December 03, 2005
Patriots Can Look To ’69 Celtics For Inspiration
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
What’s left for this Bunch of Patriots? Let’s look for some inspiration.
The Patriots once won three road games to get to a Super Bowl. They look to get at least one home playoff game this year.
If the Patriots have to go through Indianapolis to get to Detroit, the Patriots are 9-4 in the RCA Dome since 1990.
But the Patriots still stink on defense. None of this matters. Besides, this is a team that could probably go 7-9 and still win the division and get a home playoff game.
To get any inspiration at all, you have to look in another direction. Like in another sport. Like about 36 years ago.
The Celtics are still known (yes, believe it or not) for being the winningest franchise in NBA history, at least in terms of world championships. Their 16 world titles are still a league high, and their eight in a row from 1959 to 1966 is the longest title streak in the history of North American sports. Bill Belichick could someday be known as the Red Auerbach of football. And Tom Brady might also someday draw cross-comparisons with Bill Russell.
The Celtics won titles in most every way imaginable. They swept opponents. They had seven-game nailbiters. They won titles in overtime. They won over fierce rivals. Their titles spanned eras from Bob Cousy to Russell to Dave Cowens to John Havlicek to Larry Bird and the Big Three. Auerbach’s fingerprints are on all sixteen, and it seemed that he made winning championships more of a routine than a conquest.
Of all the sixteen titles, one of them stands out as the most intriguing, and the most astonishing. The final title of the Russell Era, the 1968-69 championship, was a title that by and large should have gone to the Lakers. To this day, Jerry West (former Laker GM and Hall of Fame guard) still aches over losing the 1969 title and swears that his team was the better one. The Celtics won that NBA Finals series in seven games, winning a 108-106 Game 7 clincher in the LA Forum after the home team had won the previous six games of the series.
It is the composition of that Celtics team, and how they managed to squeeze a title out of that team, that provides the only way possible that the Patriots can still win a Super Bowl this year. This postulation makes this one basic and unilateral assumption: The main problem with the Patriots in 2005 is too many injuries, and not the fact that the Patriots have not gotten over the loss of coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel.
The Celtics of 1969 were the only NBA team at the time to finish as low as fourth place in their conference/division and win the NBA championship. Sam Jones had announced his retirement at season’s end, and he, along with Russell, Bailey Howell, Emmette Bryant, Larry Siegfried and Satch Sanders were considered too old and over the hill. They finished the 1969 regular season with a 48-34 record, and many of these players were either hurt or simply not playing up to past levels for most of the regular season.
Yet these Celtics still managed to go all the way. They beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in five games, then made it to the finals by knocking off the Knicks in six games. In each series the Celtics had the homecourt disadvantage. But they were still able to make short work of two teams that finished ahead of them in the standings.
In the finals, the Lakers were so confident of victory in the deciding Game 7 that they had a ton of balloons up in the rafters, to be cut loose at the moment of what they thought was a putative victory. But the Celtics led, 91-74 going into the final quarter and withstood a final Laker charge (without Wilt Chamberlain for the final five minutes) to hold on to win by two points. The loss was jarring for the Lakers, who showed such brazen confidence with the balloons in the rafters (which Auerbach spared no expense in ridiculing after the game), and suffered (at the time) their seventh straight NBA Finals loss to the Celtics with nary a win.
How in the world did the Celtics manage to pull this off?
In his book The Picture History of the Boston Celtics, author George Sullivan sums up the entire season in one sentence: “(Experts) claimed the wily Celtics were simply pacing old legs, playing well enough to qualify but saving their energy for the playoffs that decide the champion.” Jones denied this claim, but he may have been a bit disingenuous in saying so. The only time the Celtics were together as a team that year was at playoff time. The result: 12 wins, six losses and another world title.
Another factor which may support this claim is a stat which is often used in baseball analysis. The Pythagorean record projects wins and losses based on runs scored versus runs allowed. Using a similar formula (points scored versus points allowed), basketball-reference.com determined the Celtics’ “expected” (as opposed to Pythagorean) record as 55-27, a gain of seven games over the actual season record. This suggests that the Celtics were actually a better team than their 48-34 record would suggest. With all the key players healthy at the same time for the playoffs, a team with this sort of Pythagorean gain could look forward to a good playoff run.
And finally, the Celtics at the time were the defending champs. The Celtics had knocked off the Lakers in six games in 1968. These were guys who knew how to win playing guys who could never win the big one (at least not since the days of George Mikan).
In relating this to the Patriots, the comparison is simple. If all the injured players are back together in time for January, they should look forward to a good playoff run also. Admittedly, this is more pertinent to the offense than the defense, but if Brady can regain Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, David Givens, and perhaps even Matt Light, the offense should be in its usual championship form. These Patriots know how to win championships, and Brady is as good as it gets as far as having a winning helmsman.
The one area which can blow this entire discussion to smithereens is the Patriot secondary. This is the one area which cannot be helped by this discussion. Even if Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson regain their 2004 championship form, the Patriot season may hinge on their position partners. And if Michael Stone and Ellis Hobbs hold the key to the Patriots winning a third straight Super Bowl, then this discussion has been a total waste of time.
Then again, maybe the Patriot front seven will cover them up, and everyone on offense comes back at the right time. Belichick may even want to bring Russell back for another visit before long. It never hurts to dream.
The 1969 Celtics showed everyone what it really means to be a champ. Fortunately, the same kind of makeup exists in the Patriots.
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