PatsFans.com is proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan back for another season. Grogan played in 149 games with the Patriots from 1975-1990, and was named to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 1995. Steve will join us each week to provide his insights on the progress of the Patriots during the 2001 football season, and will be on hand for the Pats 2002 playoff run as well!
R.R. Marshall: Steve, it’s been over a week since the Patriots turned all of New England upside down with their victory in Super Bowl XXXVI. After 42 years I still find it hard to believe that the Patriots are now World Champs,
do you think the players fully comprehend what they have done?
Steve Grogan: I don’t think the impact of what they have accomplished has really hit them yet, and it may not for awhile. After they beat Pittsburgh I was thinking to myself it’s hard to imagine this team was going to the Super Bowl. This season was so very unexpected, much like the one where we got on that roll back in 1985 and won three straight playoff games on the road and the next thing you know we were running on the field to play the Bears in Super Bowl XX. We know how that one turned out, but this time the Patriots finally found a way to win the last game of the season.
RRM: Much of the credit has to go to head coach Bill Belichick, who came here two years ago under unusual circumstances and wasn’t exactly greeted cordially by the Boston media?
SG: Bill Belichick has matured as a head coach, something I thought was pretty evident this season. He had some problems as the head coach in Cleveland that people still talk about, and his unemotional demeanor in his first year in New England didn’t help to change his reputation.
This year he felt really good about his team and he showed some emotion. He took a 5-11 team from a year ago and won the Super Bowl. He knows he’s done some things that have paid off and now it looks like he’s having fun with what he has accomplished.
RRM: Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft has also received his fair share of abuse from the media and Boston political bigwigs over Bill Parcells and the stadium issue. Looks like he got the last laugh?
SG: Well, after last season’s 5-11 finish it looked like he’d be opening his new stadium in 2002 with a lot of empty seats. He must be thrilled opening his new stadium coming off this kind of season. I imagine all the seats and luxury boxes must be selling like hotcakes. Who knows what Route 1 will look like a few years from now if developers decide to add some more restaurants and hotels? I think a new era in the history of this team has begun and Bob Kraft has to be extremely happy with the whole situation right now.
RRM: The AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh in all probability marked the end of Drew Bledsoe’s days as a Patriot. I guess there’s no chance he’d consider coming back as the backup to Brady next season?
SG: I just don’t see how they can make that situation work. You have his contract versus the salary cap issue, plus the fact that he is still in his prime and wants to be the starting quarterback somewhere. I’ve been in his situation and I know how this year has just been eating him up inside. He has really handled this whole situation extremely well.
After the Super Bowl you could see he was so excited, and I think because he got to make a contribution in the Pittsburgh game it made it special for him. If he hadn’t played in that game it would have been really tough. He made it pretty clear in the postgame interviews in New Orleans that he had experienced a great run here but his time here is more than likely over. You have to applaud the guy for the classy way he’s handled this season.
RRM: Every offseason it seems teams try to replicate the winning formula of the most recent Super Bowl champion. Do you think teams will attempt to copy the Patriots’ strategy?
SG: You’re going to see a lot of teams trying to copy what the Patriots have done, not going out and signing the big name players for huge money as a quick fix. Instead they are going to look to sign players for less money that are good football players. Of course, that doesn’t mean teams can expect to have the instant success the Patriots had this season. Deciding on the right free agents isn’t an exact science, but since the Patriots have shown you can have success going that route don’t be surprised if many teams try the same thing this offseason.
I think the results of the last two Super Bowls, with the Patriots winning this year and the Baltimore Ravens the year before, has proven that to win the championship you have to have a dominating defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of the early round draft picks being used to acquire defensive players.
RRM: Since we’ve never had a Super Bowl Champion in these parts how will the offseason change for the Patriots, or will anything change at all and remain business as usual?
SG: It will change some. For one thing you’re getting a later start with your draft preparation. The Patriots’ coaches are probably a little behind in looking at all the scouting reports and game film from the college bowl games and postseason all-star games.
Another big item on their agenda is all the key players they have whose contracts are now up. They got the offseason off to a good start by resigning offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, but there are still a host of other players they will need to address. If some of those players decide to jump ship because they made a name for themselves in the Super Bowl the whole landscape around here could change in a hurry.
