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100 Things Patriots Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Donald Hubbard
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2011 Donald Hubbard
All rights reserved.
Chosen in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, Tom Brady has since developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and probably the best "value pick" ever. Brady paled next to the platoons of workout warriors in his senior draft class, as evidenced by his since-released combine tapes. Yet before any team had made its selection, he modestly but accurately estimated his worth to a suitor, stating, "I think my best asset as a player is that in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, I have the desire to win and the feeling that our team is not going to lose." Raised in Northern California, he idolized Joe Montana during his boyhood, and by the time that Brady had played his last down for the Michigan Wolverines, he had prepared himself as the stylistic heir to the even-tempered but intensely competitive former Fighting Irish and 49ers legend.
Spawned from a Michigan program still beholden to retired coach Bo Schembechler's rush-oriented "three yards and a cloud of dust" offensive mantra and that had been more sold on Drew Henson as a starter, Brady seemingly had fallen into another hapless situation in New England, backing up another Drew, this one longtime starter Bledsoe. In fact, Brady only threw three passes during his rookie season, and while many fans had begun to sour on Bledsoe, most of them did not look toward the rookie from Michigan as the solution, but rather mobile second-year quarterback Michael Bishop, a star from Kansas State. Even before Rush Limbaugh had garbled his analysis of Donovan McNabb, knowledgeable fans and NFL executives and coaches had shed any reluctance to starting an African American quarterback, and after Bishop completed a 44-yard bomb for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts, for many his time had come.
It never did, as the Pats signed another quarterback, Damon Huard, and cut Bishop during the 2001 preseason. While Brady survived the axe himself, he appeared no closer than before to guiding the New England offense. Indeed, at the inception of the 2001 season, he held the clipboard and patiently watched Bledsoe bark out the signals. That is, until the Jets' Mo Lewis planted Bledsoe on the sideline in the second game of that season, effectively ending Bledsoe's status as team starter and as an elite NFL quarterback. False perspective has the young second-string quarterback running into the fray and immediately driving the club into the ranks of the league's preeminent franchises. It did not happen that way, at least not right away, as the Pats lost that second game of the year against the New York Jets and then, in the fourth week, Brady and his charges mustered only 10 points as the Dolphins blew them out.
As Brady became more comfortable, the team became his team to run, and while a couple more hiccups remained (a loss to the Denver Broncos and a 24–17 loss to the St. Louis Rams), he kept his job even after Bledsoe had returned to health. Coach Bill Belichick made a very bold decision at this juncture, not permitting Bledsoe to return to his starting role, trembling little as the fate of Belichick as a coach and the Patriots as a club now rested in the hands of Brady. And with a brief return by Bledsoe in the playoffs, it has stayed that way ever since.
It all seems so obvious now, yet at the conclusion of the 2001 season, the young quarterback had to outduel the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" in the Super Bowl as an underdog. Kurt Warner had come to stardom via an even more improbable route than Brady had trod: excellence in the Arena Football League. Once in the NFL, though, Warner had won a Super Bowl with superstars such as Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt surrounding him. By this point Brady no longer had any talent of his own to hide, as television analyst Joe Theismann noted, "You know everybody talks about Brett [Favre] this, Brett that ... Let me tell you, when Tom Brady wants to step back and cut it loose, I'll match his arm with anyone in the league — but the thing is, he's accurate. When he sets to fire, he can fire."
In that 2001 title game, the Rams' Warner produced far better numbers than Brady, completing more passes than his Pats opponent attempted and gaining 220 more yards for his team in the air. Of course, Warner also completed passes to Patriots defensive backs Ty Law (run back the other way for a 47-yard touchdown) and Otis Smith (culminating in a New England field goal), while Brady did not commit these game-breaking mistakes as he led his team to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI. Thematically, Tom Brady had written the script for the remainder of his career, someone who only twice (to date) has led the NFL in quarterback passing rating, but someone who helped his team achieve the ultimate goal of repeatedly winning the final game of the playoffs. He earned the Super Bowl MVP after the Rams game and also saw action in his first Pro Bowl.
He had entered the pantheon of Massachusetts sports heroes, buttressed not only by his game-winning heroics but also by his seemingly down-to-earth manners. He drove a beat-up truck around and stopped by local delis and pizza joints for his lunches, recognized by few at first, a star with a common touch.
Brady played well in the next campaign, but 2002 proved a letdown as the team only accumulated a 9–7 record. The club had traded away Bledsoe in the off-season, so Brady faced no controversy regarding his role as a starter, but his teammates sagged and failed to make the playoffs, due largely to a porous defense. They needed some tough defenders and Belichick and personnel director Scott Pioli, to their credit, obtained Ted Washington and Rodney Harrison after that disappointing experience.
