By: Ian Logue
For any fan who followed the Patriots prior to the start of the Tom Brady era, 1996 was one of the most exciting seasons of the franchise’s history.
Unfortunately thanks to Bill Parcells, it also eventually became memorable for all the wrong reasons.
As then New England head coach, Parcells had helped lead the team to an 11-5 record and a first round bye, including a home playoff game. It would be the Patriots’ first home postseason contest since 1978, and it pitted New England in a Divisional Playoff showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In that game the Patriots caught everyone by surprise when they routed the Steelers after taking a 21-0 halftime lead and not looking back, finishing with a 28-3 win. For anyone who remembers that game, it was exciting to watch because New England set the tone by going after Pittsburgh right away. On the first offensive play of the game for the Patriots, quarterback Drew Bledsoe went deep to wide receiver Terry Glenn, completing a 53-yard bomb which set up a 2 yard touchdown run by Curtis Martin and New England was off and running. They played well on both sides of the ball, shutting the Steelers down defensively while holding them to just 90 yards passing. New England’s defense also held them to just 3-of-18 on 3rd down conversions.
Suddenly a Super Bowl berth was in their grasp and one week later the Jaguars came to town after upsetting the Broncos in Denver. With the Patriots’ win and Jacksonville knocking out the Broncos, it actually created a tough situation in terms of being able to secure hotel rooms in the Boston area. Some had speculated that the league had seemingly expected the AFC Championship game to be in Denver after reports speculated the NFL didn’t make arrangements to book rooms beforehand. It even sparked a “turf war” of sorts between Boston and Providence after the Rhode Island capital was named the “official host” of the championship game.
Parcells recently admitted thats he regrets leaving the Patriots. (FILE:USA Today Images)
By the time the game was played Parcells’ team took care of the Jaguars 20-6 and it was New England who were the ones raising the AFC Championship trophy in front of the home crowd. On a day where it was a frigid 27 degrees, players walked around after the game and shook hands with the fans who stuck around after it was over, and everyone was excited that the Patriots were headed to play in Super Bowl XXXI against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
It was an incredible moment that caused euphoria to break out in New England, filling the region with excitement for the upcoming game and optimism for the future of the franchise.
And that was more or less where it ended.
Instead of fans being able to enjoy what should have been a fun and enjoyable time leading up to the game, rumors came out that Parcells wasn’t happy and had planned on leaving after the season. It created an incredible amount of uncertainty and put a dark cloud over a game that, with a victory, would have put the Patriots on top of the football world for the first time in the franchise’s history.
Days after the Patriots lost to the Packers 35-21 – and news came out that Parcells didn’t even fly home with the team after the loss – Parcells sat down with the media in Foxboro and explained his decision to want out of New England.
“It’s just like a friend of mine told me,” Parcells said at the time. “‘If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.'”
What Parcells was referring to was a disagreement prior to the 1996 season where new owner Robert Kraft had named Bobby Grier director of player personnel. When the draft came about, Parcells had wanted to draft defensive end Tony Brackens out of Texas in the first round. Instead, he was overruled by Kraft and Grier, with the Patriots opting to draft wide receiver Terry Glenn out of Ohio State.
Brackens wound up being drafted by Jacksonville, and would remain with the team through 2003, playing his entire NFL career with the Jaguars. Glenn, meanwhile, had a tough start after dealing with a hamstring injury during training camp. His absence from practice eventually led to Parcells telling the media “she’s making progress” during a press conference, referring to Glenn. That was a comment that drew Kraft’s ire, but it eventually seemed to blow over and Glenn went on to set what at the time was the NFL rookie record with 90 receptions and was a critical part of their offense that season.
Glenn played for the Patriots until 2001 when he imploded due to a contract dispute in an infamous interview on WBZ’s Sports Final (Here are links to part 1, and part 2 of that interview) and was suspended three times during the 2001 championship season by Bill Belichick, the last of which was for the entire postseason. During that interview with WBZ Glenn also revealed that he had been diagnosed with chronic depression, which he claims prevented him from getting up for practice and affected him mentally. He was later traded to the Green Bay Packers before the 2002 season.
For those wondering what happened to him, here’s a good read on that topic.
The decision to pick Glenn had seemingly created a rift due to the fact Parcells didn’t have the final say in roster decisions and it appeared to spark his decision to part ways with Kraft. He would leave in an ugly divorce that saw him first named as a “consultant” to the New York Jets due to the fact the Patriots held his rights for the 1997 season. However, after the commissioner intervened and the Patriots were given four draft picks as compensation, Kraft allowed him to get out of his contract and Parcells took over as head coach for their AFC East rivals.
Some forget that Parcells wasn’t even hired by Kraft. He was actually hired by previous owner James Busch Orthwein in 1993, and Kraft inherited him after purchasing the team a year later while also saving the franchise from a potential move to St. Louis.
Kraft told USA Today in a recent interview that one of the things he didn’t like about Parcells was the fact after luring him out of the broadcast booth and back into coaching, Orthwein had him on a year-to-year deal which meant there wasn’t much security in Parcells future with the team.
“Look, I was a new owner,” Kraft said. “I had a lot of debt. I had stardust in my eyes. I had a Hall of Fame coach. I was green and new. And I don’t think Bill had ever dealt with someone like myself. He had a contract that said he’d coach year to year. And that didn’t make me feel secure.
“When I bought the team in 1994 … he was coaching year to year, making personnel decisions. He used to drive down to [his home in] Jupiter, Fla., at the end of the year, and he’d say he’d decide whether he was coming back to coach. That didn’t inspire confidence in me.”
Fortunately for Kraft the Patriots eventually hired one of Parcells assistants in Belichick and the rest – as they say – is history. They’ve enjoyed 12 straight years without a losing season (the last came in 2000 with a record of 6-10), 3 Super Bowl championships, along with an undefeated regular season and 10 division titles.
For Parcells, he’s out of football and prepraring for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 3. However, he says looking back, he regrets how the whole situation ended.
“I regret leaving New England. Had we done things differently … ” Parcells recently told USA TODAY Sports. “I had a good young team there. I hated to leave that team, because I knew what we could do.
“I was absolutely too headstrong. And he might have been a little headstrong, too. I think both Kraft and myself, retrospectively, would have done things a little differently.”
One has to wonder what would have happened had things not worked out the way they did. They say everything happens for a reason, and in retrospect although it all was ugly at the time when the two parted ways, there’s no question that things ultimately have worked out quite well here in New England.