Tuesday, March 08, 2005

DVD: Dynasty Video Disc

So I finally got around to buying the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX DVD today. A few years ago, I would have snapped up the sucker the first day it was on the shelves. Guess maybe we're getting a little too used to winning championships around here. I think I'm going to make a conscious effort from now on not to take these golden days for granted - well, I mean right after 'Toine, the Truth, GP and the green-and-white juggernaut hang banner No. 17 in a few months. Not that we're getting cocky or anything.

Anyway, my movie review. It's pretty standard NFL Films fare - lots of slow-mo game-action, a little behind-the-scenes stuff, an occasional miked-up player. Hell, you've already got two of these things, you know what to expect. They're all pretty similar, a nice little video scrapbook for the wonderful season that was. They serve their purpose well enough, as familiar as the format can seem.

As I popped in this disc and burrowed into the couch to watch, for some reason I was immediately reminded of a scene from the Super Bowl XXXVI highlight film and the words of Rams receiver Ricky Proehl as the St. Louis players prepped and preened before their individual pre-game introductions. "Tonight," says Proehl with the confidence of the truly clueless, "a dynasty is born."

I wonder if he has any idea how right he was.

With that, a few of my observations, recollections, and random rants from the third film in the dynasty's trilogy . . .

~ The best thing this has going for it is the behind-the-scenes, behind-the-curtain insights, when you actually see Belichick coaching and teaching and revealing his true personality. (Yep, the press-conference droid is not a true representation of the real man. Go figure.) His legendary emphasis on detail is apparent when he quizzes the offensive linemen on what to do if a play breaks down with 6 seconds left in a half. (Answer: scramble, because there's not enough time for another play.) He also reveals, with a touch of cruel comedy, that Marquise Hill isn't exactly a math whiz. (You'll see.) It's also apparent he has a real fondness for Corey Dillon, singling him out after the Bengals' game and seeking him out after the playoff victory over Pittsburgh, even barging in on an interview to make a point of congratulating him. It's fascinating stuff, and while there's never enough of it, watching Belichick behind the scenes is worth the purchase price in itself.

~ The narrator is the always-reliable Harry Kalas, the John "Frozen Tundra" Facenda of his generation. Kalas's voice is so distinctive and authoritative, he could make even his own name sound cool.

~ I shouldn't admit this, but I completely forgot the Patriots played the Cardinals in Week 2. I think that must have been the lovely Sunday I spent as a hostage at Bed, Bath and Beyond, smelling pretty soaps while discreetly trying to fashion a noose out of a plush velour blanket.

(Note: Not suitable for noose-fashioning.)

~ I also had forgotten the Patriots had the incredible good fortune of playing both McCown brothers this year, Josh (Arizona) and Luke (Cleveland). (Or is it vice versa?) Man, they are terrible. When playing catch as kids, I bet they broke a lot of windows. I'd say their parents are the anti-Mannings when it comes to breeding quarterbacks.

~ If you didn't realize how important Daniel Graham is to this team, you will after watching this thing. He's all over the place, catching touchdowns during the early-season games and demolishing defender after defender later in the year. You can keep your Kellen Winslow Jr. If you're want the total package, there aren't many tight ends in the league better than Big Dan.

~ Bethel Johnson's full-speed, full-extension, game-clinching fingertip catch against the Seahawks is one of the 10 or 15 best catches I have ever seen. It's straight out of the John Jefferson highlight film, and if you don't remember the meteoric J.J. from the Air Coryell San Diego Super Chargers heyday, you missed out on some fun . . .

(In my best Harry Kalas voice: "Like a bolt of lightning across the blue-gray sky, for a brief moment there was none better than the begoggled J.J. Jefferson . . .")

(Okay, I'll let it go now.)

~ Hey, remember when certain experts told us Tom Brady couldn't throw deep? Seems kind of silly now, eh? Yep, sure does. To put it into words his critics might understand: If Brady's predecessor - Drew-what's-his-name - threw the deep ball with as much accuracy and effectiveness, Shawn Jefferson would have averaged about 200 more yards per season.

~ And so we come to the Steelers game, the day the music died. Ty Law limps off the field with a broken foot, the great corner's last on-field act as a Patriot. Brady plays like Bledsoe. Pittsburgh's O-line pummels New England's D-line like Lionel Richie's wife . . .

. . . pummels Lionel Richie. Cowher's jaw protrudes in all it's freakish glory. The streak ends at 21. Just a gruesome day for the Patriots. And you know what? We can watch it with a smirk and a smile now, reveling in the knowledge that cold, cruel payback is only a few months away. Hang onto those towels, Steelers fans. You'll need 'em later.

~ Maybe I read too much into it, but Belichick seems genuinely sad after the Pittsburgh loss, particularly when he says, "It's pretty clear the Steelers were better than us today." Being an enthusiastic student of his profession's history, I wonder if The Streak meant a lot more to Belichick than he let on.

