By: Bob George/
January 15, 2006

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Fourth and last installment on a series on the legacy of Bill Parcells.

Even Tampa Bay Overcame the Tuna Tease

It took a long time for Tampa Bay to overcome the jilting in 1991. Sam Wyche took over for Williamson in 1992, coached for four seasons and rang up a 23-41 record over that stretch. In 1995, Malcolm Glazer and his family purchased the Buccaneers, and a year later made perhaps the best move in franchise history in bringing in Minnesota defensive coordinator Tony Dungy as head coach. Dungy brought the Buccaneers into prominence, with playoff berths in all but two of his six seasons. The Bucs became a defensive power, and Dungy was hailed as one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the league.

But the Bucs were anemic on offense, losing playoff games and managing only single-digit scoring in 1999, 2000 and 2001 playoff losses. The Glazers decided they needed someone more offense-oriented, and let Dungy go after the 2001 in a very unpopular move. Dungy would resurface in Indianapolis the following year, and the Colts nearly became the first 16-0 NFL team in 2005.

Tampa needed a new head coach, and thought they had one in Parcells. Parcells had been out of coaching for two years, and seemed to be getting his coaching "pings” back once again for 2002. The Glazers did everything except stand on their head for him, but Parcells strung the Bucs along seemingly forever before turning them down flat. The Glazers were in a perilous position, thanks to Parcells dragging his feet through the process before telling the Glazers no thanks.

But the Glazers got lucky. Following the 16-13 overtime snow bowl loss to the Patriots in January of 2002, rumours of Raider head coach Jon Gruden wanting out of Oakland became more prevalent. Gruden grew to dislike Al Davis, and did not want to return for his final Raider season of 2002. The Glazers were able to broker a deal for Gruden, sending the Raiders a first round pick for the offensive wizard, seemingly just the right coach to get the Buccaneers to the promised land.

And get them there he did. Facing off against the team he left, the Buccaneers pummeled the Raiders, 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII, winning the only championship in Tampa Bay history. That fall, Parcells would stun the football world by agreeing to work for Jones in Dallas. This collaboration has now lasted three years, and Parcells has signed on for two more years in Big D, keeping him there through 2007.

What do you tell the Tuna, thanks or buzz off?

You the Patriot fan have a choice. Be angry with him for his ego trips, or be thankful to him for bringing the Patriots into the current NFL prominence they enjoy today.

It still hurts to watch the 1996 postseason, knowing the Patriots had a chance to win it all, and knowing that a Hall Of Fame head coach no longer wanted to remain with your team. In 1996, Parcells was viewed by many as the greatest head coach in the game. The fact that he was with the Patriots was something the region wore like a badge of honor. The fact that he preferred to skip town and coach the New York Jets cut through your heart like a knife.

And it was a slow twisting of the knife. It's like everyone knew this was coming, a developing story that took three months to tell and conclude. Each step the Patriots took towards the Super Bowl made it even worse. And when Super Bowl XXXI was over, and Parcells stepped down a few days later, you the Patriot fan were brought to a low that Victor Kiam and Billy Sullivan never brought you to.

But the years have shown that Parcells perhaps deserves your thanks and gratitude, not your scorn.

Since Parcells arrived in 1993, the Patriots have made the playoffs in eight of those thirteen seasons. Prior to that, they had made the playoffs only six times (including the AFL years) in 34 seasons since the Patriots were born in1960. Their four pre-Parcells playoff wins begat blowout losses in league finals, so the wins actually ring hollow.

You could make the case that it was the advent of Kraft and not the advent of Parcells that sent the Patriots off on this long run of prosperity. Parcells' first Patriot playoff campaign was 1994, his second season, and the first under the Kraft ownership. But it was Kraft who drove Parcells out of town, sending the Patriots into a progressive three-year skid under Carroll, while Parcells went and built a winner in New York. Had Parcells stayed, it is logical to assume that the Patriot fortunes would have continued to turn upward.

When you consider the Patriots as they were during the coaching tenures of Rust and MacPherson, the credibility that Parcells brought to the organization is uniquely to his credit, not Kraft's. It was Parcells which jump-started the region's interest in football. Besides, one could make this staggering postulation: Would Kraft have stuck his financial neck out and bought the Patriots in 1994 if MacPherson were still the head coach and the Patriots were still a moribund, sub-.500 team? It could be said that Kraft would have balked at the idea, and the Patriots move along to St. Louis with few people crying any tears at the sight of their departure, given the mindset over the Patriots back then. Kraft would have been left owning a stadium with no prime tenant, and lifetime's worth of memories of his family as season ticket holders. But buying the Patriots was a huge risk on his behalf, and Kraft might not have taken that risk without Parcells in the fold.

Thank Parcells if you wish for the Patriot winning tradition he began. But there is a greater reason for you to thank him.

Be grateful that Parcells does have an ego. He left the Patriots because he has an ego. He left the Jets because he has an ego. It is Parcells' ego that brought Belichick back to New England as head coach. It produced the chain of events which has shown the world that Belichick actually is what we thought Parcells was, and that the Patriots have been carving their own special NFL legacy with the man once tabbed as "Little Bill” as their head coach.

One has to wonder if Parcells could have won three Super Bowls in four years. Would Parcells have had the discipline to listen to the late Dick Rehbein and draft Tom Brady? Would Parcells have known to pluck free agents like David Patten, Stephen Neal or Mike Compton? Would players like Rodney Harrison, Rosevelt Colvin or Corey Dillon have wanted to play for Parcells? Would Parcells have been able to match Belichick in terms of building a system and getting players to buy into it so well that injuries are almost no deterrent to its success?

Belichick is here because Parcells allowed it to happen, in a two-tiered passion play which took four years to play out. Kraft recognized greatness in Belichick, then brought him in and let him do his thing. It was Belichick who brought the genius and Kraft which has sustained it and allowed it to grow and develop, but it is a genius that was brought here thanks to the ego of Parcells. Simply stated, if Parcells had never been made angry by Kraft, who knows how long he would have stayed here.

That is why, in the long continuum of time, Parcells will be long remembered for what he did positively for the franchise, not negatively. You cannot run or walk before you can crawl. Parcells did the crawling and walking, and Belichick has done the running.

Parcells will make it to Canton someday. He simply can't not make it. But more than his playoff victories and his great Giant squads of the 1980s will do for his legacy, the laying of the foundation for the Patriot dynasty will go down as Parcells' greatest achievement. For what an uneven and at times horrid franchise the Patriots had been, his turning fortunes around in Foxborough has to go down as one of the biggest miracles in league history.

So, if you see Tuna, be nice and thank him. Chances are he might actually appreciate it if you do. He truly deserves it.

This concludes this four-part series.