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December 27, 2007
New Mindset On Patriots Is Amazing
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

To all you 50-somethings who remember the days in Boston, the merger, and the egress to Foxborough, did you ever imagine a week like this?

To all you 40-somethings who remember the Ken Sims Bowl, can you believe how far your team has come now?

To all you 30-somethings who know what Lisa Olson's place in Patriot history is, how does it feel now that the Patriots are at a dipolar opposite from the 1990 season?

To all of you whose memory of the Patriots only goes back as far as a near-fumble caused by Charles Woodson, you need to go to school. Patriot school. All you know is greatness. All you know is that your team is (ho-hum) driving towards another (yawn) Super Bowl and is on the verge of (zzzzzzz) a 16-0 regular season. All you know is the Patriots have the best owner, coach, quarterback, stadium, and the most Vinces since Y2K. You look at Patriot Place being built and probably think that this team is all about tradition, entitlement and all that is superlative.

If this is you, then we suggest you pay attention to this one-time offer. Call it a visit from the Ghost of Patriots Past. Long past? No, their past. Maybe yours, too, but mostly the Patriots' past.

We will begin with this preface. This week may be the most astounding week in Patriot history. The NFL Network is 98 percent Patriot coverage all week long, and they plan to devote six hours of pregame coverage for one lousy regular season finale where the Patriots plan to finish the first regular season undefeated since the schedule grew to 16 games in 1978. Everyone nationwide hates the Patriots because all they do is win. To top things off, the NFL decided on Wednesday afternoon to capitulate to pressure from United States Senators and allow the game on its network to be simulcast on NBC and CBS so that the entire nation will see Saturday night's game. The Patriots will thus get about as much television coverage as the State of the Union address.

To once again quote the great Dickens: This preface must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Here now, is our holiday present to you. Patriot History 101. Your one chance for salvation this Saturday night. Your one chance to fully appreciate this game for what it really means. No, not in terms of the NFL and something for the record books, but rather what it means for your favorite football team. This column has done something like this before, but only in scant terms. Let this be a more complete lesson in understanding what Saturday night will mean to this team if they can somehow defeat a New York Giant team in a familiar road stadium they normally do well in. A Giant team whose only mission should be to rest starters and get them healed up and ready for the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs. A Giant team Bill Belichick used to be the defensive coordinator for back in the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Pencils ready? Books open? Let's begin.

Honk if you ever saw a Patriots game at Fenway Park.

Maybe you saw one at Legion Field in Birmingham, and we don't mean a preseason battle.

Prior to Schaefer Stadium, the Patriots were more nomadic than the daddy in the song Papa Was A Rolling Stone.

This was the AFL. You were lucky if they gave you shoulder pads and hot showers.

The Patriots were founded by Billy Sullivan, who was barely able to scrounge up $25,000 and hustle it down to the Mercantile Bank & Trust in Dallas to stake his claim to the eighth and final AFL franchise in 1959.

Which pretty much set the tone of his ownership. His son, Chuck, made his fortune the Steve Martin way: "How I turned a million dollars in real estate into twenty-five dollars cash!" Substitute Michael Jackson for real estate and you get the real story.

The Patriots did make the playoffs once, while in Boston. They lost the AFL title game to San Diego in 1963, 51-10. According to reports, the Patriots were more into the trip to beautiful San Diego than they were the game itself.

The Patriots weren't completely terrible in Boston. They had Babe Parilli, Jim Nance, Jim Lee Hunt, Bob Dee, Larry Garron, Houston Antwine, Jim Colclough and Ron Burton.

And someone they call Duke. You hear him now and then on the radio with his buddy Gil.

Boston is what it is, and you wonder how they ever built a new Garden. Fenway is still there. No new football venue, though. Even Sullivan knew that he couldn't make money hopping around from BU to BC to Fenway to Harvard.

So he built this new stadium in Foxborough. The ultimate cheap-out. But it was built on time, under budget, and it kept the team here. For that, Billy, we are all in your debt. Remember Billy for this, not for the mismanagement and family escapades which would follow.

Maybe it was Clive Rush which led the Patriots into a sort of dark era. He and fellow head coaches John Mazur and Phil Bengston presided over some of the most boring football in area history. How could the Patriots have the best college quarterback in the country (Jim Plunkett) and not be able to do a thing with him? Plunkett got his rings with the Raiders, but here in Foxborough he got clobbered.

This period from 1969 to 1972 is exhibit A on what you perhaps don't know about the Patriots today. The Patriots went 19-43 during this time period. Nance was getting old, so the rushing burden fell on Carl Garrett, John Tarver and someone named Josh Ashton. Randy Vataha was nice but no Wes Welker. Nobody on defense is worth mentioning, except perhaps a rookie defensive lineman in 1971 named Julius Adams, who would go on to become the number two Patriot in all-time games played as a Patriot upon his 1987 retirement.

