My greatest fear after watching something like Sunday night was to sit back and think, “Is this it? Is this all there is about winning a Super Bowl?”
How wrong I was. It’s been 24 hours now, and the feeling is still there. Euphoria, disbelief, and back to euphoria again. You simply could never have envisioned this.
How many times have you heard a Red Sox fan whine something like “The Red Sox will never win a World Series in my lifetime!”? Maybe with John Henry at the helm, things at 4 Yawkey Way will change. If Bob Kraft can make the Patriots champions in just eight years, Henry certainly can.
Did Kraft ever once consider buying the Red Sox?
While the Red Sox have Bill Buckner and Bucky Dent and Jim Burton and Enos Slaughter in their past, the Patriots now have Adam Vinatieri, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and a trophy named after Vince Lombardi. Books have been written about the laments of the Red Sox. Greater books will be written about the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
This is a whole new feeling to all of us. And what a feeling it is.
You didn’t get the same feeling with the Celtics. All those championships of the Bill Russell era, while still awesome in every way, desensitized the region towards Celtic championships. The two titles in the Tom Heinsohn era don’t compare to Sunday. The Larry Bird era titles are perhaps the most exciting in that more living, breathing fans remember them than the ones in the sixties. The only problem with the Bird Celtics is that when they won, they were either supposed to win, or winning wasn’t a big deal because they’d done it so much before.
The Bruins still claim May 10, 1970 as their high water mark in franchise history. But in that series against St. Louis, they were 3-0 leaders in games going into that Mother’s Day classic. It was their first Cup in 29 years, but by the time the fourth game rolled around, winning the Cup went quickly from an astonishing event to a foregone conclusion.
There is no question that no one could have expected that the Patriots would go on to become world champions after that horrid evening in September when Drew Bledsoe nearly lost his life. The Patriots went from 0-2 and Bledsoe nearly lost for the season to the most astonishing one-season sports team in Boston sports history, and won a sports championship that may be the hardest of the four to win, though Sox “diehahd” fans might argue.
It will take still more time for this championship to fully sink in. And that doesn’t just apply to the fan base.
When the dust settles, when the parade is over, when the noise from the City Hall blast dies down, one might actually take a step back and think about the following:
How will the Patriots handle being Super Bowl champs?
Kraft’s dream came true. Belichick is the newest greatest coach in the league. Brady is the newest poster boy for the “Sky’s The Limit” society. Vinatieri has league sages scrambling to figure out this guy’s place in history among guys like Tom Dempsey and Jim O’Brien.
It happened. The Patriots won the whole darned thing.
Naturally, someone in the Patriots’ front office has to start thinking about doing this again next year. Scott Pioli has already begun working on ‘02. There is lots of work to do, and lots of important things to be done in the next few days and weeks.
Right now, if Dallas owner Jerry Jones is really a buddy of Kraft’s, he should pay a call on him at his earliest convenience. He should walk into Kraft’s office and begin right away to talk like a dying Mickey Mantle.
Don’t be like me, Bob.
A good rule for the Patriots to live by right now is to not become the next Dallas Cowboys. Plain and simple, the Patriot front office needs a whole lot of restraint and discipline right now. Lack of such will ruin the franchise, much like the gross overpaying and destruction of the Cowboy salary cap that Jones perpetrated on his team. The Cowboys are still paying for the sins of salary cap mismanagement in the name of maintaining a Super Bowl champion.
The task of maintaining a champion now falls on the shoulders of Kraft, Pioli, Belichick, and a very important man in the mix, capologist Andy Wasynczuk. These four men will be charged with the daunting task of molding the Patriots into two-time world champs.
Looking ahead to next year is tough right now. You still want to celebrate. But someone has to.
The first critical step towards next year will take place on Tuesday, and it has nothing to do with parades and rallies. The list of Patriots who will be exposed to the Houston Texans in the expansion draft is due into the league office on Tuesday, and who is on that list will form the first step in forming the team for 2002.
It is highly expected that Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson will be on that list. Both men have huge cap hits in 2002. McGinest’s is the highest ($8.3 million), Johnson’s is third highest ($6.5 million). Both men are injury prone, McGinest is 30 years old, and fans will unfortunately have as their last memory of McGinest a holding penalty in a Super Bowl that wiped out a game-sealing touchdown, in addition to nearly being the penalty that blew the game as the Rams made a 14-point rally to tie the Patriots.
There is also a chance that Andy Katzenmoyer will be on that list, who is seventh on the cap list with a $1.1 million cap hit. Kat is currently nursing a severe neck injury, of such severity that it has compromised his desire to play hard any more. The rest of the list in anyone’s guess, and the Patriots will definitely look into if they can put Terry Glenn on the list.
If Johnson and Kat are taken by Houston (the Patriots cannot lose more than two of the five on the list, and the Patriots can withdraw one name if one is chosen), it will literally mandate the Patriots to put the linebacker position at the top of their draft list. And if both Bryan Cox and Roman Phifer do not return, they might want to put two linebackers on their wish list.