RRM: One of those players whose contract has expired is none other than Adam Vinatieri, who has been making the rounds on all the late night talk shows (didn’t care much for the leather pants he wore on Letterman, though!). I guess he couldn’t have picked a better time to nail a game-winning kick?
SG: Adam Vinatieri has become a big-time, pressure kicker, the kind of player you need to have on your team if you are going to win a championship, and when you kick a field goal at the end of the game to win the Super Bowl you are going to be in the national media spotlight, and he deserves it.
He certainly is one of the best cold weather kickers the Patriots have ever had. Most kickers will do a good job kicking in a dome where the conditions are perfect, but it takes a mentally tough kicker to make kicks in poor weather like Vinatieri did in the playoff game against the Raiders. Those kind of guys are scarce, and if the Patriots aren’t able to hang on to him he’ll leave a big void on this team.
RRM: You’ve touched on an interesting topic. More than a third of this roster consisted of free agents that were brought in a year ago, many of which had only one-year deals. Will Bill Belichick and the Patriots hierarchy be inclined to keep most of them here and reward them with multi-year contracts, or do they look to let some of them go and bring in some new unrestricted free agents?
SG: I really don’t know how you do it, to be honest. With the restrictions of the NFL salary cap it’s going to be interesting to see how they approach this situation over the offseason. I’m sure some of these players will get rewarded with long-term contracts but for some of the others they may say, thank you and we’ll find somebody to do the same thing that you’re doing (for a lower salary). I’m sure winning the championship has put this franchise in an entire different light for a lot of the players in the NFL, and if you are a free agent New England is no longer an unattractive place to want to play so that should be a help to the Patriots. But it is going to be really tough making decisions on some of these guys.
RRM: I’ve felt this championship has helped to ease all the painful memories of seasons past for the Patriots. As a former player who had to live through most of them do you find yourself feeling that way as well?
SG: This win helps, there’s no question about that. To have been part of the franchise for as long as I was and to finally have a win feels really good. I’m very happy for them, but I’m also envious of them, too. My wife turned to me when Vinatieri’s kick went through the uprights and said,”Why couldn’t that have happened to us?”. You think back at how close you actually came a few times to winning a championship, and you see the elation on their faces and the excitement they are going through and you just wish you could have been a part of that.
RRM: This may sound like a strange question but since the Boston area has been so dry with championships in recent years could this victory by the Patriots carry over to the other pro sports teams in town and get them out of their doldrums as well?
SG: You may laugh at that idea but sometimes a breakthrough victory like this does start a trend. You look back at the history of certain sports towns and things tend to run in bunches. I know when I first got here the Red Sox were in the World Series and it seemed like the Bruins and the Celtics were in the finals every year. One team wins a championship and the other teams realize that in order to get some of the money from the fans they have to start producing just as well, and sometimes that leads to other championships.
RRM: Everyone seems to agree that Troy Brown is the Patriots MVP for 2001, but if there was an award for the most underrated players who would you like to see be the recipient?
SG: Hmmm, most underrated player, I’ll have to think about that one. Lawyer Milloy didn’t receive a lot of notice during the season but he’s a Pro Bowler so you can’t call him underrated. Tedy Bruschi had a great season for the Patriots at middle linebacker and would warrant some consideration for the award. The center Damien Woody is another player who was solid all year for this team. You didn’t hear much about him but he quietly went about running that offensive line all year, and that offensive line was without a doubt the most improved part of the team this year. I’d have to say Tedy Bruschi on defense and Damien Woody on offense are my choices for most underrated players for 2001.
RRM: We’ve come to the end of line for this season. Need I even ask what Grogan’s final grades are for the Patriots’ 2001 season?
SG: You don’t even have to tally up the weekly grades for this. When you go on a nine-game winning streak and win the Super Bowl you’ve earned straight A’s across the board. The coaches may have devised a great game plan for the Rams in the Super Bowl but in my opinion it wasn’t the
ame plan that won the game as much as it did in other games during the season. What won the game for them was a team of guys that believed in themselves and decided to be tougher than the other team.
This has been such a fun season for everyone involved, the players, the coaches, and the fans. I’ve enjoyed doing these interviews every week and hope we can do it again next season when we’ll find out if the Patriots can defend their championship.
Grogan’s Final Grades for the 2001 Season