It was a big deal when Chuck Fairbanks came to New England from Oklahoma, not long after Penn State's Joe Paterno rudely spurned Sullivan's offer to come here (some of us don't forget, JoePa). Fairbanks set right to work and drafted Sam Cunningham, John Hannah and Darryl Stingley. Then he got Steve Nelson and Russ Francis. Then he got Mike Haynes and Tim Fox.

And then he got rid of Plunkett and brought in Steve Grogan

The Patriots came within a bad official's call of winning Super Bowl XI. Following the historic 1976 season, the Patriots were screwed over again by officials, then jilted by Fairbanks at the end of the 1978 season when he took a job offer at the University of Colorado.

It figures. The first AFC East title in history, and it ends with the coach leaving and the only home playoff loss in team history, a 31-14 crap-out against the Houston Oilers on New Year's Eve 1978.

It began with the paralysis of Darryl Stingley in a preseason game in Oakland. Enough said.

The next six seasons are exhibit B for you to study this week. 1979 through 1984 provided heartbreak, then disgrace. The Patriots in 1980 won ten games, but failed to make the playoffs. The Patriots in 1981 went 2-14 and lost to the Colts on the final game of the season just so they could draft Ken Sims. The Patriots of 1982 were a 5-4 playoff team thanks to a player strike and a snowplow. The Patriots of 1984 saw head coach Ron Meyer fire defensive coordinator Rod Rust, then saw Sullivan fire Meyer, rehire Rust and promote Raymond Berry to the head job.

Berry led the Patriots to Super Bowl XX thanks to three playoff wins on the road. But even that turned out to be a negative, as the team lost confidence in quarterback Tony Eason to the point of near mutiny, the team suffered the worst loss (at the time) in Super Bowl history to the Bears, Irving Fryar was arrested for assaulting his wife, and several Patriot players from that Super Bowl team were revealed to have taken drugs.

Exhibit C takes place between 1989 and 1992. 1989 began horribly, as three key defensive starters (Andre Tippett, Garin Veris, Ronnie Lippett) were lost for the season thanks to injuries sustained in the preseason finale against Green Bay.

Maybe 1990 is what you should take with you into Saturday night's game. The Patriots went 1-15, their worst season in team history. Several players shamed themselves by exposing themselves to and sexually harassing former Herald columnist Lisa Olson. New owner Victor Kiam (who bought the team from Sullivan two years prior) came to the side of the players, and the shaving magnate never did another commercial ("I loved the razors so much I bought the company!") again. In nice symmetry, the final game of that season was the Giants at Foxborough, and the crowd was mostly for the visitors (and eventual Super Bowl champs) for that game.

1991 and 1992 featured the Dick MacPherson era, but all that was was a bunch of rah-rah gunk and two very lousy teams. The 1991 Patriots won six games, the 1992 Patriots won two. At this time, the Patriots were perhaps in the lowest ebb of their existence, and given how bad the teams of 1970, 1972 and 1981 were, this is really saying something.

Then along came Bill Parcells in 1993, and stadium owner Bob Kraft bought the team a year later. Parcells led the team to Super Bowl XXXI, but in a throwback to Fairbanks, he jilted the Patriots at the altar and bolted for the Jets just after the loss to Green Bay in New Orleans. Once again, the Patriots got a whiff of prosperity, and the whiff was more like a septic tank than it was perfume.

The Pete Carroll era will serve as exhibit D, the final one in this course. The Patriots regressed in each of his three seasons and became a soft, leader-less team. Carroll remains a tremendous college coach, but in the NFL he is nothing more than a defensive coordinator. Kraft learned some very tough lessons when he drove Parcells out of town, and sought to make sure that never happened again.

So, in 2000, he brought in Belichick. Our course ends here.

Your homework for the next few nights: Study exhibits A through D. They are like the children that hide under the Spirit of Christmas Present for protection, their names being ignorance and want. We won't scare you to death and advise you to beware of any of them, but we do suggest that you come to know them well. If you want to name the exhibits, then let's call them Clive, Ken, Victor and Pete.

If you do come to know them, then and only then will you understand the full meaning of what is happening this week, as well as what may happen now and the weeks beyond. The fact that the Patriots are on the verge of 16-0 is nothing short of astounding to those of you and us who really know what it used to be like to be a Patriot fan.

That way, when you hear complaints about saturation coverage on the NFL Network, it will not bother you. When you hear people say that they are sick and tired of the Patriots, you will be able to ignore them and smile in private. When you feel like you're on an island just because you root for the Patriots, be more concerned that you have a Corona in your right hand, and that your significant other does too.

And please, please, please, do not take this week for granted. This is NFL history that could happen, and this is your team. Drink it all in, and never expect to see anything like this ever again.


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