According to popular myth, the Patriots fielded a fairly mundane defense in 2003, characterized by role players who overachieved based on their desire, a mischaracterization for a very talented congregation that shut out three opponents that season. In reality, the offense had lost some of its firepower as running back Antowain Smith sacrificed some effectiveness and Brady lost the services of Troy Brown for four games, with Brown catching 57 fewer passes than he did the previous season. Brady's brilliance that year lay in distributing the ball to a number of eligible receivers, such as back Kevin Faulk, tight ends Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria, and receivers such as Deion Branch and David Givens. While other clubs had transcendent talents like Randy Moss or Terrell Owens running deep routes for them, Brady prospered with the assets at his disposal, making his teammates better.
This ability to quickly read defenses and deliver the ball to the best receiving option served Brady during the tough playoffs and in the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, a 32–29 nail-biting win. While Smith ran for a touchdown for the Pats that day, Brady zeroed in for short TD passes to Branch, Givens, and "tight end" Mike Vrabel. Thriving under pressure, he guided his team down the field at the end to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal. Brady had cemented his reputation as a classic playoff performer along with watching his teammates hoist another Lombardi Trophy.
In that off-season, the club did not add much in the way of receiving weapons, but it did obtain Cincinnati Bengals star running back Corey Dillon, who rushed for 1,635 yards and a 4.7 yards-per-carry average, a very significant upgrade over the departed Antowain Smith. They now had one of the finest offenses to book-end their stout defense, and won every regular season game in 2004 with the exception of a loss to the Steelers (15–1 that year before the playoffs) and a fluke loss to a poor Dolphins team.
The Patriots sailed through the playoffs with embarrassing ease until they faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, where they pulled off a narrow 24–21 win, again characterized by Brady's coolness under pressure. Subtly, though, the star had changed off the field, becoming the subject of glamorous magazine cover shoots.
Brady had another terrific year in 2005, but unfortunately the club did not as Dillon's production dropped off steeply, one factor in many that led to a 10–6 record heading into the playoffs. The Pats smoked the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs 28–3, but then uncharacteristically folded in the divisional round against the Denver Broncos, led by Jake Plummer of all people. In that game, Brady committed one of the few notable faux pas in his career, intercepted in the end zone by Champ Bailey, who famously galloped almost 100 yards in the other direction before Pats tight end Ben Watson tackled him. Final score: Broncos 27, Patriots 13.
Although Brady had not thrown to a league-leading type of receiver since the last healthy years of Troy Brown, he excelled with some very useful players whom the team had let walk in free agency, so much so that in 2006 he had to throw to unfamiliar veteran additions Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell and one of the team's all-time busts, Chad Jackson from Florida. Fortunately, Dillon rebounded on the ground and formed a threatening tandem with rookie Lawrence Maroney, and Faulk continued to do everything well. By now the team had become a victim of its own success, criticized despite its 12–4 record and two playoff wins. It had lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts during the season and in the AFC Championship Game, and while Manning had Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Marvin Harrison to throw to, Brady simply did not have receivers who compared favorably to this arsenal. Too many Pats fans overlooked a good season that year, particularly the achievements of the offensive line, a fine group anchored by Matt Light at tackle, Dan Koppen at center, and Steve Neal and Logan Mankins at guard.
To their credit, Pats management filled the void the following year by picking up Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth, and Brady took full advantage of this largesse, throwing for 4,806 yards with a record 50 touchdowns against only eight interceptions. Moss caught 98 passes for a record 23 touchdowns while Welker accumulated 112 receptions, and their quarterback racked up a stunning 117.2 rating for the year, a league-leading number and the second-highest single-season passer rating in history. Named the NFL's MVP and chosen for his fourth Pro Bowl, only one thing eluded him as the club lost only one game that season: the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
An early season-ending injury against the Kansas City Chiefs prevented Brady from the chance to avenge this momentous loss, and although replacement Matt Cassel played well, the team failed to make the playoffs in 2008. Brady returned to a fifth Pro Bowl nomination in 2009, with some fine performances by Moss and Welker at receiver, but Maroney had not matured at back and the team lost five games by a touchdown or less. In the first round of the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens held the Pats to two touchdowns, both passes to Julian Edelman, and a one-and-out humiliation.
By this point, neo-theologians had begun to speak about how the Patriots had lost their soul, a Faustian bargain that apparently commenced with the addition of one Randy Moss to the roster in 2007. Truth be told, superfans jumped on Brady as well for his marriage to model Gisele Bundchen and his perceived softening to a jet-set lifestyle. Forget the near-perfect season in 2007 and Moss' quiet contributions to the team and to Cassel in particular; by the beginning of 2010, Moss personified the quest for personal records at the expense of Lombardi Trophies. Unfair to the receiver in many respects, Moss actually fueled this speculation by staging a tirade after his team's victory over the Bengals in the season opener.
