end, you just watch) will return from injuries. Ty Law is hinting he might be willing to stay at a significantly reduced rate, and Rosey Colvin showed encouraging signs in the Super Bowl that he may return to his pre-injury form.

Certainly the departing coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, will not easily be replaced, and Roman Phifer, steady and unsung through his entire 14-year career, may retire. But there is a very good chance that the roster the Patriots open with next season is superior to the one that rejoiced in Jacksonville last night.

But then, the future is a story for another day. Today is all about . . . today. And yesterday. And with that, it's first-and-10, Super Bowl champion Patriots . . .

1) Tom Brady is 27 years old, famous, GQ-handsome, is a multi-millionaire, has, by all accounts, a loving and supportive family, is dating a classic-beauty movie star, is synonymous with the word "winner" and is now among the best of all-time at his glorious, rewarding profession. My question: Has anyone in the history of the Milky Way had a cooler life? Even if he sold his soul to the devil for all this, he made out with a hell of a deal. I think I'd hate him if he weren't so damn likable.

2) Mike Vrabel, tight end. Five career receptions, five career touchdowns, including two in the Super Bowl. Not a bad second job, huh? Vrabel's fingertip catch of a slightly off-target Brady toss was positively Winslowesque. (That's Kellen Sr., not Jr. I'm praising here.) His time at tight end often comes at the expense of the capable Christian Fauria, as well as solid pro Jed Weaver. Makes you think Vrabel could have made the Big Show as an offensive player had he not made the grade at linebacker.

3) It would be swell if Eugene "The Hittin' Machine" Wilson could make it through one of these Super Bowls without tearing or busting a body part. It's been my contention all season that he is right there with Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi as the most indispensible player on the New England defense. When he was K.O.'d with that shoulder/arm injury late in the first half, it was no coincidence that the Eagles' downfield passing game suddenly became effective. It was all too reminscent of last year's Super Bowl, when Wilson tore a groin muscle (just cringed, didn't ya?) against the Panthers, and his replacement, the immortal Shawn Mayer, had a bull's-eye tacked to his jersey by Jake Delhomme.

4) I must have missed it. When did Andy Reid hire Herm Edwards to be his assistant in charge of clock management? The Eagles had absolutely no sense of urgency in those final six or so minutes. Where was the two-minute drill? Where was the no-huddle offense? Perhaps Josh Miller did officially seal their fate with his dead-on perfect punt inside the five-yard line with 46 seconds left, but had they played it smarter - or at least faster - during the preceding possessions, Donovan McNabb might have had enough time to try and pull an Elway. The Eagles had a fine game plan and were well-prepared, but that was not a championship-level coaching performance down the stretch by Reid.

5) Who knew Terrell Owens's heart was bigger than his mouth? The talking heads are eagerly comparing his inspirational performance in the face of serious injury to Willis Reed's legendary one-legged effort for the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. It's an obvious comparison, but ultimately I think it sells Owens short. First of all, he was playing football, against lunatics, human missiles, and Rodney Harrison. That's a hell of a lot riskier than taking a 20-footer from the top of the key, and no one mentions that Reed scored just 4 points in that game before "inspirationally" going to the bench for good. Second, Owens was the star of the game for the Eagles, catching 9 passes for 122 yards. He even put that rarely seen "oh-bleep!" look on Belichick's face when it became apparent that Owens was going to be a serious factor, something I'm not sure the Patriots were completely prepared for. T.O. may be a self-promoting assclown, but he is one hell of a tough football player.

6) Yet T.O. was not the premier receiver in this game . . .

. . . That honor went to Deion Branch, whose 11-catch, 133-yard performance was so crucial to the final outcome that the NFL was forced to give him the MVP award. (C'mon, you just know Paul Tags and his starchy minions wanted to give it to Brady, the poster boy for everything right about sports.) If my buddy Aaron, a former teammate of mine in the Concord Monitor sports department and a lifelong and yet oddly rational Iggles fan, is a fair indication, Philly fans were properly impressed by the unsung Branch's ability. Here's a snippet of his note that arrived in my inbox this morning:

Brady completes all those underneath balls to Branch because he's a great quarterback who makes all the right decisions when he's under fire. And speaking of Branch, I have to give it to you. You've been telling me all year how good he is. That one catch he made that seemed to go through Sheldon Brown's hands was incredible.

You've gotta like opposing fans like that. They give your team respect. Then they give you respect. Respect! (Note: Aaron will be weighing in on the Eagles here Tuesday. I think you'll relate to where he's coming from. That is, if you're still humble enough to remember the time when Boston wasn't the City of Champions. Like, say, the year 2000.)

7) Freddie Mitchell: Caught one Donovan McNabb pass.
Rodney Harrison: Caught two Donovan McNabb passes.
And so now we know what Mitchell planned to give that No. 37 guy: The last word.

8) Gotta share one more email I got last night, this one coming sometime during the third quarter. I'll protect this buddy's identity just in case he actually follows through on this and ends up taking the cops on a six-state car chase, with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman bound and gagged in his trunk:

Why did Ruppert Murdock and the (expletive deleted) HORRIBLE Fox network ever have to get involved with sports? Huh? Why? They're ruining EVERYTHING, and I'm not even talking about how football is the filler between stupid-ass promos for their lousy shows. They treat the game like a video game. Their camera angles suck. I hate them. And every time Cris Collinsworth starts running his stupid inbred mouth about something he knows nothing about - like the Patriots - I start daydreaming again about beating him to death with Tim McCarver's rotting corpse. Is that wrong? Because it sounds pretty appealing right now.

Um . . . okay, then. Let's move on before I give this more thought and wind up as an accomplice.

9) In case you missed it, there was a sweetly emotional scene there in the final seconds when Belichick joined Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis in a triple hug. (Kind of sounds like something from "MTV Spring Break: Uncensored," now that I see it in print.) It's apparent that their relationship goes deeper than their shared affinity for coming up with devious game plans. I always find it fascinating when Belichick reveals his sentimental side. From what I understand, it happens more than some certain media folk let on. Just check out this quote that Belichick gave Peter King last night. (Yes, Peter King - you know, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette's ace football writer.):

"There's a lot of love between us - me, Charlie, Romeo. We've been together with the Giants, the Patriots, the Jets and the Patriots again. For it to be able to end this way . . . the only word I can think of is 'special.' "

Awww. Isn't that just . . . special.

10) Belichick's not the only one who's going to miss those guys. Weis may frustrate us at times with his tendency to get cutesy, but that's merely a nitpick: he raised Brady from a pup, and he's an innovative and shrewd coordinator, probably the best the Patriots have ever had. (Yep, even better than Ernie Zampese.) And you have to be genuinely happy for Crennel. He's 57 years old, a lifelong assistant coach, a professional grunt, really. He had to figure his time as a head coach may never come. It's a tribute to his patience and talent (and perhaps also to Belichick's selflessness, for he ALWAYS credited Crennel first when a game plan was successful) that he is finally getting his shot to run his own show. I hope he gets to the AFC Championship game every year.

By the way, I heard Crennel took a page from 'Dr. Phil' Belichick's book and got a little verklempt as he bid farewell to his Tedy, Rodney and the rest of the loyal fellas on his beloved defense last night. Even sang 'em a song. It went a little something like this:

In the mornin' I'm leavin'
Making my way back to Cleveland
So tonight I hope I would do just fine
And I don't see how you could ever be
Anything but mine

(Oh Romeo, Romeo . . .)


(My sincerest apologies to Kenny Chesney. As well as to the unfortunate few who read this far.)