By: Bob George
As John Elway showed us all some years ago, it isn’t just about the quarterback.
Elway goes down in history as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. But he didn’t win a Super Bowl until his last two seasons as quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Elway finished his career with back-to-back Super Bowl wins over Green Bay in XXXII and Atlanta in XXXIII before retiring. Elway has his place in history, but running back Terrell Davis, who was MVP in Super Bowl XXXII, is largely credited with being the key component in Elway finally finishing his climb up the NFL mountain after three previous failures.
This should serve as a reminder to all who think the Patriots are all right as long as they simply have Tom Brady. Great as Brady is and has been, he cannot do it by himself. The sight of him screaming at his young receivers last fall was condemned by some, but praised and acknowledged by those who understand his place in team history.
The Patriots are now going on ten years without having won a Super Bowl. Bill Belichick, with some help from Bill Parcells and Scott Pioli, put together a glittering array of talent which won three Super Bowls in four seasons. Teams turn over within just a few years, as most NFL careers are all too brief. Following these three Super Bowl wins, the Patriots went on to lose two Super Bowls in four seasons, both losses to the New York Giants. It sometimes baffles Patriot fans that the Patriots could lose two Super Bowls to an inferior Giants team on paper, especially the first of the two which scuttled what was almost the first 19-0 season in NFL history.
That said, here is a list of key Patriot players and coaches who helped the Patriots win all three of their Super Bowl wins but were not there for any of the subsequent two losses to the Giants. You can look at the list and wonder if any of these players could have made the difference in overcoming Giant teams who peaked at just the right time and actually played with more passion and intensity in both Super Bowl wins over the Patriots.
One more thing before reading on: For those of you looking for players like Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel on this list, all three of these guys played in Super Bowl XLII for the Patriots. Matt Light and Kevin Faulk played in five Super Bowls for the Patriots, all three wins and both Giant losses, so they also don’t make this list. This list is only the men who were there for all three wins and none of the succeeding losses.
Matt Chatham was a second string linebacker for several seasons for the Patriots. He could never break into the starting lineup but played steady if not spectacular football during his time in Foxborough. He was one of those players that had to “stay ready” if any starter got injured. Of course, someone like Chatham would have to make his mark on special teams to stick on the roster for as long as he did.
Patrick Pass was a situational running back and special teams contributor. He would catch a pass here and there, but was used chiefly on special teams for several years. Like Chatham, this was why he lasted so long as a Patriot.
Joe Andruzzi will always be associated with September 11th, as his three brothers narrowly escaped death at the World Trade Center as NYC firemen. On the field, Andruzzi was no slouch as a steady guard for the Patriots who departed amidst some ill will over contract negotiations. Given how much All-Pro guard Logan Mankins struggled in both his Super Bowls against the Giants defensive line, one has to wonder how Andruzzi would have handled Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Michael Strahan.
Ted Johnson was one of the most underrated Patriots in recent history. His work at inside linebacker was stellar and very effective. He was also one of the few players on this list who also played in the Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers. His playing time and career was cut short because of numerous head injuries. He was also very unusual in that he had an unabashed love for romance novels.
Roman Phifer was a starter at inside linebacker for his Patriot career. He was steady and effective though never being an All-Pro as a Patriot. He was one of the many players who fit Belichick’s system very well. Coincidentally, his Patriot career was 2001-04, the exact time frame for all three Super Bowl wins.
Ty Law was injured for most of 2004 and did not play in Super Bowl XXXIX. He did play for the Patriots in three Super Bowls anyway, as he was part of the Super Bowl XXXI team. Law is tied with Raymond Clayborn for the most career interceptions as a Patriot. Law had a pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI plus several picks of Peyton Manning in the AFC playoffs. He played his best seasons for the Patriots before leaving and eventually succumbing to old age, football style.
Adam Vinatieri is still regarded as the best clutch kicker in NFL history. He kicked for the Patriots in XXXI, then went on to provide the margin of victory in all three Super Bowl wins. His game-winner in XXXVI remains perhaps the most iconic moment in team history. He did win a Super Bowl with Indianapolis after leaving the Patriots in 2005. To be fair, Stephen Gostkowski has never been in a position to win a playoff game like Vinatieri was time after time, and Gostkowski has had a decent NFL career as Vinatieri’s replacement. But Vinatieri leaving the Patriots was like Carlton Fisk leaving for the White Sox. It never should have been allowed to happen.
Willie McGinest was one of the key Patriots who led the team to three Super Bowl wins, but was not there for the losses to the Giants later on.
(USA TODAY Images)
Willie McGinest got over the pain of leaving the Patriots for Cleveland and the final three seasons of his long NFL career, and now professes his ex-Patriot persona every time you see him on the NFL Network. His long Patriot career featured four Super Bowls and three wins. His holding penalty in XXXVI which negated a Tebucky Jones touchdown caused him to break down emotionally after the game, but Patriot fans remember Will Mac fondly for his great career and for helping establish the locker room and the Patriot Way.
David Patten also might be lopped into the “underrated” category. Patten seemed to lose out on the props that went the way of Troy Brown and Deion Branch. But Patten had some clutch receptions for the Patriots in the postseason, most notably in Super Bowl XXXVI and the AFC Championship Game leading up to it. He was another go-to guy for Brady who simply never got the headlines for it, but most assuredly earned all three of his Super Bowl rings.
Troy Brown turned out to be the Tim Wakefield of the Patriots. For many years he did whatever was asked of him, whether his coach was Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll or Bill Belichick. He did not play XXXI but did play in the three winners. He played one token game in 2007 but did not play in Super Bowl XLII. He retired that year as the leading receiver in Patriot history. He also has three career interceptions, all of them in 2004, and one of them off former teammate Drew Bledsoe. Brown personified the Patriot Way during his entire Patriot career, and remains one of the most popular local sports celebrities.
Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel coached their final Patriot games at Super Bowl XXXIX. The shot of Belichick, Weis and Crennel hugging at the end of that game had “end of an era” written all over it. For all those people who make a big deal out of “What did Parcells do without Belichick?”, let it be known that Belichick has not won a Super Bowl without Weis and Crennel. The Patriots, as Bruschi pointed out, had three head coaches on their staff during those three Super Bowl wins. Weis went on to be the head coach Notre Dame, his alma mater, then later coached one year at Kansas City as offensive coordinator. Crennel was head coach at Cleveland for four seasons, then came back to Kansas City, as Weis did, for two seasons as defensive coordinator and one season as head coach/DC. Pioli had moved on after 2008 to Kansas City and tried to bring Weis and Crennel together, but the experiment did not jell.