~ If a single game defined the Patriots' season, it was the victory over the Rams. Remember how dire circumstances seemed? Law was injured, Ty Poole was out, Asante Samuel had a bum shoulder . . . and they had to deal with the pass-first, ask-questions-later Rams? Two losses in a row seemed likely, if not certain. Looking back, how silly we were to think so negatively. At one point during the game, Brady implores his offense: "Hey, rise up. Take it to another level." Boy, did they - the offense, defense, coaches, everyone. Belichick again revealed Mike Martz to be an egomaniacal dunce, Adam Vinatieri threw a TD pass to Troy Brown, and Brown made his debut on defense and shadowed the Rams' slot receivers with surprising effectiveness. It was as satisfying - and as fun - a regular-season victory as one could imagine. "That was the greatest team victory I've even been around," Belichick said afterward. And one that convinced them that all obstacles could be overcome.

~ Tully Banta-Cain earns some quality screen time after collecting a sack and an interception against the Bills. (He was only credited with half-a-sack and half-a-pick since they came courtesy of Bledsoe. Rimshot!) While Dan Klecko gets much of the "Next Bruschi" hype (not that there is such a thing), I think it's Banta-Cain who, like Bruschi before him, will make the transition for collegiate pass-rusher to stud NFL linebacker. I expect him to slide smoothly into Roman Phifer's role next season, a development that will make the Pats' Warren-Wilson-Johnson-Klecko-Samuel-Koppen 2003 draft crop look even more spectacular.

~ Three completely random notes related to the Baltimore/Cleveland/Cincinnati late-season AFC Central three-pack:

1) The Ravens can sign all the Derrick Masons and Samari Rolles they want, but as long as Kyle Boller is prominently involved, they are not going to get anywhere near Detroit in February.

2) Of all this year's free-agent receivers, the one that I thought would be an ideal fit for the Patriots was the Bengals' T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who's tall, tough and talented. Alas, he re-signed in Cincy and should help Marvin Lewis's up-and-comers to the playoffs next season.

3)It's going to be a looonnnnnggg first season for Romeo Crennel. The Browns have nothing.

~ Onto the playoffs, and you know Belichick means business when he busts out the blue headband. It's the Auerbach Victory Cigar of the new millennium.

~ One of the cooler things about these DVDs is that the NFL Films gang works in some audio from the hometown broadcasting teams. Not only do we get a nice helping of Gil and Gino, who are superior to any national crew I've heard, but we get to hear opposing announcers say such things as:

"The humiliation of Manning is again complete. (Gah!) He's just snakebit here." - Indy's radio rednecks, post-game.

And, my personal favorite:

"New England maxed out last week (against the Colts). The left it all on the field. They don't have the same hunger. The Steelers are VERY hungry." - Pittsburgh radio idiot, obviously blitzed on Iron City, pre-game.

~ His Super Bowl MVP performance is still fresh on our minds, but it was nice to be reminded how dominant Deion Branch was against the Steelers as well - two deep catches, including a 60-yarder, and two long runs on end-arounds, including a touchdown that iced the game. If the Patriots enter next season with less depth at receiver, I expect Branch, if healthy, to pick up the slack. He's got an 85-catch, 1,300-yard, 10-TD season in those hands and legs . . .

~ . . . and the other guy isn't half-bad, either. Watching David Givens snatch a Brady pass for the Pats' first Super Bowl touchdown, he reminds me of Terry Glenn, the way he catches the ball so elegantly, with his magnetic hands, and not his body. Fortunately, that's about the only thing Givens and Glenn have in common. I'm sweating out this restricted free-agency thing with him. Sign him already, please.

~ The DVD does Donovan McNabb no favors. He looks dazed in most close-ups, and they show more than a few of his atrocious throws. Heck, even his successful passes were very high risk - he just plain played a terrible game. At one point, after he air-mailed one over L.J. Smith's head, Eagles coach Andy Reid asks him, more than a little sarcastically: "Did that one slip, too?"

~ As you might expect, Tedy Bruschi has a lead role, and yes, of course it makes you a little sad, a little melancholy. On one hand, I do want him to play next season if he gets medical clearance, if only for my selfish reasons as a fan. While I am certain the Pats can overcome the loss of Ty Law (that mangled foot is costing him big bucks right now), Joe Andruzzi (valuable, but overpriced), David Patten (is Joe Gibbs trying to re-enact the Smurfs?), Roman Phifer (a personal favorite, but aged by years last season) and even Troy Brown (Ray Bourque will miss him), I think Bruschi is irreplaceable in so many ways, and his departure may well mark the beginning of the end of the Patriots' reign. On the other hand, if the last day of a man's career entails playing with your children on the field before the game, intercepting a pass to help secure victory, then dumping a freezing bucket of Gatorade over your stoic coach's head to celebrate your third championship in four years, well . . . I can't think of a better way to say goodbye.

Should Bruschi retire, at least we'll always have the memories. All we have to do is cue up the DVD.