The next thing the Patriots should look to do is to lock up offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Rumours abound that John Fox, the new head coach at Carolina, will go after Weis (since Weis is a free agent with an expired contract, a lateral move is okay without any permission required). It would be both shocking and surprising if Belichick allows Weis to bolt to Carolina. Weis is not tipping his hand as to what he’d like to do, but the smart thinking is that Weis won’t leave New England unless Belichick lowballs him, which really isn’t likely.
Next on the docket is dealing with the Patriot free agents, and this is where the discipline needs to begin to set in. Vinatieri is an unrestricted free agent, and will undoubtedly command top dollar for a kicker. The Patriots drafted Owen Pochman last year presumably as an eventual replacement for Vinatieri when he became too expensive, but he was snatched away by the Giants on waivers when the Patriots tried to sneak him on the practice squad. This is not to advocate moving out Vinatieri in favor of a cheaper alternative, but this is Case Number One that Wasynczuk must address when dealing with the Patriot salary cap. Who Houston takes in the expansion draft may have some trickle-down effect here.
Antowain Smith will also draw some scrutiny. Lock him up for three years? He’ll be 33 at the end of such a deal. Spend still another draft pick on a running back? What may happen here is that the two sides will sit down and see if something somewhere in the middle can be reached. Maybe two years max for Smith, and don’t pay this guy like Jones paid his mainstays. But don’t insult Smith either, as Smith did rush for over 1,000 yards in 2001 and ran for 92 yards in the Super Bowl. Smith can definitely figure in the Patriot plans for 2002 and 2003 unless there is some collegiate running back who can be had and offers more upside than Smith.
Cox and Phifer won’t draw a lot of attention. Cox may have played his last NFL game on Sunday. Phifer is 33 years old and won’t command top dollar. The Patriots might want to lock Phifer up for no more than two years if a good dollar figure can be agreed upon.
The Patriots will also want to begin thinking about a long term deal for Brady. Dan Duquette will not be fondly remembered in Boston, but one of the smartest things he did was to lock up Nomar Garciaparra when he did. Pioli and Belichick should begin a dialogue with Brady, and soon.
Why? Because the Patriots would be foolish to deal Bledsoe unless Brady is nailed down for a while. Bledsoe is under contract until 2010. Brady is signed through 2002. Something needs to happen here. If Brady is indeed the quarterback of the future, he needs to be compensated accordingly and the possibility of free agency needs to be removed. It would be devastating to the Patriots if Bledsoe is traded and Brady is allowed to leave via free agency.
And once Brady is nailed down, what to do with Drew comes next.
It is a foregone conclusion that Bledsoe’s Patriot career concluded Sunday night. Bledsoe, the former centerpiece of the Patriot franchise, will leave Foxborough with a ring. But he will leave. That in and of itself is really something. But what will really matter is not Bledsoe’s leaving, but what the Patriots will get in return.
The Patriots really don’t have to trade Bledsoe. They will because of their affection towards him, his trade value, and his cap hit. Bledsoe gave the organization a huge break by his performance against Pittsburgh in the conference championship game. The Patriots need to deal Bledsoe to the team that both brings the best return, and gives the Patriots the smallest chance possible of having to play against him with regularity.
At the moment, Dallas might provide the best place for Bledsoe to go to. The draft pick will be great (6th) if the Cowboys would surrender that pick for Bledsoe, and it gets Bledsoe in the NFC. Cincinnati is good also (10th), but it is still in the conference. When you get into the top ten, you get teams who may not want to pay that kind of price for Bledsoe. Arizona (12th) or Washington (18th) might be possibilities among teams who would be more willing to give up a first-rounder without much consternation.
What the Patriots get in return for Bledsoe is very important. If it is as high as Dallas’ sixth pick, they can look forward to bringing in someone like Tennessee DT John Henderson, Wisconsin DT Wendell Bryant, or NC State’s LB Levar Fisher. Word is out that Belichick might like to shoot for a good inside compliment to Richard Seymour, the top pick in the 2001 draft for the Patriots.
Like it or not, 2002 begins right now. The celebrating will have to stop soon for some Patriot high-ups in the organization.
But the glow will last for a long time. The Patriots have a lot to be proud of, and have a chance at this time to perpetuate this glow for even longer than they think.
When all the cheers die down, it’s time for brains, discipline, restraint, careful planning, and common sense. What it is not the time for is panic, knee-jerk reactions, or complacency.
Believe it or not, Kraft’s ownership might be tested right now versus when he let Bill Parcells walk. Wasynczuk will have to crunch numbers like never before. Pioli and Belichick will now switch from pro game film and move on to college game film.
Let there be one more party day. Tuesday features a parade and a rally. All of New England is invited, and it will be a barnburner. It will be one more chance for everyone to scream their lungs out for the world champion Patriots within proximity of their coronation.
This is great. Feeling like a champion is the greatest. The Vince belongs to the players, but the Patriots have made all of us feel like champs.
The Patriots are champions. So, is this it? Is this all there is about winning a Super Bowl??
It’s more. A lot more than we ever imagined.
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season
Tags: 2001 Patriots Season New England Patriots