Belichick traded Moss to the Minnesota Vikings early in the season, one of the gutsiest in-season trades in the annals of local sports, comparable to the Boston Red Sox shipping beloved shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs in 2004. Brady struggled a bit initially with the absence of his friend and prime long-route target, but the development appeared to galvanize the team, and Brady ended up with his second league-leading passer rating by the end of the year.
Parenthetically, the quarterback passer rating has helped analyze performance, but particularly in the case of Brady, it has proven a limited tool. Only twice has Brady led the NFL in that rating index, but only Peyton Manning among his contemporaries seriously approached his performance. There is no statistic for stupid plays not made (if there was, it would be called "the Brett Favre factor"), but like Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding, Brady was never known to make a foolish move. This quality of intelligent play, geared toward making his teammates better, has made Brady and his teammates Super Bowl champions.
The humble sixth-round draft choice has not changed all that much, but his life has. He clearly enjoys residing on the West Coast or even ... shudder ... New York, and he married a supermodel well beyond the range of most male Patriots fans. Sometimes he rankles the purists in New England by wearing a New York Yankees cap or talking to Kobe Bryant before a playoff game against the Boston Celtics, but honestly, Brady has only conducted himself in a manner that most of us would have given his opportunities. He is as far from a Ben Roethlisberger–type imaginable and has not once come remotely close to embarrassing his employers or his fans. And he has probably done so with a level of class and dignity many of us could only dream to muster, with perhaps his Beatles haircut from the fall of 2010 the one exception.
The 2010 season did not end well, as the Pats fell at home to the Jets in the playoffs. Brady had set the all-time mark in the regular season for passes attempted without an interception, but uncharacteristically he threw one during the first drive in that playoff game, a rare mistake. His regular season performance was enough to earn him all 50 nods from NFL MVP voters — the first unanimous choice in the award's history — and after the season ended, it was revealed that Brady had played part of the year with a stress fracture in his foot. Though 2010 ended in defeat, Tom Brady is historically one of the eminent playoff quarterbacks in NFL history, and with a few tweaks to a team that had a magnificent regular season record, the very competitive Brady should have many opportunities in the future to avenge this latest setback.CHAPTER 2
The round terms of Bill Belichick's life story are probably more familiar to a Patriots fan than the tale of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree or Abe Lincoln splitting logs to build a log cabin. A coach's son, Belichick discovered his vocation about the same time he first opened his eyes as an infant. In pursuit of his own dreams to coach one day, he sought out every poor-paying job in the NFL, catching on with Ted Marchibroda and the Colts in 1975. After short stints with the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos, Ray Perkins hired him as an assistant in 1979 for the New York Giants, and after Perkins departed, Belichick stayed, becoming a protégé of successor head coach Bill Parcells. In 1991, his apprenticeship complete, the Cleveland Browns named Belichick their head coach.
Belichick led Cleveland for five years, mostly unsuccessfully, although his team did post an 11–5 record in 1995 with a playoff victory that year against the Patriots. Some of the trademarks of his later success became apparent there — particularly when he supplanted local favorite Bernie Kosar as the club's quarterback — but poor ownership and Belichick's own shortcomings doomed the experiment. He then reverted to assisting Parcells, first in New England in 1996 and then for the next three years with the Jets. Parcells, as is his custom, got either bored or frustrated with his job, and he anointed Belichick as the Jets' next leader for the 2000 season. At that juncture, Belichick balked and decided to take Bob Kraft's offer to lead the Patriots.
Less appreciated is that his introduction as the New England Patriots head coach could easily have been almost as disastrous as Clive Rush's near execution by electrical shock decades earlier. Parcells had laid it out so that Belichick would become head coach of the Jets and thereby screw the Patriots by proxy. Belichick did not mumble the lines set forth in the script, however, and decided he liked Pats owner Bob Kraft and so instead followed his destiny as the man who would bring the Lombardi Trophy for multiple visits to Foxboro. The ensuing press conference did not go well, but the rest has not been so bad.
Since then, Belichick has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles and has often crafted a playoff contender out of a seemingly mediocre team. Some of his more recent game decisions have come into question (going for it on 4th and 2 against Peyton's Colts in 2009 or the fake punt against the Jets in the first game of the 2010 playoffs), but he remains the most respected coach in the NFL.
Other clubs have tried to replicate Belichick's level of excellence by hiring away his assistants — Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, Eric Mangini by the Jets and the Browns, Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, and Josh McDaniels by the Broncos — and none of these teams have been blessed with success. Each of these erstwhile assistants stepped into programs in decline, but so did Belichick when he accepted the New England job.
Excerpted from 100 Things Patriots Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Donald Hubbard. Copyright © 2011 Donald Hubbard. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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