Patriots Go “Primetime” Without Sanders

Bob George
January 10, 2002 at 3:15 pm ET

Who in New England really likes “Primetime”?

Depends upon what you’re referring to. If it’s some ex-Florida State defensive back, all you have to do is go back to the pregame show for the Miami-New England game a few weeks. Of the four “experts” on the CBS panel who speculated on the outcome of the First Final Fling at Foxborough, only Deion Sanders thought that Miami would win.

Hey, just because he can talk and run and cover a wideout doesn’t make him smart.

And if you watched this recent feature on his life story, he turned to religion to rid himself of “Primetime”, something he described as a third person that took over his body and psyche. Sanders now preaches to anyone who will listen about the evils of life, and what a changed man he is.

Cool. Sanders never played for the Patriots. But “Primetime” is coming soon to Foxborough.

And you wonder why.

One of the “advantages” of not having to play in the first round was not having to play the first prime time NFL playoff game in history. This Saturday, ABC will show games at 4:30 EST and 8:00 EST. The later Saturday game will be the Jets at Oakland, in the rematch of the game that gave the Patriots their second bye week. Patriot Nation breathed a sigh of relief. At least the divisional rounds will be played at the normal 1:00 and 4:00 hours.

Wrong, Howard Cosell breath.

Phil Simms of CBS accidentally let this slip out on a Providence radio sports show the other night, but the NFL confirmed it today. The Patriots will draw the second Saturday game on January 19th. But the start of that game will be at 8:00 PM EST. The first game of that day will be at Chicago. The Sunday games will be at Pittsburgh and St. Louis, at the familiar 1:00 and 4:00 hours.

8:00 on a Saturday night? Was the XFL that popular? Next thing you know, Charles Woodson and Fred Coleman (how perfect: “Jets Hate He” would have to be the Patriot guy to do an old XFL custom) would make the mad dash for the ball at the 50 to determine who gets the ball first. Maybe they’ll allow live mikes on the field, a hot tub in the end zone, Tracy Sormanti’s cheerleading squad to dress up in the latest line of Victoria’s Secret garb, and bring on Jesse Ventura as color commentator and boot Simms down to the sidelines.

We say Woodson because Patriot Nation ought to be rooting for Oakland to knock out the Jets, and if so, the Raiders come to Foxborough for the January 19th tilt. The Patriots, one of the worst Monday Night Football teams in the league, are forced to play their initial 2001 playoff game under the lights and glare of evening national television.

Couldn’t this have waited a year? I mean, you have that lighthouse they’re building next door. Instead, you have to bring out 100 paddy wagons, put the Foxborough police in full riot gear, and double check all the transformers around the stadium for possible power failure potential. Yikes. CMGi Field deserves this evening theater, not our retiring Animal House.

Seriously, there is a lot to consider about this Saturday night playoff game, and not all of it is good for the Patriots. CBS or the NFL, we’re not clear, put the Patriots into this evening slot, ignoring the lousy history the Patriots have in evening prime time, as well as the wretched history of night home games at Foxborough Stadium.

In the entire history of Monday Night Football, the Patriots are a lousy 8-17. They did not appear on the ABC staple this year. For prime time games on nights other than Mondays, they are a little better at 11-10 since the merger. But add both figures up and you get 19-27 when the nation watches in the evening.

Bringing up Foxborough Stadium’s nasty evening game history is a little unfounded. The place has really cleaned up its act since the three darkest days in stadium history, that being the 1976 Jet game, the 1980 Denver game and the 1981 Dallas game. After the latter, ABC stayed away from Foxborough for 14 years, things were so bad. The last thing New England needs is a bunch of drunken louts to upstage the biggest game in this region since the 1996 AFC title game. But Foxborough has hosted its share of evening games in recent years, without any of the hooliganism that went on 25 years ago, prompting Cosell, who hated New England anyway, to blast the region during that 41-7 MNF win over the Jets in ’76.

But the 19-27 record is another story. Their latest prime time loss was this year, their most recent loss to this day. The Rams came to town on a Sunday night and bested the Pats, 24-17. and the locals have not lost since. But on a night where the weather was a little cool for the indoorzy Rams, with the Patriots holding Kurt Warner and his gang to only 24 points, the Patriots could not capitalize thanks to Antowain Smith’s devastating goal line fumble.

Except for the run of playoff games in 1985 and 1996, the Patriots don’t always present themselves well to the national public. It gets far worse when the sun goes down.

The stadium doesn’t handle the evening well either, and we’re not talking about the fans. Who can forget the AFC title game of five years back, and the blown transformer that caused a 15-minute delay in the game? Talk about a national embarrassment. The new crib ain’t built yet. You may have to line up a few trucks armed with DieHard batteries in the end zones.

One logical question you might ask is this: Why bring prime time here? Why not Pittsburgh? Or St. Louis, where weather is not a factor?

Who knows. St. Louis gets the late Sunday game. It could be that the other three games dictated that the Patriots get the late Saturday slot. The NFL wanted to bring their postseason to prime time. Maybe the XFL did tweak the NFL a bit, though there were other things about that failed league that were a lot better than Saturday night games.

One reason why the game is here might have something to do with television ratings. New England may be an oft-maligned team thanks to its checkered history, but television executives love the Boston market. Other than New York, it is the most profitable AFC television market. CBS and/or the NFL perhaps reasoned that more viewers would be attracted to the Patriots versus the Steelers. Or, perhaps the local share in New England would outdo Pittsburgh’s.

Shoot. There has to be some good about this.

Actually, there is, and once again we get back to you needing to root for the Raiders on Saturday.

One of three teams will invade Foxborough for this evening game: Oakland, Miami or Baltimore. The team you least want here is the Ravens. Both Miami and Oakland are from warm weather cities. Miami would be nice, but the smart money says that Oakland beats the Jets and ensures them coming to Foxborough. Oakland would be the best choice to play this night game in New England.

Miami hates cold, but Oakland hates it worse. Just harken back to the AFC title game of 1990. Buffalo was frigid, and the Bills beat the Raiders, 51-3. Yes, this is a different Raider team today, but the Raiders do not want to have to play New England on a freezing cold January night. Miami might be a better choice, but they are no cinch to beat Baltimore and Oakland is ripe for revenge. Bank on the Raiders, and pray for a biting chill.

Some folks debunk the “cold weather favors the home team playing a warm weather visiting team” theory, saying that cold weather hampers the homers as well. Refer back to the 1981 AFC title game, San Diego at Cincinnati. The Bolts come off one of the most timeless wins in NFL history with that overtime thriller in balmy Miami, then go up to Cincinnati and minus-40 degree temperatures. The frozen Bolts had no chance, and the Bengals won 27-7. The ’90 Raiders could do no better in frigid Buffalo nine years later.

The weather will be one of the few things in the Patriots’ favor. It might be just enough to ward off the demons of prime times past, especially against one of the best prime time teams in league history (Raiders).

Naturally, the payoff is big. Thump the Raiders in front of the whole country, and all the future playoff opponents will stand up and take notice. Tom Brady will start to attract Madison Avenue, Kordell Stewart will start to worry about Roman Phifer, and Bill Belichick will become the most famous football Bill in the country.

If you’re going next weekend, bring plenty of blankets. The more you need to bundle up, the more the opposition needs to worry.

And when everyone decides to stand up and chant “Prime-time!”, they’ll be talking about a football team and not some loudmouth from Florida who says he’s reborn.

Prime time Patriots. Get used to it.

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